Sustainability Talk: Hydro Flask’s Award-Winning Innovation
Hydro Flask started the revolution in vacuum insulated bottles. They modernized bulky old thermos designs by making them lighter, leak-proof, ergonomically comfortable and aesthetic. I wanted to learn more about the company founded on innovation since innovation is key to finding sustainable solutions. Hydro Flask’s Lucas Alberg and Indigo Teiwes agreed to meet with me at their corporate headquarters in Bend, Oregon, to talk innovation and sustainability.
Hydro Flask creates reusable goods that reduce plastic and other single-use consumption. However, we must remember that a lot more materials and energy are needed to produce durable goods, so we’ve got to have these replace a lot of single-use items.
Hydro Flask wants us to remember to have our thermos with us when we need it. They want you to like their product so much that you become attached to it. By forming an actual emotional bond with a product, you’ll remember to have it with you more often.
This is amazing because I still need all the help I can get to remember to bring my bags with me into the grocery store. And I’d honestly rather go thirsty these days than purchase a plastic bottle of water.
Simplicity is fundamental to their design and they are proud to strive for “striking simplicity.” Their products are built to last a very long time – possibly forever. Small dents don’t impact performance.
Lucas has a Hydro Flask that’s been on his desk for 8 years. The thermoses are made from food-grade stainless steel. It won’t retain smells so you can use products for morning coffee or tea, daytime water and evening beverage of choice, without odor remnants from the previous use.
The thermoses keep ice water ice cold up to 24 hours and hot drinks hot up to 12 due to TempShield™ double-wall vacuum insulation. This is a feature key to Hydro Flask’s mission to elevate customer experiences in the outdoors. Hydro Flask customers often seek the outdoors as a place to better themselves.
Whether it’s a park in New York or wildlands in Idaho, customers spend time outside for connection with community and with nature. So sustainability is close to Hydro Flask’s and their customers’ values.
Indigo and Lucas explained that the company addresses all three pillars of sustainability – social, community and environmental – and employees work across departments to make progress in each area:
- Social: Hydro Flask uses the Higg Index Facilities Social Labor Module (Higg FSLM) to guide tracking of their social and labor performance and improvement. Participating in the Higg Index is no small feat. The Higg FSLM measures labor, health and safety performance at individual factories, not just at the parent company. Collecting data throughout a supply chain, across languages, cultures and time zones is complex and challenging. But the benefit is that facility managers across the globe can learn current best practices in the field, obtain guidance on hotspots for improvement and compare their performance against their peers. Globalization has decreased visibility and control of labor practices and the Higg Index is a response to that. Strengthening supply chain engagement is the key to sustainable business operations.
- Community: The company has had a charitable arm from the very beginning. Their “Parks for All” program aims to build, maintain, restore and improve access to public green spaces and has generously given over $838,000 to 63 nonprofits for these purposes! In 2019 they funded programs ranging from Latino Outdoors (empowering underrepresented communities to access and enjoy parks and outdoor recreation) to Surfers Against Sewage (to increase coastline health). These projects bring people together to protect and enjoy the places they love. Hydro Flask has sold product seconds (products with minor scratches or dents) at discounted prices to Bend locals, with all proceeds going to employee-selected local organizations such as the Deschutes County Search and Rescue Foundation, the Deschutes County Land Trust, the Central Oregon Trail Alliance and Oregon Adaptive Sports.
- Environmental: Hydro Flask products are composed mostly of steel. Plastic is used for lids and textiles and other materials are used for totes and coolers. Steel, plastic, and textile production have a number of impacts on the environment (e.g., air and water quality, hazardous and solid wastes). They designed their product from the beginning to be BPA-free and innovated a low impact solder to be used in the manufacturing process. They are currently undertaking a greenhouse gas emissions inventory and are working with key suppliers to track their emissions data. Incorporating the use of recycled materials into products is one-way companies are reducing life-cycle impacts. Steel is, in fact, the most recyclable material on earth and can be recycled an infinite number of times, making it highly suited for transitioning to the circular economy. In the circular economy, there is no waste and old products are made into new products at the end of their life. However, there are challenges for food-grade products. Also important for the circular economy is keeping a product in use as long as possible. Hydro Flask durability has already been highlighted and repairability is possible with replacement parts available for purchase. And Hydro Flask bottles are recyclable at the end of their life – just take it to a local steel recycler. Hydro Flask’s ability to innovate will be an asset as they continue to reduce impacts on the environment.
Hydro Flask’s design innovations have won several awards. In 2019, they won four iF Design Awards, including a first-ever gold award. The iF Gold Design Award went to their Cooler Cup. Judges were impressed by the innovative, two-in-one versatility of the cup which features a removable silicone sleeve that transitions the product from a beverage cup (with a sleeve on the bottom) to a can OR bottle koozie when the sleeve is placed on top.
Their redesigned lid won an award for its Honeycomb Insulation™ providing a radiant barrier to lock in temperature. The design eliminated Styrofoam from the lid (reducing environmental impacts through design and materials selection) while improving durability, which reduced warranty replacements and associated environmental impacts. Customers appreciate the enhanced performance and find the redesign more comfortable from an ergonomics aspect.
In addition to continuous improvement and evolution in internal operations, materials, designs, and technologies, companies are finding that partnerships are effective ways to bring about bigger changes than possible alone. Hydro Flask is partnering with a few organizations to reduce the use of single-use plastics: with the Plastic Impact Alliance to reduce plastic use at Outdoor Retailer trade shows and with the World Surf League to target surfing events. Together we can make a path to a sustainable future.
Sustainability Wrap: Hard Goods Manufacturing
- CO2 Emissions
- Estimate baseline emissions and set goals, exploring options for energy efficiency upgrades in all buildings (e.g., LED lighting), on-site renewable energy, and purchasing carbon offsets or RECs.
- Collaborate with contract manufacturing facilities to build an understanding of GHG emissions tracking and reduction opportunities.
- Encourage and incentivize employees to take transit and bike and work from home and video conference when possible.
- Find ways to reduce waste from manufacturing processes, packaging and offices.
- Offer employees incentives for innovating ways to reduce waste.
- Sustainable Materials
- Conduct life-cycle assessments on products to have visibility into where biggest impacts are coming from.
- Explore the use of recycled steel and recycled plastic in products.
- Social Sustainability
- Measure and track progress to ensure that fair labor practices are being followed and improved in operations and the supply chain (e.g., Code of Conduct for all suppliers, use of Higg Index Facilities Social Labor Module).
- Assess if living wages are paid.
- Partner with community organizations to give back to local communities.
- Consider take-back programs – have a customer for life.
- Design products for disassembly and reuse.
- Innovate ways to reuse materials in new products.
- Explore partnerships.
- The Higg Index https://apparelcoalition.org/higg-facility-tools/
- Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Sustainability Starter Guidance, Toolkits, and Boot Camps https://outdoorindustry.org/sustainable-business/getting-started/
- BCorps Assessment of Impacts of Workers, Communities and Environment https://bimpactassessment.net/
- Life-Cycle Assessment Beginner’s Guide and LCA Tool https://ecochain.com/knowledge/life-cycle-assessment-lca-guide
Marca Hagenstad is a snowboarder with an economics problem. She enjoys backcountry splitboarding but spends most of her time working to save snow through climate mitigation and helping companies reduce their environmental impacts.
Marca has determined the economic values of snow for the UN IPCC and for Protect Our Winters (POW). She founded Circle Economics in 2018 to facilitate the transition to a sustainable and circular economy. She helps companies measure their environmental, economic and social impacts in industries ranging from manufacturing to utilities.
Her training by the Sustainability Consortium, created to transform the consumer goods industry, enables her to advise clients on sustainable business strategy and responding to sustainability indices. She advises clients to go beyond compliance, turning data into insights to guide a profitable business strategy.
Marca has a B.A. in Economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.S. in Economics from Utah State University. She tests splitboards for Backcountry Magazine and teaches snow science with Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA).