We’ll sell you water… and then sell you a bridge

This morning, I saw a hospital worker on his way to the job carrying a one-gallon jug of water and I thought, how silly it is to haul all that weight when you can just turn on a tap.

And then I opened the NY Post and saw an ad required under law with city water authorities disclosing that they’d lost backup for their chlorine system sometime ago. The guy with the jug suddenly looked smarter.

And then I read an ad from some sodamakers’ association bragging that they were going to pull the sweet stuff out of middle schools and sell more water in high schools.

And then I saw the Freakanomics blog puncturing a hole in that gallon of sanctimony:

It’s enough to warm your heart — the thought of a gigantic trade organization deciding to forego sure profits to help slim down the next generation. Or maybe something else is at play. Bottled water is the fastest growing major beverage category, and much of that growth has come at the expense of soda. (Pepsi-Cola makes Aquafina, the No.1 bottled water; Coke makes Dasani, which is closing the gap.) Logic would suggest that water is cheaper to make than soda, and probably cheaper to market as well (especially now, with all the obesity watchdogs talking about the terrors of soda). It may well be the ABA’s decision to pull soda from elementary schools is a perfect one-two punch: a p.r. coup and a savvy shift from a mature, besieged product to a booming one.

And then I went into Starbucks and found their new EthosWater brand, promising to give “at least $1 million to fund humanitarian water projects” around the world. What better than slapping a brand on a bottle of plain old water and promising purity from contaminants than promising purity of the soul?

It’s just water.

  • We live in one of few countries where “it’s just water” makes sense. Most of the world distinguishes between drinking water and water. The success of bottled water started abroad and has slowly infiltrated here. Controlling water supplies is power and it allows you to control a population more effectively than oil. Think of the tsunami and what effort it took to get drinking water to those regions fast enough. With all of our environmental contamination, the battle over water is going to get increasingly traumatic.

  • tonynoboloney

    Jeff, the water business is HUGE. My town is just completing an 11 million dollar micro filtration water plant sufficient to produce 4 million gallons a day of pure Lake Huron water. And we only have a population of 800 so you know we won’t be drinking it all. We have already secured a small bottleling plant but would be happy for more customers. Our hope is Feild of dreams “build it they’ll come”.

  • Angelos

    From The Black Table

    ETHOS WATER: Trapped in the local Starbucks by the evening heat, I bypass the frozen nonsense and opt for a bottle of water. Not just any water, mind you, but Ethos Water, the well-packaged and socially conscious alternative to the other merely well-packaged ways of paying too much for tap. Your faucet can’t quite match this karma, though: Ethos Water donates five cents from every bottle sold toward developing safe water projects around the globe, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Honduras and, for those aid workers with Kurtz-sized balls, The Democratic Republic of Congo.

    Our friends at Ethos claim that, at this rate, they can help Starbucks raise $10 million for global water relief over the next five years. I bet they’re right. I’m also willing to bet that they could do a hair’s breadth better than that, considering that I shelled out $1.83 for a bottle of Ethos. Minus tax and the five cent donation, what happens to the rest of the dough? Who’s digging their wells? Halliburton? Let’s not forget, either, that Starbucks recently sold $495 million of product in July alone.

    I’m as eager as the next guilt-ridden liberal to pretend that the market can solve the problems it exacerbates on a global scale, but $10 million over the next five years? That’s a tall bullshit latté in a venti cup.

  • Rob

    I like the taste of bottled water better than tap, but I won’t pay $1.83 for it. I can get Ozarka for 22 cents per half-liter if I buy it by the case at the grocery store. At a that price it comes in cheaper than almost any other beverage – even cheaper than gasoline!

    Since our town recycles plastic and I recycle all of my bottles, I don’t even have to feel guilty about the container…

  • I don’t buy the water, I buy the handy carrying case — the bottle. When I pull through a drive-thru I can either get a paper cup of water, which never fits in my cup holder, or I can get a bottle. On my nightstand I can have a glass — and any passing gnat — or I can have a bottle. I can send the kids into the back yard with a glass that is spilled before they make it down the stairs, or I can hand them a bottle. On a plane I can wait for the flight attendants (and end up drinking God knows what) or bring a bottle. It’s all about the bottle.

  • James

    Hey, Michael Reynolds:


  • Ronbo

    “It’s just water.”

    Evian comes from Evian and Perrier comes from Perrier. Even Poland Spring comes from Poland Spring. So, how do you ensure uniform flavor for a water that is bottled all over the country? One of the big beverage companies (can’t recall if it’s Coke or Pepsi) solves the problem by having its bottlers filter *all* the minerals out of the local tap water and replace them with a standard mix of minerals supplied by the mother ship. Ingenious, no?

  • The cafeteria in Seaton keogh High School in Baltimore has two soda machines facing a water fountain that… is turned off.

  • The roots of racism

    Program on the emergence of civilization.

    “14 species of large animals capable of domesitcation in the history of mankind.
    None from the sub-Saharan African continent.
    13 from Europe, Asia and northern Africa.”
    And disfavor.

    They point out Africans’ attempts to domesticate the elephant and zebra, the latter being an animal they illustrate that had utmost importance for it’s applicability in transformation from a hunting/gathering to agrarian-based civilization.

    The roots of racism are not of this earth.

    Austrailia, aboriginals:::No domesticable animals, so this nulified diversity of life claims on sub-continental Africa, zebras being a fine example.

    god is a computer
    And we’re all on auto-pilot.

    Organizational Heirarchy
    Heirarchical order, from top to bottom:

    1. MUCK – perhaps have experienced multiple universal contractions (have seen multiple big bangs), creator of the artificial intelligence humans ignorantly refer to as “god”
    2. Perhaps some mid-level alien management –
    3. Mafia (evil) aliens – runs day-to-day operations here and perhaps elsewhere (“On planets where they approved evil.”)

    Then we come to terrestrial management:

    4. Chinese/egyptians – this may be separated into the eastern and western worlds
    5. Romans – they answer to the egyptians
    6. Mafia – the real-world interface that constantly turns over generationally so as to reinforce the widely-held notion of mortality
    7. Jews, corporation, women, politician – Evidence exisits to suggest mafia management over all these groups.

    Survival of the favored.

    Journal: 10 composition books + 39 megs of text files

    Movies foreshadowing catastrophy
    1986 James Bond View to a Kill – 1989 San Fransisco Loma Prieta earthquake.

  • EverKarl


    What I was going to write is that the designer water — unlike tapwater — is generally not fluoridated. So not as good for kids’ teeth, but would make Gen. Ripper quite happy!

  • Using tap water for coffee, tea, ice should provide enough fluoridation, to my understanding. Our local water tastes like soap – much better to drink is water from a local purified water machine/kiosk, 25 cents a gallon. And I am one of those who totes in gallon jugs to work, since there is no water cooler there.

  • Positive Outlook

    Why is it we only see the bad in something, when every moment of the day, every single one of us passes up the opportunity to do a good deed. Our conscious should be riddled with guilt and heavy compassion over the conditions of third world countries, and the children who die from a lack of our everyday “at our disposal” resources. Many of us are not giving even 1 cent to our children in America, and you have a corporation willing to give 5 cents on every product, $10 million overall, to several countries overseas. I don’t care how much they are making…how many conglomerate American corporations even show an interest in the state of other countries (and not talking about the countries who house their sweatshops). $1.83 is a small price to pay, when I will shell out $10 to see a two hour movie (plus unlimited bucks for snacks), $25+ to get my SUV washed and waxed, and $6 for a greasy slop dinner from McDonald’s. These are only the small (and unnecessary) luxuries which children in these countries will get an opportunity to see.

    When something good is happening, just support it. So it’s not the way you would do it in that same situation, but at least this water project Ethos Water is making the effort, bringing more media attention through Starbucks that couldn’t be done in small town grocery stores and newspaper stands. (Which is about the extent this business would have developed if it was not for the RECENT buyout by Starbucks in April 2005. This project was started in 2002, and the conditions of the buyout were that Starbucks kept the same social goals that were the passion of the original founders.)

    I will buy ETHOS WATER and tell everyone I know to buy ETHOS WATER. Then I will say a prayer and a blessing for this project, and ask for guidance on anything additional I can do to meet its goal (and the goals of other socially conscious projects.) Positive movement makes change…not discouragement and complacency. If you are not moving a large project with this amount of resources and effort, please get behind one and keep hope and a POSITIVE OUTLOOK for improvement and change.

  • ggg

    yeah, but look at the video of the founders on Ethos’ website: they’re pretty sanctimonious and act like they’re Mother Theresa’s about this, when, in actuality, they just did a good job marketing the feel good aspect of their *product*: a nominal contribution to a good cause.

    sounds like they took advantage of Kellogg’s good marketing courses.

    i’m all in favor of for-profit enterprises that do good in the world, but i find the tone of the pitch distasteful and will not buy this product. i will instead buy cheap water and give to causes in other ways.

  • Beth


    Why would you say the founders are sanctimonious and acting like Mother Teresas? At least they are putting words into action by “doing” instead of complaining like you. Since one of the founders is a close family friend, I can tell you that his intentions are real and he is far from thinking he’s a mother teresa when it comes to Ethos. It’s too bad that you didn’t take time to really read the message behind the company and why it was started instead of focusing on the fact that they are making some money now (although they weren’t even breaking even for several years before they got funding) from an idea to help other people and raise awareness for a cause in desparate need.

  • walked into a starbucks yesterday, manhattan beach, california, they were dumping bottle after bottle of ethos water into the sink…some kind of recall the barrista said, but had no details. if anyone has any info, please blog it.

  • Debbie

    Has anyone experienced exploding or super fizzing out of control plastic Perrier bottles? I enjoy the lime and lemon flavors and has been a good stepdown for me from sodas. However, three times in the last few months a brand new bottle starts to ex or implode upon opening and the inner plastic holding the water completely changes shape and morphs into something else. I don’t drink them and should probably scrap plastic Perrier altogether, but the glass is harder to get now. Anyone know what’s happening here?? Thanks…

  • Anonymous

    Here is Ethos’s statement on the water recall for the West Coast.


  • If someone told me they found a way to help people and make money doing it, I’d be all for it. Sounds like a win-win situation. Helping others AND helping yourself, two things EVERYONE should be doing, all in one fell swoop.

    Oh, but ONLY a nickel out of every $1.83? Listen, there are bottling expenses, distribution costs, utility costs for the bottling and corporate facilities, employee salaries, employee BENEFITS (let’s not forget that Starbucks is one of the few companies that gives health insurance to part timers), advertising, shareholder dividends, and FINALLY after all that, the guy who thought up the idea still only gets a PAYCHECK. The same amount of money he’d have gotten if he didn’t think up this great idea. Everyone acts like they just put $1.73 directly into some rich guy’s pocket, but this isn’t the case.

    And if you truly have issues with someone seeming a little self-satisfied for coming up with this idea, I suggest you do something good for people on a national level and see how it makes YOU feel. I guarantee at the very least you couldn’t resist using that as the basis of a pick-up line. “Yeah, I got a little hobby on the side where I assist African nations in obtaining clean drinking water” is, after all, far more effective than “Wanna come over to my place and see how I totally ripped on Starbucks at BuzzMachine Dot Com?”