When a slick new company arrives on the scene with lofty promises of social responsibility, you have to wonder if there might be a catch. But when that company is in the business of selling bottled water alongside pricey cups of coffee, well, you can probably stop wondering.
As a world-peace kind of guy, I admit I was drawn in by their ongoing advertising pitch:
"By purchasing Ethos Water, customers can join a growing community of individuals who are committed to make a difference. For each bottle purchased, $0.05 will be donated toward Starbucks goal of contributing $10 million over the next five years to help alleviate the world water crisis."
See what I mean? It sounds pretty good, doesn’t it. As long as you don’t really stop to think. As long as you ignore the fact that the company is offering nickels when you could give dollars instead – if you got your water from home. As long as you close your eyes to the staggering environmental costs of America’s growing obsession with bottled water.
Sure bottled water can have real value. Just look at the aftermath of Katrina. Or in North Carolina communities where drinking water is contaminated by chemical pollutants or bacteria. But those situations come nowhere near explaining how bottled water has developed into a $10 billion craze in the United States alone.
The sad fact is, we’ve been seduced into wanting one more thing we don’t need, through aggressive advertising by consumer products companies. Over the past ten years, the brand barons have made bottled water a lifestyle statement and a fashion accessory, rivaling Nikes and iPods. Why else would anyone pay a thousand times more for a product that can be purchased at home simply by turning on the faucet?
Here in Orange County, nearly 16 million plastic water bottles will be dumped into our landfill this year, despite one of the most effective recycling programs in the nation. That’s a million pounds of buried plastic that will last for hundreds of years, shortening the life of our landfill with each and every bottle we dump. And that’s just the tip of the environmental iceberg. Don’t forget the enormous amount energy required to produce plastic bottles, which are themselves made from oil and natural gas.
When future generations look back on the 21st century in America, they will find much to fault. From the disastrous Bush dynasty to our criminal negligence around public health and safety, we are a people who often place looking good and celebrity over common good and equity. And like cigarettes and SUVs, the business of bottled water will be revealed for what it really is – another marketing scam.
So I won't be drinking any Ethos water. And I won't ever be a customer of Starsucks.
Adapted from a column I wrote for the Chapel Hill News.
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