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Klean Kanteen

Julia Butterfly Hill, an environmental activist who is best known for living in the canopy of an ancient redwood tree for 738 days from 1997 to 1999 to prevent it from being cut down, was speaking at an environmental festival in Norther California in 2002 about the issues of plastics in our environment and the hazards that some of those plastics may pose to our health. Artist, activist and inventor Robert Seals of Chico, California was at the festival and happened to be in the audience listening to Julia’s talk and when her talk focused on – plastic water bottles – he listened.

Hill explained about the toxic chemicals such as BPA used in plastic bottles and how those chemicals are polluting her body. She then gave Seals a visual inspiration.

“Robert said Julia held up a plastic bottle and a stainless steel pan and said, “We need to make these (the bottle) out of one of these (the steel pan),’” recalls Jim Osgood, president and CEO of Klean Kanteen.

At the time, there were virtually no options for a hydration vessel that was safe from toxins such as BPA. Seals felt he could create a product that would make a substantial difference so he designed a prototype stainless steel bottle using parts he bought from Collier Hardware, a store in Chico and in 2004 launched the first Klean Kanteen into the market. In 2004, Seals was also introduced to Darrel Cresswell and his children, Jeff and Michelle and created a partnership that started as support of inventory management, distribution, order fulfillment, billing and customer service. In 2005, an agreement was negotiated where the Cresswell family would manage all aspects of the business from brand development, marketing and sales, to product development, sourcing and operations, and ultimately acquire Klean Kanteen.

“It was a very modest, kitchen-table type of business back in those days,” Osgood says, “with marketing outreach that was mainly attending ‘green’ festivals to promote a healthier alternative to plastic.”

In 2008, the effects of BPA became more publicized and the compound was banned in Canada. Overnight, the demand for alternatives ballooned and Klean Kanteen entered the spotlight.

“As one of just a couple BPA-free bottle companies, we were selling stainless steel bottles faster than we could make them,” Osgood said. “Our success attracted a lot of awareness and competition, and soon we’d created a whole market.”

By 2011, the Cresswells realized they would need more help reaching Klean Kanteen's full potential. They brought in Jim Osgood as president and CEO, based on his years of product research and development, and management experience to hire and lead an executive team, in turn to responsibly manage and grow the business while fulfilling the mission. Collectively Klean Kanteen tripled its business and has continued to earn double-digit increases year on year.  Says Osgood, “We’re especially happy that we’ve been able to do that without any outside capital or ownership—we’re still family and employee owned.”

Osgood says the firm has established a company culture that embodies the values the Cresswell family wanted in the marketplace and for their employees.

“They wanted to leave a positive, lasting legacy,” Osgood says, “and we are doing that. We keep a close eye on how we’re doing to make sure we are always creating value for environmental and social impact. We wanted to run our business as responsibly and sustainably as possible, and we wanted to have clear, quantifiable and objectives measures for doing so.”

In late 2011, Klean Kanteen completed its first impact assessment with B Lab, a non-profit organization devoted to assessing and certifying companies that do well by doing good, and met the B Corp criteria in September, 2012.

“We were already running our business in line with the values of B Corp, but there was a discipline and rigor that came with the B Corp effort,” Osgood explains. “It helped us formalize and structure how we run our business and objectively identify where we could and should improve.”

Another one of Klean Kanteen’s commitments in sustainability has been to donate one percent of all sales through 1% for the Planet to qualified nonprofits that improve and affect environmental issues. Donations support nonprofit organizations working on issues of plastic pollution, land and water conservation, safe consumer products and environmental stewardship.

While short term growth is always exciting, Klean Kanteen continually sets its course to ensure long-term sustainability. The team uses several types of tools and methods to assess materials, identify potential chemicals of concern and improve product design to extend its useful life and reduce material consumption, energy and water input, and their carbon footprint. More than just its products, Klean conducts extensive environment and social audits of its supply chain and works closely with suppliers to continuously improve and help ensure its global operation is as eco-friendly as possible.

“Utilizing measures to actually quantify how well you’re doing reduces your long-term risk,” Osgood said, “Beyond being the right thing to do for people and the environment, it’s a pragmatic approach to ensuring a profitable future.”

Having established ongoing success with its sustainable product and processes, Klean Kanteen began lending a more active voice to related issues and policies outside the firm.

“We shifted our focus and began devoting more energy to advocate for issues that we care about; specifically the Clean Water Act and Rule,” Osgood says. “We’ve invested the time and energy to voice our views and actively advocate, both in the political arena and the business community. We want to work with, help unify and advance the power of like-minded companies to affect change.”

Part of that transition was connecting with the American Sustainable Business Council.

“We’re optimistic about controlling things over which we have control,” Osgood says. “By advancing this community of responsible businesses, we can join forces, maximize our resources and influence, and shape public policy to make a strong impact for the greater good."

When asked why Klean Kanteen wanted to partner with ASBC, Jim said the following:

“ASBC was the most obvious partner to help bring our voice to life. ASBC’s expertise helps guide and shape our voice, and its membership lets us join forces with other like-minded companies.  We’re committed to bringing a pragmatic voice to issues that really matter to us and our community, and help make big, necessary policy changes happen.”