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Kim Coupounas: Entrepreneur, Boulder


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Ten years ago, Go Lite was Green Light.

Founded in 1998 with an eye toward conservation, the outdoor apparel company took small steps toward being sustainable. But business is business and becoming as green as a certain Muppet takes a whole different kind of green—cash.

What a difference a decade makes.

Go Lite, located in Gunbarrel, is now a multi-million-dollar enterprise specializing in light outdoor gear and apparel. Its success has been an enabler for its environmental thinking.

For proof, look no further than Kim Coupounas, the company’s co-founder and CEO. She spent nine years with that acronym meaning she was the “big boss.” Now she is Chief Environmental Officer, focusing solely on improving conservation methods. She has her husband, Demetri, and other executives sweating the day-to-day details.

For Coupounas, it all starts with an attitude. One that began with a backache of a backpacking trip some 15 years ago.

Coupounas readily admits she was crazy as a cashew for embarking on a trek through the pristine 100-Mile Wilderness in Maine. She and Demetri, climbing the corporate ladder in Boston, “begged, borrowed and stole” to break away from work long enough to head out on a dream outdoor excursion.
They carried every bell and whistle that EMS (the East Coast equivalent of REI) could sell them.

“We were the consummate consumers,” Coupounas says. “We had the 7-pound tent, everything… We had bought every considerable happy thing. It was madness, truly madness.”

Liken it to American consumerism at its most obnoxious. Despite all the high-end gear, the two had a miserable time. Their packs were just too heavy.

“This is not what it was supposed to be about,” she says.

That was the beginning of their eco-friendly corporate empire. By 1998, they had moved to Boulder and founded Go Lite.

Specializing in über lightweight gear and apparel, Go Lite was already somewhat of an environmental steward in nature. Skimpy gear weighs less, reducing the carbon footprint incurred during shipping.
“For us, light gear was a moral statement,” she says. “It is fundamental: Go light on
the planet.”

They’ve built on that, forming an office full of conservation-minded employees. Ride your bike to work 10 times, Coupounas, 41, will buy you lunch. About 1/3 of the company’s 30 employees do so regularly. Volunteer for an eco non-profit, you get an extra week of vacation.

Just don’t show up to work driving a Hummer. That happened once, and after about three months, there was a talk. There were no threats; instead it was explained how that type of automobile didn’t jive with the Go Lite attitude.

The employee agreed, switching to a more fuel-efficient vehicle inside of three months.
The values she and Demetri carry—he interrupts our interview eating an organic salad served in a biodegradable container—resonate.

There’s a full bike rack in the middle of a cluster of desks, dogs roam freely, recycle bins are filled to the brim, and the guys in shipping make sure every darn cardboard box in the warehouse is either reused or recycled.

The office is carbon neutral through conservation practices and purchased offsets. But headquarters only accounts for about 5 percent of its footprint. The rest comes from overseas factories and shipping. By year’s end, that will be covered by offsets, too. Coupounas doesn’t want to stop there—hence the new definition of CEO.

“Anybody can buy offsets,” she says.

Beyond always looking for more conservation-minded suppliers for the material used to make Go Lite
gear, she’ll be analyzing how containers are packed and products shipped to increase efficiency. She has a list of dozens of other ideas to trim waste. Heck, she wouldn’t be surprised if a compostable backpack were in the works.

And that’s what drives Coupounas. She loves the mountains, woods, streams and wilderness and she wants to ensure nature stays beautiful enough to enjoy.

Especially since she now carries a 10-pound pack on her back when heading into the wilderness.

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