Profile: Klean Kanteen

Since its invention in 2004, Klean Kanteen has become widely recognized as a leader in reusable water bottles.  Despite their tremendous growth and product distribution spanning the globe in 42 countries, Klean Kanteen is still very much a family company. 

             Michelle Kalberer & Jeff Cresswell                                        co-owners and siblings

             Michelle Kalberer & Jeff Cresswell                                        co-owners and siblings

An idea was born

It all started when inventor Robert Seals saw the health issues associated with plastic and lined aluminum reusable water bottles before they became widely known and publicized. He knew there had to be a healthier alternative and soon came up with the idea for a vessel for personal hydration made out of safe, leach-free stainless steel. 

Cobbling together a prototype made from items found at the local hardware store, Robert paved the way for stainless steel as a safe, durable alternative and launched the first 27 oz. Klean Kanteen in 2004 to a receptive audience. A revolution was born.

2005 was a pivotal year for the brand. Robert, as an inventor, wanted to see his product bloom. His mission was to provide a healthy, safe, on-the-go drinking vessel and having done that, it was time to let the brand soar.  He connected with the Cresswells, a long-time Chico family, who had an established distribution company.  What started out as a business proposition turned into so much more. The Cresswells soon realized how important the product was as a vehicle to talk about the negative health effects of plastic and, eventually, the battle against single-use waste. 

Siblings Jeff Cresswell and Michelle Kalberer took the reins firmly in hand and together, with the mentorship of their father Darrel Cresswell (“The Dude” as he’s fondly known around the office), embarked on a life-changing journey that has forever shaped the way we look at reusable water bottles. Things were about to get interesting.

And then it happened….

In 2008, the green industry burst wide open. An Inconvenient Truth was released two years earlier bringing attention to global warming and igniting a firestorm of attention to all things green. BPA (bisphenol-A), a chemical found in hard plastics and food and drink can liners, was garnering a lot of media attention as the reality of its adverse effects on the human body became public.  At the same time, the war on single-use waste was ramping up. Both of these scenarios placed Klean Kanteen in a prime position to capitalize on a receptive audience and continue to spread their message.  Through boots-on-the-ground marketing involving events, media appearances and outstanding messaging, the company saw sales soar. 

As the company gained traction both in the US and abroad, Jeff and Michelle, vowing to keep the family feeling within the rapidly growing company, realized the importance of culture and began implementing programs and activities that were fun, impactful and aligned with their mission to give back. 

Making an impact

Klean Kanteen leadership believes strongly in encouraging and supporting consumers in making sustainable and healthy choices. They also hold themselves to the same goals within their company.

Klean Kanteen is a member of 1% For the Planet and as of 2014, they have donated one million dollars to charities dedicated to preserving and restoring the natural environment. On a more intimate level, Klean Kanteen sends employees to places like Yosemite to help with park clean up and participate in youth programs that encourage exploring and enjoying nature.

Opportunities to partner with other environmentally committed companies are abundant. Clif Bar is one of those companies. Klean Kanteen sends 2 employees each year to participate in their projects such as restoring wetlands, creating community gardens in the Bronx and building straw bale houses on reservations around the country. The best part of all this? Klean Kanteen employees are eager to participate and apply for the honor of attending one of these outings. Their enthusiasm and commitment to make a difference in all they do is infectious.

In 2012, they proudly joined the ranks of Certified B Corporations. The standards are rigorous including performance, accountability, and transparency – all things Klean Kanteen holds strong in their beliefs. In addition to adopting business policies that support environmental and fair labor practices, they partner with like-minded nonprofits and environmental organizations working to educate the public about health and environmental issues.

When asked what their brand is best known for, co-owner Michelle Kalberer doesn’t hesitate. “Authenticity!”. She says they are known for being real. They walk the talk, understand it’s not about being perfect but more about being committed, and they take every opportunity to start a conversation. 

People and Planet

Ask any of the 62 team members and they’ll tell you the culture at Klean Kanteen is fantastic. Leadership has embraced the idea of work hard, play hard.  Team members enjoy a monthly social hour, camping trips and pretty intense bowling matches. People are happy – the average employee tenure is over 5 years.

Each team member receives 3 paid work days per year to spend volunteering at the organizations of their choice. Some choose their children’s school, others opt for park and creek clean-ups or helping at a local shelter. Whatever their choice, Jeff and Michelle feel it’s important to give back to the community and support their team members in how they wish to spend their time.

The top 3 reasons team members love working there?

1.       Family.  It’s at the core of their culture.

2.       Brand.  Employees feel connected and passionate about what they do.

3.       Fun.  Employees enjoy what they do and love the culture. 

Why Chico?

Why not? Michelle and Jeff grew up here and have chosen to raise their families here.  Michelle remembers riding her bike through lower Bidwell Park as a child, playing at Caper Acres and frequenting local swim holes as a teen.  As avid cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts, both Michelle and Jeff love everything Chico has to offer. Their employees enjoy an active lifestyle and Chico is a bike town providing ample trails and pathways to travel to and from the office.

What makes Michelle most proud?  The impact Klean Kanteen has had in changing people’s lives, the amazing team that she works with every day and the relationships with nonprofits who share the same goals.  

Chico grown and Chico proud.