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Three lessons we learned moving a small, family company toward a more sustainable future

Sponsored: Kwik Lok’s co-owners share what they have learned about making transformative change.


Kwik Lok co-owners Melissa Steiner, Kimberly Paxton-Hagner and Stephanie Paxton Jackson. Source: Kwik Lok.

This article is sponsored by Kwik Lok.

The transformation of Kwik Lok from a family-owned manufacturing company in Washington state into an international packaging company with a focus on the triple bottom line has been an interesting journey. In just three years, we’ve evolved from "that company that makes bread tag bag closures in Yakima" to an organization focused on making a difference globally. 

In that time, we’ve experienced a number of revelations about developing a sustainability and social responsibility strategy we thought would be enlightening to share. They range from what the company learned about establishing a diversity policy where none existed before to the steps necessary in refocusing product innovation to meet our own sustainability goals and support our customers in achieving theirs.

But first, some background on Kwik Lok:

  • 1954 — Our grandfather, Floyd Paxton, founded Kwik Lok 66 years ago, creating the now ubiquitous bag closure as a new way to help Washington farmers keep their produce fresh and safe. 
  • 1968 — Our father, Jerre Paxton, expanded Kwik Lok into a global market leader, selling billions of bag closures each year, helping produce distributors, commercial bakeries and other businesses around the world keep food fresh and safe. 
  • 2016 — With a third generation, female ownership team at the helm, we set a new, socially responsible course for Kwik Lok, one that openly embraced our responsibility as a global corporate citizen with six plants on four continents and closures distributed in over 100 countries. 

We had confidence that our small but established company could make deep changes as we continued to improve, innovate and support our communities, while simultaneously doing our best for the environment. Those efforts have been focused on three pillars:

  1. Innovation
  2. Partnerships
  3. Philanthropy


It’s our job at Kwik Lok to deliver fresh food safely and provide a way to keep it as fresh as possible for as long as possible. Plastic has been a successful vehicle to do exactly that, giving people around the world — even in the most challenging surroundings — the tools to minimize food waste while keeping foods safe. However, our current material outlasts its usefulness and doesn’t always end up where it should. 

One of our first moves under our shift to more sustainable business practices was to introduce Eco-Lok, a bag closure that contains less plastic. It was important that this happened up front at an early stage of the company’s journey, so people both inside and outside our organization could see that our commitment was real. 

With Eco-Lok, we were able to realize quite a few of our initial sustainability goals:

  • The product is made with renewable plant-based carbohydrates such as corn and potatoes.
  • It uses up to 20 percent less fossil fuel during manufacturing compared to traditional closures. 
  • It reduces the amount of petroleum-based plastic used overall. 
  • Every customer has an impact: When a typical, regional bakery customer converts the 100 million closures it uses annually to Eco-Lok, it can save offset the carbon equivalent of driving from Mexico to Canada six times.

KEY INSIGHT: Businesses should examine their most fundamental products or services and find ways to make them more sustainable.


Changing the course of a small company is a big undertaking, but it’s not something you have to do alone. We realized early that establishing partnerships with other like-minded companies around the world was key to maximizing impact. 

For Kwik Lok, a few of those partnerships include:

  • TerraCycle Australia: Together, we created a free recycling program for our bag closures, saving thousands of closures from the landfill. 
  • Hefty Canada: Teaming up on Hefty’s EnergyBag pilot program in London, Ontario, we designed a program that established a way to collect Kwik Lok bag closures at curbside and reuse them. 
  • Technical partners: Our partnerships with companies around the world translate into new product offerings that further reduce carbon footprints.

KEY INSIGHT: Businesses need not go it alone when taking a more responsible course. 


We all give back; it’s a natural and necessary pillar of any socially responsible business. In our experience, though, we found that framing philanthropic activity through a lens of corporate and employee values makes for a more meaningful giving program.  

We established four strategic priorities in developing our Corporate Sustainability Strategy and aligned our philanthropic activities to deliver impact in these areas: 

  • Opportunity — through education and economic success 
  • Well-Being — physical and mental health and safety
  • Protection — people, places and the planet
  • Innovation — food safety, access and manufacturing

For example, we are proud to partner with The Lonely Whale organization to help mitigate the impact of ocean plastics. As female owners of a manufacturing company focused on innovation, we fund inclusive innovation and entrepreneurship programs through digitalundivided, as well as The Women’s Bakery, which supports our values to women’s economic empowerment and gender equity. We also fund farmers’ organizations, such as myAgro, to further food security, decent work conditions and well-being. 

We have found that grounding philanthropic activity within our CSR framework enables us to live our values in a meaningful way: by making a measurable difference with our giving and using our business as a voice for positive change. It’s not just about where you give; it’s also about how you do it. When we screen applicants, we dive deep to understand their values. For example, if an organization espouses equity, diversity and inclusion, we ask how many women and people of color sit on their board. Understanding how non-profits live the values they espouse helps us ensure we are investing with impact.

This approach can help every company:  

  • Cultivate strong partnerships with organizations that support your values
  • Build customer loyalty 
  • Create buy-in from employees

KEY INSIGHT: Aligning your philanthropic activities with corporate values builds goodwill internally and externally. This change can be made without spending extra money.

So far, it’s been an amazing and productive ride, proving that a small, established company such as Kwik Lok can make deep changes in company philosophy and roll them directly into meaningful changes that affect the planet. We have a lot more work to do, but as this journey continues, the list of insights certainly will continue to grow. 

We’ll keep you posted.

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