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Chris Kanik of Smart Cups: 5 Things We Can Do To Inspire The Next Generation About Sustainability

If companies work to become more sustainable, they essentially learn how to utilize their byproducts and maximize their resources. I always say that waste to one company is a resource to another. I think it’s important for companies to connect with each other more effectively at figuring out how they can benefit from one another. […]

If companies work to become more sustainable, they essentially learn how to utilize their byproducts and maximize their resources. I always say that waste to one company is a resource to another. I think it’s important for companies to connect with each other more effectively at figuring out how they can benefit from one another. Any company that has “waste” is not trying hard enough to figure out its utility, and how they might be able to profit from it.

As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris KanikChris is the CEO and Founder of Smart Cups, a sustainability-driven technology company achieving the world’s first printed beverage. Through Smart Cups, Kanik has worked to eliminate the need to bottle and ship liquids and, in turn, significantly reduce our carbon footprint. Kanik’s Southern California-based company is revolutionizing the beverage industry by disrupting manufacturing, packaging, shipping and consumption. With a BA in Economics from Cornell University, Kanik is a highly dynamic leader whose rare blend of passion, imagination, diverse education and experiences make him an iconoclastic entrepreneur.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Everyone always asks and the story is quite comical. While it’s true that I started working in a lab at age 12, it all really started at a crowded Taco Tuesday when my waitress wasn’t coming fast enough with my margarita. I grabbed a pen and a napkin and began drawing out a protocol for making instant margaritas. Then, the next day I purchased a bottle of Everclear and Maltodextrin and turned my kitchen into a lab. From there, the idea for Smart Cups was born!

What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?

Smart Cups is a sustainability-driven technology company with a mission to provide a mindful path forward for the beverage industry and beyond. As the world’s first printed beverage, we have created a solution that eliminates the need to bottle and ship liquids and, in turn, significantly reduce our carbon footprint. With the ability to print ingredients onto any type of surface, our technology reimagines the way beverages are manufactured, packaged, transported and consumed. With this, we are working to create a new standard for environmentally conscious products and paving the way to a brighter, more sustainable future.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

Our ultimate goal is to eliminate the transportation of liquid. There is a lot of data showing how life cycles of products manufactured, plastics and emissions all adversely affect our environment and contribute to climate change. However, there is very little data on the impact liquid transportation has on the environment. This is most likely because there has never really been an alternative solution. That’s why Smart Cups is partnering with some of the most prestigious research universities to evaluate the short and long-term impact this has on the environment. If we are able to find an alternative, why should we continue to ship liquid and deplete our resources while burning diesel fuel?

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

If companies work to become more sustainable, they essentially learn how to utilize their byproducts and maximize their resources. I always say that waste to one company is a resource to another. I think it’s important for companies to connect with each other more effectively at figuring out how they can benefit from one another. Any company that has “waste” is not trying hard enough to figure out its utility, and how they might be able to profit from it.

The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

First, I think it’s important for everyone, especially our young people to stop believing everything they read online. It’s great that younger generations have a passion for the environment, but a lot of what we see on the internet is factually incorrect, and not rooted in science. It is important for people to take the time to slow down and educate themselves on certain complex issues. For example, a lot of people think Smart Cups makes physical plastic cups, which we don’t. And, I understand that it is hard for some people to see the bigger picture, and our ultimate goal of eliminating liquid transportation. Oftentimes, people have a knee-jerk reaction when they see “plastic cup,” and are unable to get past this one component of a much larger and complicated issue. We have to come together and look at these issues holistically.

Secondly, we should learn to question and challenge our own belief system. Let’s use reusable water bottles as an example. Society as a whole has jumped on the bandwagon that reusable water bottles are sustainable; however, no one thinks about the full life cycle of reusable water bottles. Meaning, how many resources were used to produce them? How many reusable water bottles does the average person own? How quickly do they discard them to buy a trendier one? When they are discarded, how do they decompose? And, so on.

Third, we should learn to question the source of everything. As we have seen time and time again, data can be skewed to further a company’s individual agenda. As an engaged consumer, I always encourage my family, friends and co-workers to do their due diligence and think about the following: who funded a study and why, why does someone want me to believe this and what does the company have to gain? From there, I believe you will be able to evaluate and uncover the underlying motive.

Fourth, always keep your eye on the bigger picture. Nothing on this planet exists in a vacuum.

Finally, I would like for everyone to try and support companies that are genuinely interested and invested in reducing waste all the while furthering sustainability. Many times, you will see someone share disparaging remarks online about how plastic is ruining the world, but those same people do not realize that some of their everyday products are even worse for the environment. There are a lot of amazing and revolutionary companies who are pushing the boundaries and advancing sustainability. Take the time to research which brands and companies are actually helping move the environmental movement forward.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

First, it’s important to develop thick skin.
Second, experts and consultants don’t know anymore than you do.
Third, not everyone is going to understand the implications of your technology. In fact, many will be very confused. Therefore, spend more time educating the public.
Fourth, you will have good days and bad days — do your best to try and stay even keel most of the time. Don’t get too high and don’t get too low.

Fifth, ask yourself if what you are doing will be the hardest thing you ever venture to accomplish in your life? Think twice about it.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My high school chemistry teacher, Nadia Makar. Even before she became my chemistry teacher, she recognized a talent in me, therefore placing me in unique situations. Nadia is the reason I was able to work in a lab at age 12, and she continues to provide me with mentorship. I always tell her (half jokingly), had it not been for her — I’d probably be in jail.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

To be empathetic, kind and understanding. Most people are only concerned with issues that individually impact them. We have to remember that everything we do is interconnected and that we don’t live in a vacuum. To really be effective in life, we have to understand all of the issues that affect humanity and our planet.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

Nothing is impossible — it just requires hard work. I tell everyone, you have to enjoy the process more than the end result. In my office I have a canvas up on my wall with a Rocky Balboa quote: “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

Everyone can follow Smart Cups on Instagram and Twitter @smartcups and Facebook @SmartCupsTM

This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you for having me. I hope you and your family stay healthy and in good spirits.

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