After more than 40 years in the canning business, Greg Stromberg decided he wanted to give something back. But rather than simply writing a big check to a favorite charity, Stromberg chose an entrepreneurial route. Six years ago he founded CannedWater4Kids, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit that sells spring water in aluminum bottles and cans, with the proceeds used to fund clean-drinking-water projects in developing nations. In November, CannedWater4Kids’ 16-ounce bottle packaging won the Best of Show award in Beverage World Magazine’s 2014 Global Packaging Design Competition. Stromberg, whose nonprofit has raised over $200,000 for clean-water projects, spoke to Can Science about his philanthropy.
CTN: How did you decide to start a nonprofit focused on delivering water in underdeveloped countries?
GS: I always felt that I needed to give back to my company and industry for all of the blessings I have received in the 44 years in this industry. I have three children I was able to put through college and nine healthy grandchildren. But as I was exposed to the news and [met] a missionary in Africa, I felt rather guilty of the abundance we have here in America. I think as you get older you appreciate the fact that you were lucky to be born in a country with so many opportunities and resources.
How large is your team?
I like to refer to our 501(c)(3) nonprofit as a very lean virtual e-charity. Our staff and board are very small and no one is paid a salary. No infrastructure or high administrative costs. Over 95 percent of our proceeds go directly to clean, safe, sustainable drinking-water projects in two countries [Zambia, Guatemala]. Did you know that in Zambia in Central Africa, $0.025 will keep one child supplied with safe, clean drinking water for five years?
Why did you choose aluminum cans and bottles over plastic for the water?
Aluminum is infinitely recyclable and becomes a new can in 60 days, unlike plastic. Aluminum cans and bottles provide long shelf life by protecting the product inside from sunlight and contamination, they don’t shatter and they are light to transport. Aluminum cools down faster. Aluminum cans stack well. Our cans and bottles are filled with spring water close to the source. Unlike tap water, it doesn’t travel long distances in pipes that may add contaminates to the drinking water. We all know that our infrastructure continues to deteriorate and in many cities it is crumbling, along with the old leaded pipes in older homes.
How do consumers react to water in a can?
People are surprised at first. They love the taste of the water because it’s cold, unlike plastic, which never feels cold. It cools down faster and people like that aspect. It’s kind of a novelty. Plus our graphics won an award from Beverage World, so people have been keeping the bottle to refill.
You sell cans of water in the U.S. and the profits go to other countries to build water-purification solutions. Where do you sell the water?
We have sold water to universities, trade shows, small retailers and Aramark in Denali National Park in Alaska, to replace plastic bottles.
Give us a sense of the scope of your operations.
We are currently focused on Zambia in Central Africa and on the Highlands of Guatemala, working with the [nonprofit] Engineers Without Borders from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. We have done seven wells in Africa and six water-purification projects in Guatemala. We have in the past supplied water for emergency purposes: for Haiti after the earthquake, Northern Japan after the tsunami and the Red Cross after Superstorm Sandy. We have also supported WaterCharity.org and SON International over the last five years.
Do you have any concerns about BPA in metal cans?
Not at all. My wife, my children, my grandchildren and I have all been drinking out of cans for many years with no issues. I believe that the science shows that there have been no issues with cans. I believe that this is why they are the safest containers in the world for food and beverages. I don’t know of anyone getting sick or dying from a canned food product. I do know my family has gotten sick from unpackaged food.
How do you encourage recycling?
We are involved with the Oskar Blues Foundation and we have set up recycling containers at events we attend to make sure our cans are recycled. We also reference on our package that a can becomes a new can in 60 days and is infinitely recyclable. We partner with Can Manufacturers Institute to help educate schools. We have also worked with the GreenSportsAlliance.org and YouAreWhatYouDrink.org, which is part of Partnership for a Healthier America.