My goal with the ‘Is it really?’ series is to answer the simple question – ‘Is it really sustainable?’ Throughout this series, I will provide you with a sort of sustainability ‘rating’ for products that are typically marketed as sustainable in order to shed some light on the lesser known side of the so called “green” players in the market. The parameters that will determine my verdict are based on (1) where the product is made, (2) the materials used to make it and (3) the actions that the company takes to be more sustainable. Please know that the conclusions provided in this series are completely my opinion and are based on in depth research and interviews with representatives from the products’ respective brands, as well as affluent citizens who know a thing or two about sustainability. Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Klean Kanteen. Last week, in my ‘5 ways to deplastify your life’ post, I talked a bit about reusable water bottles, specifically mentioning Klean Kanteen as one of the bottles that I have. Klean Kanteen is probably the most well-known reusable bottle manufacturer on the market and, while they make nice products, how sustainable are they?
Well, from a marketing perspective, they’re doing everything right. They’re very transparent and their mission is clear. It’s quite obvious that they’re proud of their products and not afraid to show it.
But do they backup what they say?
Where’s it made?
Klean Kanteen is very clear in stating that their products are responsibly made in China. Hmmmm, but what does this mean? We’ve all heard this nonsense before…
Unlike other companies who ‘responsibly’ manufacture in China, Klean Kanteen is not afraid to explain themselves. In an effort to inform consumers of their ideology, they state the following reasoning on their website:
“Klean Kanteen has always shared many of the concerns you, our customers, have expressed about manufacturing the bottles in China. Before a single bottle was ever produced, Klean Kanteen set in place checks and balances to ensure that our bottles are produced safely, sustainably and that the people making Klean Kanteens are treated well and paid fairly. By manufacturing in China, Klean Kanteen can provide a handcrafted bottle of exceptional quality at a reasonable price.”
These ‘checks and balances’ they are referring to can be summed up in the following excerpt from their website:
“We have representatives from Klean Kanteen living in China who visit our factories regularly. They work as liaisons to ensure all Klean Kanteen products are produced with respect for the environment and that the workers in the factories are safe, protected and paid a living wage. In addition, a rotating group consisting of the owners and various employees visits the factory two to three times a year. We currently perform regular product testing through third-party, accredited laboratories to meet regulatory requirements and our own high standards for product safety.”
I continue to remain a tad skeptical about all this, but since they’re being so transparent it’s hard not to believe them.
What’s it made of?
Klean Kanteen bottles are made of 18/8 grade stainless steel. This entails chromium, nickel, manganese, silicon, copper, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, molybdenum, zirconium, and titanium (in decreasing order by weight). To boot, not only are their bottles high quality, but they’re also completely BPA free.
The amount of energy it takes to make a standard 27oz stainless steel Klean Kanteen bottle is equal to 90,675,872 joules. To put this into perspective, the amount of energy it takes to make a 1 liter plastic water bottle, packaging and all, is equal to 102,000,000 joules. That’s insane!
While everything seems to be all flowers and daisies for Klean Kanteen, don’t be fooled as they’ve also been the butt of public criticism, particularly over the last few years. An article on treehugger.com took shots at Klean Kanteen back in 2015, criticizing their disuse of recycled steel in production. Many proponents of Klean Kanteen punched back, citing that they were told that anywhere between 60% and 90% of recycled steel was being used in production. I reached out to Klean Kanteen to get a straight answer on this and they said – “According to our steel supplier, our steel is approximately 25% recycled content and 75% virgin steel”. As you can see, there are a lot of discrepancies surrounding this figure. And if the 25% figure is accurate, it’s very disheartening to hear. Virgin stainless steel production is extremely resource intensive and bluntly put, bad for the environment. To make things worse, as transparent as Klean Kanteen is, I couldn’t find a single mention of recycled steel on their website.
What sustainable actions is Klean Kanteen taking?
Klean Kanteen engages in a plethora of sustainable activities and actions. And trust me, when I say plethora, I mean it.
Klean Kanteen has partnered with Green Mountain Energy (partners for 7 years) and 3degrees (partners for 2 years) for the acquisition of Carbon Credits and Renewable Energy Certificates to offset the environmental impacts of their manufacturing and distribution facilities. Together, they’ve developed a green shipping program, where carbon offsets are purchased to balance out the environmental impact of every order. As a part of the green shipping program, both the boxes and hangtags on the bottles are made from post-consumer waste or from materials certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
On the efficiency of the program, Green Mountain Energy states that “Each green shipment offsets 50 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is like opting to bike instead of driving 45 miles, or as much as three trees can absorb in one year.”
Additionally, Klean Kanteen is a certified B company, receiving a score of 99 out of 200 with their highest mark being in the environmental section. They have also been a member of 1% For The Planet since 2008, supporting the Breast Cancer Fund, Healthy Child Healthy World, NatureBridge, the Environmental Working Group, Buffalo Field Campaign, and the American Hiking Society, among others.
It’s evident that sustainability isn’t taken lightly over at Klean Kanteen. They’re really at the forefront when it comes to seeing how larger organizations can be sustainable while also remaining profitable.
That said, my main concerns lie with the fact that their bottles are made in China and that they’re only using around 25% of recycled steel in production. On the one hand, I can somewhat overlook the fact that the bottles are made in China, especially as Klean Kanteen is so transparent about it and it seems like they’re going about it in the right way. On the other hand, the low use of recycled steel really overshadows the other awesome sustainable actions that Klean Kanteen is doing. It’s unfortunate and I really hope they address it moving forward.
When it’s all said and done, Klean Kanteen is a fairly sustainable organization. There is much room for growth, especially in their production cycle, but they’ve been doing a great job of going the extra mile to take care of our planet from a distribution and operational perspective. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next!
Until next time, The Sustainable Guy out.