Christopher tm Herdt (cherdt) wrote,
Christopher tm Herdt
cherdt

The Hidden Genius of Bottled Water

As many of you probably know, one of my pet peeves is bottled water. The United States has excellent access to clean, safe drinking water—tap water—that is so cheap it is practically free – and yet people pay $1+ for plastic pint bottles of water shipped from Fiji. Sure, there are greater evils in the world than this, but it seems like an evil we could have easily avoided (and did, for many years).

(I have purchased bottled water from time to time. Sometimes you do find yourself unexpectedly thirsty, cupless, and without a faucet. It's the habitual practice that bothers me.)

I don't really understand how companies were able to differentiate what should be undifferentiable. H2O is pretty much a commodity in my book. Call me a Philistine, but I will never need the services of a water sommelier to pair the perfect water to my meal: as long as it has ice in it, I'm content.

(I stayed with an Austrian family for a week when I was a teenager. Potable water, to them, was sparkling mineral water. Perhaps their tap water wasn't safe, but I drank it when they weren't looking.)

Anyway: water as a differentiated good. Impossible! Since water is water is water, consumers would be extremely price sensitive, companies would naturally compete on price, and the cost to the consumer would quickly approach the cost of manufacturing. No one would make any money, and companies would give up the farce. And yet, somehow, we still have Coke Water (Dasani) and Pepsi Water (Aquafina). I have to hand it to the marketers, they've accomplished the incredible.

(Although this rant has been a long time coming, the straw that broke the camel's back was seeing bottled water from New Zealand at Trader Joe's while in the same breath they encourage you to bring your own reusable shopping bag. Apparently, water from the other side of the world is substantially different from local water, different enough that you should ignore the obvious environmental costs of bottling and shipping it.)

In early April, I saw something astounding: an ad for Ethos Water with a quote from notable philanthropist and humanitarian, Matt Damon. "As a matter of fact," Mr. Damon says, "the water you drink does make a difference." For every bottle of Ethos Water you buy, the company will donate a nickel to H2OAfrica.org. Their goal is to donate 10 million USD by 2010!

You know what? Just to show you I'm not trying to deprive Africa of clean drinking water, I just donated 1096 nickels to H2OAfrica.org: one for every single day of 2008, 2009, and 2010. [No plastic bottles were harmed in the making of this post.]

Ethos Water is evil in the name of good. Or is it actually the work of genius?

Perhaps someone said, "Man, Americans sure are easy marks! Look at how much bottled water they buy! I wonder if I can support a charitable cause AND make a profit off these dupes at the same time?" I mean, if you saw Ethos Water next to Poland Spring, how could you deprive the African children of a nickel?
Angelic Ethos vs. Devilish Dasani?
What's more, could you pass up on another chance to show off how charitable you are with your conspicuous philanthropy, along with your Livestrong bracelet and your Nina Totin' Bag?

I'm going to start a fast-food joint called Enviroburger. For every Enviroburger or Envirocheddarburger you buy, I'm donating a quarter to sustainable energy initiatives! Forget about the greenhouse gas emissions associated with beef and dairy for a minute: people are going to buy the burgers anyway, so wouldn't they rather get the goody-two-shoes version? Maybe the Enviroburger is too obviously hypocritical. How about the Homes4Homelessburger and the Books4Schoolsburger?

I guess I'm just jealous I didn't think of it first.

***

Update 6-Apr-2012: donated an additional 1096 nickels to water.org. A nickel for every day of 2011, 2012, and 2013. Donating to charity so that I can feel like a smug bastard. Man, I am a jerk!
Tags: bottled water, charity, conspicuous philanthropy, ethos water, fiji water, matt damon, pet peeves, trader joe's, water
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