The best part of the work that I do is getting to meet awesome business owners and professionals who are doing really great work. In this ongoing series, I’ll be sharing some of these stories to provide real-life examples of sustainability in action.
Love Bottle is a B Corp inspired by medicine and nutrition to help people feel better emotionally while nourishing their bodies through beautifully designed glass bottles made 100% in the USA. Based in Portland with manufacturing in small-town Pennsylvania, founder Minna Yoo and her team are a great example of using business for good, for the planet, and for their customers, employees, and the community.
Why did you decide to start Love Bottle?
I never expected to start a company. I had geared my career since high school to become a doctor like my father. It wasn’t until I was going through the MCAT exam that I felt it wasn’t the right choice. I loved working with patients. I was also fascinated by how all these big pharmaceutical companies were competing against placebos instead of studying why placebos were so effective.
As I was working in nutrition, I started asking: There must be an easier way to improve health that is simple and affordable. In working with demographics experiencing depression, anxiety and other mood issues, I was looking for a balance between nutrition and wellbeing. It was as I was brainstorming for my Master’s degree that I was inspired and I saw the whole company: the name LoveBottle and a vision of people drinking water and feeling happy and connected.
What are some of the ways in which you incorporated environmental considerations into the business? Why did you choose to implement these features and/or practices?
I’ve also been an environmentalist, even at a young age. I wrote a letter to our middle school principle asking why we were learning about the ozone hole in class but using Styrofoam trays in the cafeteria. He invited me in for a proposal that resulted in their replacement with reusable, long-lasting food trays, and we started the first environmental club.
So when I started LoveBottle, glass was the most non-leaching, friendly way to deliver good to the body. At the time, plastics still had BPA. Even though that was banned from hard plastics for its link as a carcinogen, companies have replaced the one chemical with another; who knows when that will be also proven unsafe.
As a nutritionist, I know that water is in every cell of our being. It made more sense to address whether someone was drinking enough water than to invest in supplements that won’t fix the underlying issue if they’re dehydrated.
When you think of wine, beer or champagne, you don’t think of drinking it out of a tumbler, stainless steel, or plastic cup – you want glass because it elevates it. Since water is such high priority in our health, we should elevate it to the best vessel, which is glass. We also went plastic-free by using a silicon seal with a ceramic lid, and we use only cardboard for packaging.
What has been your biggest challenge in making your business sustainable?
The biggest challenge was in moving our manufacturing from China to the US which we completed in 2015. It was after returning from a visit to our factory in Qingdao, China that I felt really conflicted. While the workers weren’t being abused or suffering, the setup of the factory was a little challenging. Living and working there, with a small outdoor space, felt like a prison. The city was so heavily polluted. The sky looked like post-forest fires, where it’s dangerous to be outside, and the sun looked like an angry orange glow.
Transitioning the manufacturing to the US took a lot of hard work. It took over 2 years and included a Kickstarter campaign to get enough funding. When I decided to move manufacturing to the US, everyone kept asking us why and we were told no, so many times. There were a lot of challenges that we had to figure out and problem solve. One issue was the quantity of orders we could support. Most US manufacturers have minimums of multi-million units per order, and we felt fortunate to find a manufacturer willing to go lower.
How have you engaged your employees in your sustainability work?
Even as I bring on new employees, most all have an environmental side and passion to them which drew them to LoveBottle. They love that they can help serve in that capacity as part of our business model. From who we partner with, donate to, or causes we support, to how we can volunteer our time, everyone is engaged in some aspect of sustainability.
Are you involved in community activities or giving back to the community? How do you see this as being part of your overall sustainability efforts?
We do a lot of work with B Local Portland (the group of locally Certified B Corps), including participating in organized volunteer events. We did growing gardens where we helped inmates create their own food, get outside, and eat healthy. Even though we’re a small team, we also participate in beach clean-ups and other community activities were we can donate our time.
LoveBottle currently donates 5% of every purchase to Global Water and now Charity Water. Focusing on one charity helps us give a bigger impact, such as supporting the development of a whole new well instead of only a part. As we get bigger, I’d love to explore how we can support different charities through different bottle designs. For example, the honey bee design could support bees and help express some people’s passion.
Why did you choose to become a Certified B Corp? What did you learn from going through the process?
I chose to become a B Corp as soon as I learned about it. Our local grocery store, New Seasons, put the B Corp label on their bags and it resonated: it felt like these are our people. Once we got our manufacturing settled it was a matter of when rather than of why.
Before going through the certification process, though, I thought we were already a B Corp because of our product and charity work that we did. I didn’t realize there was so much we could still improve on. Going through the process made me realize there’s so much more in business that I didn’t think about, that we can go beyond our mission to actually doing business as a force for good. Also as a community leader, being a female minority owner, it was important for me to participate and lend my input in different ways.
What advice would you give to others who are also working to improve their social and environmental impacts?
I’d advise others to go through the B Corp assessment and at least see where they land. If they can, go for B Corp certification; it’s such a great community, with great companies really trying to change what businesses can do, and they want to support each other. As a small business, it’s a great network and great to feel like you’re part of something bigger. It’s actually easier to become certified when you’re small than when you’re a bigger corporation. It can be intimidating initially, but the B Corp community is full of small or solo entrepreneurs.
There are so many new developments in sustainability than there used to be. If you go in with the mindset of how you can make this more sustainable, through the ways of improving, and you look at how your business approaches people and the community, there is always something that is attainable.