How NOBL Beverages is Spearheading Sustainability and Philanthropy with their Support of The Water Project

Wednesday, May 29th, 2024

Recently, I sat down with Andy Upton from NOBL Beverages, a supporter of The Water Project (TWP), to discuss their passion for helping people and the planet.

They support TWP through their WTR4 program, which funds charity initiatives by selling low-cost canned water. With such a genius idea (everyone needs water, and cans are infinitely recyclable), I was curious to hear about the thinking behind the program — and what else this sustainability-minded brand has been up to.

NOBL’s WTR4 line.

Jamie (TWP): What are some of the sustainability initiatives you’ve undertaken at NOBL?

Andy (NOBL): Once I started working here, I really felt like I was seeing a lot of waste in the beverage industry. And once you start to see beverage manufacturing, you’re like, whoa. 

We started out doing kegs. Just the idea of serving coffee in bulk in kegs that are infinitely reusable got me interested. We sell in kegs, and then people can obviously [refill them] as needed. Then we bring the keg back and we wash it. We have kegs we’ve had for seven, eight years — since the beginning. They don’t go bad. They’re just stainless, so. 

So, we decided to do cans for all of our coffees and our teas. This way, we’re keeping with that sustainability, because cans are so much more recyclable than plastic, and so much more recycled than plastic, really, too. None of the waste companies recycle [plastic]. It’s a really low number — below 10% — whereas aluminum is infinitely recyclable. It takes a lot of energy to make [an aluminum can], but once it’s made, it doesn’t take as much energy to keep reusing it. 

Seeing the increasing amounts of waste around the world was difficult to see, even if it’s not here. We’ve been doing monthly beach cleanups with Surfrider for…I think this is our third year. We pick up hundreds of pounds of trash on the beach. It’s pretty normal that at least every cleanup will be a minimum of 100 pounds of trash and a lot of plastics. And it’s like, man, all this stuff breaks down and is in the sand, and it’s a bit of a yikes moment. So, even if a can gets littered, there’s some good things about cleaning it up, because then you can put it in the recycling, versus all the plastics that break down into these smaller plastics that never break down from there. 

Jamie (TWP): I wanted to ask about your water initiative WTR4, to hear about your thoughts behind starting that and what got you going with that idea. 

Andy (NOBL): Yeah, so it was kind of natural for us. The first WTR4 we did was for Hurricane Ian as a donation because we do a lot of fishing down in Florida. [NOBL’s owner] Connor’s parents live down there. And my parents live down there, too. So we were aware of what was going on in Florida, and that people didn’t have water. There was no water to drink after that hurricane. People didn’t have running water, and even if it was still running, it was all contaminated and gross. So we donated 20,000 cans. 

And that’s what started WTR4, being able to give back something that has inherently become a business. 

Where [other companies] take water that is very, very cheap or almost free, and then [they] put it in a package, charge $2 for it, keep all the money, and put it in a package that deteriorates the earth. It floats in the ocean, washes up on islands, and [they’re] creating this narrative of your own water not being good enough, so you have to drink [theirs]. And it’s super awful to me. 

So what we’re doing is we donate $6 a case and try to sell it really affordably, too, but at the same time, we’re donating a large portion of that. And so we’re not really making money on it. We’re covering our employees getting paid to make it and our material costs, but that’s really it. So it’s not like a “let’s make a bunch of money” thing, because we already have the distribution too. 

So we’re trying to donate as much as we can and do as much as we can because water shouldn’t be a billion-dollar business. And we also didn’t want to carry another brand’s water [and] distribute it, because we have a distribution company along with our own brand, and we didn’t want to pay for another brand’s canned water to then just have the money go back to them, where we could do more good with it if we made our own. 

Jamie (TWP): Yeah, I love that initiative and the thinking behind it, too. 

Andy (NOBL): Thanks. And with WTR4, too, it made so much sense to partner with you all. I mean, just being in our state was important. Having a local-ish nonprofit was something that we valued. But then also the transparency and the level of detail that’s on your site was amazing. I haven’t seen that in many nonprofits. 

Jamie (TWP): Yeah, I’m really proud of the detail that we share with people, because it takes a lot of people a lot of time to collect all the information and share it out. It seems like donors really respond. 

Andy (NOBL): Absolutely. I would say the work is impressive, but it’s sometimes abstract to a lot of Americans — but having it not be abstract when you’re seeing a place, people, a goal, and then the result of the goal. It really made sense in my mind when I was looking around. 

We are still also looking at stuff internally in the country, too, especially as we grow, and being able to do more hurricane relief type things, natural disaster relief type projects, where we’re able to send a bunch of water to a natural disaster area that doesn’t have water. 

Jamie (TWP): So, you’ve already answered this a little bit, but what led you to The Water Project? Why work with us over other orgs?

Andy (NOBL): The fact that you guys were a local organization, the transparency, and the reporting is just unmatched and amazing [compared to] any other nonprofits I was looking into. The fact that you’re providing clean water. 

So, we’re letting someone who’s privileged in the US be able to buy water at the store and have water at their home and have this convenience, and when they’re doing that, they’re helping someone else in another place have clean water in their community, which is just such a basic thing. It’s kind of interesting to me because 100 years ago, no one had bottled water. It’s a pretty new project, but if this can take off and do well, maybe other water companies will feel responsible and feel like, “oh, maybe we have to give back more than we are” or something, because there’s a lot of greed in that business. 

And The Water Project is great because you can pick your project you want to sponsor, you can see everything that’s happening beginning to end, and the progress, and also get email updates with what’s happening. The emails are great. I love the emails. Like having all those updates with what’s going on in certain places. Yeah, that definitely drew me to The Water Project. 

Jamie (TWP): So, what are NOBL’s goals and how does spreading water access work within those goals? 

Andy (NOBL): Our mission was to provide people with access to beverages that make a difference for themselves, their community, and their environment. And so it’s this triangle of having beverages that are better as far as ingredient quality goes, not having a bunch of preservatives in them, the way they’re made. 

We’re keeping the ingredients for brewing them cold, which then keeps them fresher and helps the flavor really come out and also helps you get the nutrients from the product instead of heating it really, really, really hot and killing a lot of those flavors and nutrients. And there are preservatives obviously, too, some less harmful than others. But a lot of people don’t realize how acidic the stuff they’re drinking is. So, [customers] make a difference for themselves [through] nutrition and for their community. 

We ask, what are we giving back? What are we doing as far as sustainability for our community? Are we polluting our community? Or are we using good business practices that are helping our community stay healthy? Are we creating tons and tons and tons of trash? 

We’re not perfect, believe me. But our coffee grounds get picked up by this guy who has picked them up for like, seven years, and he brings them to his little blueberry farm and uses them for all sorts of things. He uses them to sand his driveway! And he has a big pile of them, too, it’s like a coffee mountain, and it’s all good for the soil. 

We’re also serving our community with better products. Sometimes, the alternative isn’t very good. There are more canned waters out there now, but even having a canned option versus a plastic option, and then that not washing up on their beach because it went out on a boat and then got dumped or whatever. Just trying to offer sustainable options, trying to have sustainable practices here, and use sustainable packaging. 

And, also, giving back to places that also help the environment like The Water Project. 

Jamie (TWP): Wow, you guys do a lot! 

Andy (NOBL): We try. For a little company. 

Jamie (TWP): It’s like, “We can help with this. We have the tools, we have the capability. So let’s do something that, like you said before, nourishes the community.” That seems like a really big thing for you guys. 

Andy (NOBL): Yeah, we try. We always feel like we could be doing more, but we try. It feels like something we need to be focusing on. And as a beverage company, the fact that we’re working with water and liquids so much, it’s natural to be attracted toward environmental things. It’s a natural transition, especially because such a large amount of the beverage industry contributes to waste. I think beverage companies need to own that a little bit more. But there definitely needs to be a responsibility that a beverage company should feel about pollution and sustainability within education, what they’re doing to help, and also what they’re packaging their products in. 

Jamie (TWP): Does giving clean water affect employee morale? 

Andy (NOBL): I think it does. People who come on board join the team because of our philanthropy. The thing that’s often said is they went on our website and saw something we did for someone, whether it was another one of our benefit cans, our water cans, or just any of our outward sort of giving to the community — a lot of times that’s what brings people on board and gets people excited about even coming on board. And then once they’re here, I think people really find some sense of pride in making those products, too. I definitely do. And so, yes, it definitely affects people coming on the team, and then people internally feel a sense of pride about working here, being like, “Yeah, I work for a company that does give back and does care about things outside of their business.” 

Jamie (TWP): Do you get feedback from customers about your giving? 

Andy (NOBL): Totally. Yeah. We’ve definitely had a few customers that are very ocean- and water-focused and are near a lot of these more fragile ecosystems who have been drawn to this product (WTR4) in particular, because they understand how fragile it can be and how important it is to really maintain healthy communities with healthy water. So the fact that a lot of these people live in more fragile areas that are near the ocean, and they see some of the really big storms that come in that really affect a way of life, or they are near rivers and things…They really understand the importance of water quality, and they have really gravitated towards this product. 

We have a few customers who have replaced all of their bottled water with this (WTR4) because they’ve appreciated the mission so much. That’s still growing, and we have a couple big customers that we might get on board. 

I think people like these B2B customers, they want something they can feel good about buying. They want something that, in their conscience is like, “I am offering a product, but I’m also in turn giving back by buying this.” I think people really gravitate toward that. So they’re in turn donating themselves by just buying it, which is a great benefit. 

Jamie (TWP): It helps them feel involved in something just by being part of your business network. 

Andy (NOBL): Exactly. Yeah, and it helps them then have pride in their business, too. So it helps them to be able to have pride in the products they’re offering, too, and be like, “Yeah, our business is supporting clean water in sub-Saharan Africa and also in local communities.” 

Our big Hurricane Ian donation that sort of launched WTR4 — we’ve had people reach out on social media and all sorts of different places saying, “I will be a customer of yours forever because of that. We needed that at that time.” Or like, “My mom needed that at that time. We will be a customer forever because of this.” And that really makes me feel happy about working here. 

And we have a little QR code on our can that goes to our site and shows how much money we’ve given so far. I think it helps really quantify it. 

Jamie (TWP): The last question is, what advice would you give to other companies considering supporting The Water Project? 

Andy (NOBL): I think the most valuable thing is finding something that connects to your product and your values and really taking it seriously. And don’t just blindly donate and then not think about what that actually means and what it means to your business. Because I think your customers find it so much more impactful when they get why you’re doing it, and they get how it connects to your business. And thinking about that “why” and how it connects back to your business, and then how it’s going to fuel your business and your sustainability, I think is really big. And how it’ll impact your decisions in the future too. So, whether you’re a bank, or cereal company, or concrete company, just try to think about your “why.” 

It doesn’t have to be linked to selling water, giving water, because that’s not realistic for every company. But thinking about your why and then how it connects back to your business and then how that’s going to shift some of your thoughts and business practices going forward, I think is important. Giving is always great, but thinking also about how that’s going to change you in your day-to-day business practices or products you’re offering or packaging, I think that’s important. That’s the first thing I think of. 

Jamie (TWP): I love that, because that’s what creates that sense of community with your B2B customers, as well as with your retail customers. The whole sense of community that everybody has, it’s because you’re marrying your why with your giving. That shows a lot with NOBL Beverages. And I think that message for our other business partners or other corporate partners will be really helpful to hear. 

Andy (NOBL): That’s the big thing for even me as a consumer. It’s like, you’re looking at a company and they say, oh, we’re giving to this cause. It’s like, that’s amazing. But how is that changing your “why,” and what is that then doing for you going forward? And are you just giving to offset the environmental impact that you have, or are you giving because it supports your mission and it furthers your goals? Or is it just what you think you should be doing — which is also not bad at the root of it, because we should be giving. Giving is great, but don’t do it just because you think you should be doing it. 

As Andy said, NOBL Beverages works to show how businesses can intertwine sustainability, philanthropy, and community engagement. I’m so happy they’ve chosen to benefit TWP with their innovative WTR4 program. Their commitment to reducing waste while supporting clean water initiatives through The Water Project are truly commendable. 

We encourage you to support NOBL by purchasing their beverages and join us in making a difference by donating to The Water Project. Together, we can ensure access to clean water and create a healthier planet for all.

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Jamie Heminway

Jamie is a storyteller by nature. In joining the Water Project, she’s finally found a workplace where that pesky bleeding heart of hers can be put to use (and, less importantly, that BA in English Language & Literature from New England College).