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Meet the Founders

Meet the Founder: Ryan Emmons WAIĀKEA

Ryan Emmons WAIĀKEA

In 2012, Ryan founded WAIĀKEA and created the first Certified Carbon Neutral line of volcanic water from Hawaii. Hailing from Hilo, Hawaii, WAIĀKEA is the first of its kind to use 100% post-consumer recycled materials, making this conscious brand a pioneer in the world of sustainability. In addition to refillable aluminum bottles and recyclable bulk boxes of water, WAIĀKEA’s OceanPlast™ bottles boast the lowest eco-footprint of any beverage packaging. Most importantly, for every liter of WAIĀKEA sold, a week’s supply of clean water is provided to those in need, allowing you to help others as you hydrate. 

Recently, we caught up with Ryan to learn more about his journey and hear his advice for fellow entrepreneurs.    

1. Why did you start WAIĀKEA?

We started WAIĀKEA with the purpose of creating a transformation within bottled water, beverages, and overall CPG towards a triple bottom line model that benefited people and the planet. Our goal was to pave the way with premium water that had the lowest environmental impact according to peer-reviewed research, while also bringing our community along with us. Through our clean water infrastructure and service projects, we have given access to clean water for life to over 800,000 people in rural Malawi. Every case of WAIĀKEA that you buy donates a month’s supply of clean water to someone in need. Last year alone, we impacted over 115,000 people in Hawai’i through our award-winning Kokua Initiative —  not including the programs from over $60,000 raised for the victims of the Maui wildfires. 

12 years ago we were the first in Hawaii and the U.S. to use 100% post-consumer recycled materials for all our products. Since then, we have continued to position ourselves as the enviro-tech leader of beverages with our OceanPlast™ bottles. We also use refillable high-grade extrusion aluminum bottles, 100% recycled corrugated Bulk Box (Pahu Nunui), and recyclable coffee packaging, while our coffee’s patented smokeless roast process requires 80% less energy than normal. 

man holding case of WAIĀKEA

2. What obstacles did you face along the way?

What obstacles did we NOT face? Everything you can think of and then some. I think the biggest obstacle for us was getting the right people in the right places in terms of our team, and making sure that everyone on the leadership team reflected our company values. When we did, the trickle-down effects on the entire organization were obvious, and we then started to see growth and improvement everywhere. 

Our values include:

  • Live Aloha - Be Positive, Love Unconditionally
  • It’s a Kākou Thing - Work Together to Find Solutions
  • Constant Improvement - Kūlia i ka nuʻu (Strive to reach the summit)
  • Be Pono - Have Integrity and find Harmony within Oneself, the ʻĀina, your Community, and Work
  • Ho‘okuleana - An action or mindset “to take responsibility.” It is our individual and collective responsibility to participate rather than ignore, prevent rather than react, and preserve rather than degrade.

3. What lessons do you have for other entrepreneurs?

It's fine to fall in love with your company and brand if it is impacting lives, but it also has to sell in-store. As entrepreneurs, it's important to understand this — otherwise, you are building a brand and/or company that will never be able to scale, not only in revenue but also in impact.

man flipping bottle of water

4. What’s on the horizon for WAIĀKEA?

We’re looking forward to exciting launches of our Hawaiian Volcanic Coffees along with a refillable, non-aerosol, Facial Mist cosmetic line.  We are also going to be a founding partner in Hawaii’s first full-scale recycling facility, which launches in 2025.

5. How do you keep work/life balance? What drives/inspires you?

My routines help me keep a clear mind, body, and spirit. It's hard with a four and two-year-old, but it makes consistency of routine that much more important, especially when it comes to the morning. I’m driven by the opportunity to scale businesses that meet both the environmental and economic definitions of the word “sustainable”. We need more entrepreneurs who can patiently build businesses with manageable margins that pay and treat their teams well while positively impacting the environment, their community, and more, rather than just building a business by throwing money at the wall.

Healthy Living Meet the Founder