I’m seeing more companies with very big ESG goals tied to their P&L, and they’re looking to consumers to hold them accountable. I’m encouraged by the number of these companies that are not just doing the right thing, but also being transparent about it.

Sarah Kauss, founder of S’well, is on a mission: to save the world from single-use plastic water bottles. The company has been built on a foundation of environmental and social purpose with a pragmatic commercial mindset to support it.

“Disposable plastic water bottles have never made sense to me”, says founder Sarah Kauss. “They’re recycled infrequently and they’re bad for the environment. I carried my own reusable bottle for years, but as I progressed in my business career, I realized that the bottles I brought into the boardroom looked like something I would take on a hiking trip. I was driven to do something about that. What if I could create a reusable bottle that was functional and beautiful so that people were proud to carry it. And each time they used it, one less plastic bottle would end up on our oceans or landfills.”

That was the inspiration for S’well. And 12 years later, Sarah’s strong sense of purpose and the spark to ignite change are still front and center. As a business leader, it is her continuing goal to help reduce plastic waste by influencing people’s behavior.

Paying it forward

The commercial success of the company has contributed to another important goal: S’well’s ability to give back and support communities in need.

As an example, Sarah describes how the company partnered with UNICEF USA from 2015 – 2021 to build infrastructure, educate families on water-borne diseases and promote national reforms to help provide clean and safe water to the world’s most vulnerable communities.

“We want to do whatever we can to help people live more sustainably,” she says, “and much of our attention has been focused on supporting water programs such as building wells to provide clean drinking water across Madagascar – a country where nearly 50% of the population lacks access to clean water.”

Measuring the impact of a purpose driven business

S’well became B Corporation1 in 2020. As the gold seal for attaining the highest standards of performance and value, this is the only certification that measures a company’s entire environmental and social impact on the wider community. “We’ve seen an increasing willingness for consumers to pay for brands that do something good,” notes Sarah, “and, anecdotally, our B Corp certification has not only helped our business, but our employee recruitment as well, with recent hires who were only interested in working at a sustainable brand.”

“We’ve also been able to become involved interesting collaborations with other B Corps. This would never have happened if we weren’t certified as well, and we’ve definitely seen the added value of being aligned with other purpose-driven businesses like ours.”

The company’s product selection has expanded dramatically over the years from one reusable water bottle to more than 30 products, including a large variety of reusable food containers that replace the disposable containers of old.

“We recognize that we’re only addressing a certain number of issues in people’s lives,” says Sarah, “but we’re giving them a way to think about things differently. And we can conservatively say we’ve sold enough reusable water bottles to save the equivalent of over four billion single-use plastic bottles stretching around the equator 35 times. And those metrics don’t even account for how we might be helping to make a difference in the future by influencing people’s overall awareness and behavior.

“We believe that something as simple as buying and using a beautiful, reusable water bottle can encourage people to do something good and have a positive impact on the world.”


The views and opinions [of external contributors] expressed herein are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of KPMG International Limited or any KPMG member firm.

KPMG’s participation and contribution in this regard is not an endorsement, sponsorship or implied backing of any company’s products or services.

1 Certified B Corporation, https://www.bcorporation.net/en-us/certification/