Originally published 28. July 2015

In this interview, we caught up with Paul Kupfer, co-founder of the Berlin-based social business, soulbottles. soulbottles, producer of the world’s cleanest drinking bottle, tackles the ecological and health risks associated with plastic products, while also advocating for and supporting clean water projects around the world. Read on as he tells us about their work and does some serious myth busting about everything you thought you knew about water. 

soulbottles social impact:

  • saved 90 tons of plastic
  • saved 1000 tons of CO2
  • supported a project in Nepal with 30.000€ that helped more then 40.000 people. 

What motivated you to create the “world’s cleanest drinking bottles?”

We wanted to solve environmental and social problems with our work – that was always our main motivation. soulbottles solves two very pressing problems. First, it tackles the ecological and health risks associated with plastic products; the more people drink tap water out of soulbottles, the fewer plastic bottles are used worldwide. Second, as a company, we donate 1€ per soulbottle to clean water projects; right now, we have more than 800 million people without access to clean drinking water, so there remains a lot of work to be done in that realm, which keeps us motivated. 

Together with Viva con Agua, you just launched a new product, FEINSTES! Tell us about the idea behind it.

When we founded soulbottles, a lot of restaurants began asking us if they could use them. One of our main goals is to substitute mineral water with more eco-friendly tap water everywhere possible. So, of course, we saw a large amount of potential in restaurants and wanted to support them in this movement. So, an idea was born: let’s make tap water its own brand and create a nice bottle for it to be served in. That’s FEINSTES! Customers pay for the water, but often less than he or she would pay for mineral water. 50% to 100% of these profits – depending on the partner – get donated, while the rest stays with the restaurant. This way, everybody wins; the restaurant is not losing the money it would earn selling mineral water and, at the same time, we are able to support clean water projects, all while knowing that customers are not paying for an unnecessary and overpriced product. 

Have you encountered any challenges in disseminating information about the significant benefits of choosing tap water over bottled water? 

When we started in Austria, I found that most people already knew that tap water is high quality; often times, they just did not think much about it. Soulbottles was a great way to remind them of this fact. When we moved to Germany, I saw that more people were skeptical about tap water, which was understandable. There are so many scandals, articles, and “scientific studies” surrounding this topic that it is hard to know what one should believe. For soulbottles, we researched a lot, spoke with water suppliers, scientists, and institutes from different areas. 

Lastly, "I believe the biggest challenge for us is that people have to realize that tap water is OUR water, and we should work to preserve it."
The principal goal of a supplier should always be to deliver the best quality and to protect the great gift of clean drinking water. That is the reason I am against water privatization. 

Can the average consumer be convinced to switch from seemingly healthier and more ecologically conscious options – for example, BPA-free drinking bottles or bioplastics – to glass vesicles? In your opinion, what needs to happen for this shift to be realized? 

Our main focus is to get the people who are currently not drinking tap water on board with our mission. If somebody wants to use another brand or material than ours, I don’t try to persuade them otherwise. In my experience, most other materials – like plastic or metal – start smelling and tasting strange very quickly. I prefer glass. I believe a shift can be realized when more people see that BPA-free is not truly a solution. There has been more and more research in recent years demonstrating that the materials the plastic industry uses to replace BPA have similar (and sometimes even more detrimental) health effects.

You’re a social business, how do you measure your impact? 

 In the beginning, we did a survey, attempting to analyze how much one soulbottle is being used. From there, we calculated how much CO2 and plastic is being saved with the use of one soulbottle. Last year, we saved 90 tons of plastic, 1000 tons of CO2, and supported a project in Nepal with 30.000€ that helped more then 40.000 people. 

What are the three most important lessons you’ve learned throughout the process of creating and distributing this eco-conscious product? 

1. Try to work with partners who share your values – it makes communication and collaborative work so much better.

2. Prioritize your tasks. There is always more to do than you can manage; try to focus on the action that will produce the greatest outcome.

3. Don’t let people tell you, “that can not be done,” or, “we always did it this way.” Most of our structures, habits, and beliefs are created by humans. You are a human, so you can create, you can change.

(4. Bonus: Celebrate everything! )