Skip to main content

The Nutshell Cooler keeps ice frozen longer than most plastic alternatives on the market, its makers say. On Kickstarter, though, the cooler is hot.

That’s hot as in popular, the kind of project that only took seven hours to reach its goal of $30,000. Pledges surpassed the $100,000 mark as of this writing, and the campaign continues for three more weeks (or until they run out of coolers).

“We launched Nutshell Coolers to show that there’s real demand for more sustainable materials and more meaningful outdoor gear, and we knew it would take a special product to do so,” says David Cutler, cofounder and CEO of Fortuna Cools. “We’re gratified that it’s not just the design or the impact or the brand that’s connecting with people, but all of it together.”

Coconut fiber is the waste of the coconut meat industry. Without a market for their husks, farmers generally burn that waste, releasing tons of carbon dioxide emissions, Cutler says.

The husks for the Nutshell come from farmers in the Philippines. The insulation is housed in an origami-inspired package with a shell and liner made from 100% recycled polyester and designed by Box Clever.

The “breakthrough material” in the Nutshell was developed by Fortuna Cools together with engineers and Filipino coconut farmers.

Cutler and Tamara Mekler, cofounder and chief operating officer at Fortuna, started working on the project in 2018 in the Philippines as graduate students at Stanford University.

The first Fortuna coolers hit the market in 2019. The Nutshell is Version 2.0. Along the way, partners and supporters have included nonprofits Rare and WWF-Philippines, along with accelerators GROW and Katapult Ocean.

Each and every coconut fiber contains thousands of tiny trapped air pockets, the same exact structure that plastic foam insulation uses to reduce heat transfer (conduction), Cutler and Mekler explain.

“When we process, knit and stack these coconut fibers to take advantage of their natural insulative properties, we end up with a product that outperforms most synthetic alternatives,” Cutler says. “This isn’t so surprising when you realize that coconut husks have been evolving for millions of years to keep the seed inside fresh and protected.”

The nutshell is marketed as “the modern, sustainable cooler—built to last years, not millennia.” It’s said to keep ice frozen for days, out-performing several other brands of high-end and traditional coolers that use plastic foam insulation. The husks of 24 coconuts go into the insulation of each Nutshell.

The cooler measures 13 inches high by 10.5 inches long, with a height of 18.75 inches. It holds 20 quarts (about 18 cans and 14 pounds of ice) and weighs 8 pounds when empty. The design allows the cooler to fold flat (to 6 inches) for easy storage. The first 200 backers can get one for $169.

California-based Fortuna is a member of 1% for the Planet, meaning at least 1% of Nutshell sales will go to nongovernmental conservation partners in the Philippines.

“Our coconut husks are sourced from small-scale farmers in the central Philippines and processed nearby in the rural Bicol region,” Cutler says.

“The recycled PET liner is constructed in southern China near to the polyester recycling facility. We’ve been deliberate about the environmental impact of each step in the manufacturing process, from using waste materials as our inputs to limiting sales to places where we can deliver via ocean freight instead of air cargo. The Nutshell’s collapsible design cuts our shipping volume in half.”   

Shipping in January 2022

The plan is to ship the Kickstarter coolers from Nutshell early next year.

“In terms of business model, we’ll be focused on online sales and collaborations with like-minded brands in the West while scaling our packaging line in South East Asia,” Cutler said.

“Our two geographies and business units will continue to complement each other in interesting and useful ways.”

Cutler says the Philippines produces 15 billion coconuts every year and the Philippines Coconut Authority estimates that 8% of the husks are presently used.

“There’s no chance that coolers could sap the supply of coconut fiber—more demand will only help more farmers and reduce our reliance on virgin plastic,” he says.

“We’re building a sustainable Nutshell brand that extends from the Nutshell Cooler to other upcycled gear, and we’re building a community that’s advocating for natural, upcycled fiber in everything from packaging to apparel. There’s no reason plastics should dominate our lives, and every reason to look to nature for solutions instead.”