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The Path to Sustainable ESG Management

How one organizational is aligning culture, environment and profit

The media has often dubbed South Korea “Plastic Korea” or “Trash Kingdom” due to the notorious amounts of plastic waste it generates. The country’s annual plastic waste per capita is 44 kilograms (nearly 100 pounds), making it the third-biggest producer in the world after Australia and the United States. However, the issues surrounding plastic waste extend far beyond Korea’s shores, and it is estimated that by 2040, the amount of plastic waste worldwide could reach approximately 1.3 billion tons. The social impacts of this mass waste are troubling, to say the least. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals emitted from plastic waste can contribute to cancer and reproductive disorders, and microplastics produced in the process of decomposition often make their way into tap water and foods.

The toothbrush, a household item most people use every day, is one of many products that contribute to the staggering amount of plastic we throw away every year. If the world’s population followed the common advice to replace their toothbrushes every 3 months, we would dispose of approximately 29.4 billion toothbrushes annually, which is equivalent to 600 thousand tons of waste. It is also especially difficult to recycle the small and sturdy plastic parts in toothbrushes; most get incinerated or end up in landfills where they will likely take up to 500 years to biodegrade.

With these problems in mind, and seeing the potential of a business solution, a dentist named Geunwoo Park founded the social venture company Dr. Noah in 2016 and began developing biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes as a replacement for plastic ones. But reducing plastic waste was not his only goal. Park also wanted to increase the income of residents in impoverished areas, including areas where bamboos grew. And in terms of business management, he wished to create harmony between the growth of staff and the company—something that put him a step ahead of most South Korean organizations thinking about environmental, social and governance (ESG).

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