Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Chris Bartle
Bobby: How did we decide to start a company that gives 100% of its profits selling water in order to protect public waterways? My lifelong love of nature and animals grew into a concern for the environment. In 1984 I started working to protect the Hudson River with the Hudson Riverkeeper, where I am still the prosecuting attorney. In 1998 I went to my old law-school friend Chris and asked him, “What could we do to raise money and awareness for the work the Hudson Riverkeeper and waterkeepers all over the country are doing?"
Chris: So in 1999 we launched Keeper Springs, selling high quality spring water from a sustainable source. Inspired by Newman's Own, we chartered the company so 100% of its profits would go to the Waterkeeper Alliance. It's been tough going; it's a very competitive market. In the early years we lost money, but we adjusted our business model and gradually built a customer base. I put in 10-20% of my work time running this business, for no salary. I've come close to throwing in the towel several times, but each time the dedication of the Keepers and the response of our customers keeps us plugging away.
Bobby: I've helped where I can, and my name sometimes opens doors. Recently, for example, a regional manager at Whole Foods met me and began to feature our product – after he understood that we mean what we say. The good news is that a couple of years ago our sales picked up and the company has turned a corner. Last year we sold 100,000 cases. And with some savvy maneuvering in the marketplace aided by some of our friends, we were able donate over $300,000 in the past
2 years and expect to donate $150,000+ next year.
Chris: We're both very fortunate that neither of us need to make a living from this company so we can do this and can give more away. We do of course pay the people who work for us.
Bobby: I'm only 53 and Chris is 55. We plan to stick with this company and see it grow, including introducing new products. It is serving its goal of supporting Keepers, which is a truly effective model for protection of water bodies that has spread from the Hudson River all over the country and even abroad. There is hardly a major body of water that is not being supported by a local Keeper project. The Keepers are community-based environmental advocates, who patrol their water bodies and take action against polluters, using the legal system to clean up the local eco-system.
| Northeast | 40 to 59 Years Old | Under $1M | at least 90% | Business |
| Environment | Passion |