Paul Kupfer from soulbottles

Category: Future heads

© soulproducts GmbH

© soulproducts GmbH

The oceans are being abused as a dumping ground. 35 billion plastic bottles end up in the oceans or on landfills each year. Paul Kupfer and his team of 30 members at soulbottles want to change that. They have been producing sustainable drinking bottles with distinct motifs since 2013 – environmental awareness meets lifestyle. With soulbottles, CEO Paul Kupfer also wants to offer solutions that are not only sustainable and go easy on the environment, but at the same time are fun and look good.

You are selling completely plastic-free drinking bottles made of glass that are not only sustainable, but also feature a compelling creative design. Ecological lifestyle – what exactly does that mean?

In essence, it is about saving the world, of course. And you have to start somewhere. In Germany, tap water is of great quality, nevertheless we still buy millions of plastic bottles in the supermarket in order to drink water that has been transported halfway around the world. That is bad for the planet, bad for our health and it also costs way too much money. However, I don’t particularly like the word “lifestyle”, especially because it always sounds like consumption to me. Like buying even more. In fact, soulbottles are the exact opposite. They are some kind of anti-consumption with the core message: buy one drinking bottle and not ten plastic bottles per week.  

What makes soulbottles so sustainable?

It was our aim to produce really nice and clean drinking bottles and we have succeeded in doing so. And soulbottles are – as I mentioned before – completely free of plastic and are 100 percent made in Germany. Furthermore, one euro per bottle sold is donated to drinking water projects. This way we have managed to collect more than 300,000 euros for the organisation “Viva con Agua” in the past three years.

Currently, 35 billion plastic bottles end up in the oceans or on landfills each year. In 2050 there might be more plastic than fish in the ocean. Is there any way that a company like soulbottles could turn around this trend?

Already now, there is more plastic in the ocean than there is plankton. And this affects all of us, as through the food chain the plastic also ends up in our bodies. Not to mention the extinction of species and the implications that cannot yet be assessed at this stage. Can soulbottles turn around this trend? Hopefully! We are doing everything we can, but we will probably not be able to make it on our own. Especially in the business sector, sustainability should play a much bigger role.

Is the “sustainability” issue written in your genes?

I am not a biologist, but I have heard that there is supposed to be some kind of “basic morality”. At least some scientists consider it possible that this morality could also be stored in the DNA. But maybe it might also be due to my sociocultural background: my father, for example, was one of the founding members of the German Green Party and my grandmother is a member to this day.

In 2011, you were developing the idea with your friend and partner Georg Tarne in a back room in Berlin and shortly after the first prototypes entered the market. How many employees are working for your company today?

Strictly speaking, it was in Vienna. And it was not a back room but my room in a shared flat. Georg and I were officially students at that time. But already then, he was amazed by the idea of “social entrepreneurship”, i.e. a for-profit organisation with a social mission. In the beginning, I was particularly interested in trying out whether I was able to burn drawings to glass bottles. After a few months we had managed it in laborious manual work: friends and acquaintances were delighted and wanted to buy the soulbottles – that’s how we got the ball rolling. I moved back to my home town Berlin in 2013 and that’s where we set up our warehouse and offices. And today, we are employing more than 30 people.

The bottles are characterised by creative and funny motifs. Are those all your ideas or is it possible to commission a personal favourite motif?

Thank you, but we are not designing the motifs ourselves. We want to give young artists the opportunity to immortalise themselves on our “canvases of glass”. To that end, we are regularly carrying out design contests in the frame of which our community members can design and upload their motifs themselves. Then, our fans and customers vote for the motifs they like. Last time, more than 200 motifs were submitted and there were almost 100,000 votes. You can view the result <link - external-link-new-window "Opens internal link in current window">here</link>. But it is also possible to have a personal design created, just send us an <link - external-link-new-window "Opens internal link in current window">email</link>. We’ll get the printer running at 50 pieces or more. 

Where do you see soulbottles in five years?

I think it’s really a shame that it’s always the founders who have to answer that question. Therefore, I have simply asked the team. Moritz from Controlling says: “Right at the top”. David (HR and Logistics) answered: “As a pioneer for a great social business culture and a sustainable partner for sustainable consumption”. And Angelika (International Sale): “We have managed to establish ourselves across Europe”.

I can only agree with that. Personally, I am focussing on our next project with our partner “Viva con Agua” at the moment. We will be visiting the drinking water projects in Rwanda and Uganda and are planning on walking 500 kilometres in one month in order to draw attention to the local water scarcity.

Let’s have a look further in the future: how could a plastic-free future look like? 

I don’t think that the future necessarily has to be free of plastic. There are many application areas such as medicine, where plastic indeed makes sense. I wish for a future in which we are not producing so much packaging that is simply thrown away. How could that look like? Simply take a look at the past. Some decades ago, we did not produce so much plastic garbage.

Finally, could you please complete the following sentence: “Berlin is...”

Home. Colourful, inspiring. Really horrible in the winter, really great in the summer, full of road works and techno, funny, huge, dopey. And for me, the most beautiful city in the world.