Bottled Water VIPs Think We Are Anti-Corporate, Capitalism-Haters

A few days ago I posted about how the Director of Communications at Nestlé Waters North America took issue with a previous post about their CEO. This time, Tom Lauria, Vice President, Communications for the International Bottled Water Association responded:

…it’s the middle of day, and you’re running erands and you’re thirsty. You can buy a coffee or a cola but you want something healthy and refreshing, so you buy a nice cold bottle of water. Zero calories. Major hydration — it wakes you up! Any attempt by anyone to get people to drink less water is not in the public interest. Why are you targeting the packaged beverage with the smallest possible carbon fooprint? And it is clear people drink more water when they drink bottled water! At the end of day, there’s GREENSMOG…where anti-corporate types hide behind “saving the earth” to bash businesses because they hate capitalism.

First, I want to say that he has a point.  From a public health perspective it is better to promote water that coffee or soda.  But what about water fountains?  What about Nalgenes and Siggs? That said, I have to admit Tom’s response actually made me roll my eyes.  The Vice President of Communications for the bottled water industry thinks that we shouldn’t criticize…the bottled water industry.  Surprise, surprise.

However, the part that really got me was how he made one good point and then, given the paucity of reasonable defenses, devolved into grade-school, 1950’s rhetoric:  Anti-corporate types bashing businesses because they hate capitalism.  Anti-corporate? Hate capitalism?  Um, Tom, this is a blog about being an entrepreneur. 

Entrepreneurs typically believe in capitalism.  I would go out on a limb and say that I would be surprised if we have may anti-corporate, capitalism-hating readers.  Sounds a little paranoid, does it not?  Sorry, Tom, I’m an ardent capitalist.  I just prefer a different kind of marketing, one where environmentally unsustainable packaging is not positioned as being good for the environment. Even Coke and Pepsi, that have their own greenwash issues, do not position their beverages as being sold in eco-bottles.  Its all in the positioning.

I guess Tom and Jane think its their job to keep defending their deeply flawed marketing campaigns. I have a suggestion: how about taking the route of Motrin and saying you simply got it wrong?

So, I must repeat: Businesses and marketing folks need to be honest about what they are selling. When you make an eco-advancement you should shout about it. But you should not use it to misrepresent, mislead or divert. Consumers will resist and then it will be up to your Vice President of Communications to spend his time posting apologies on blogs across the globe.


Photo: Vivek Chugh at

About the Author

Jennifer Kaplan writes regularly about sustainable food and wine, the intersection of food and marketing and food politics for and is the author of Greening Your Small Business (November 2009, Penguin Group (USA)). She was been named one of The 16 Women You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business. She has four kids, a dog, a hamster and an MBA - find her on .
  • Not so fast, lady! Why must people only drink industrially-processed tap water? You may not be able to taste the difference, but millions can and do. We can’t all go to a natural spring for fresh water, so we buy it in 100% recyclable bottles. And then we recycle them. Although you knocked me, you really didn’t address GREENSMOG as a concept, did you? Since bottled water has the smallest carbon footprint of any packaged beverage on Earth, you are busy scapegoating a fine, 200+ year old industry. And our members are great stewards of the earth, to boot. If you are not committing GREENSMOG you are perilously close to doing so. As a capitalist,you surely must respect the freedom for all of us to buy whatever suits our lifestyle — as long as its recycled properly.

  • A few months ago, I got an e-mail from someone from the International Bottled Water Association, too, after doing a piece on bottled water. His arguments were very unconvincing.

    He told me that while yes, bottled water is 1000X more expensive than tap, saying it that way makes it sound “way worse than $1 or $2 a bottle.”

    He told me it just isn’t feasible to carry around a reusable bottle.

    He told me that plastic bottles only contribute to 1/300th of the worlds trash and getting rid of 1/300th of the world’s trash wouldn’t help the environment much.

    Those were his arguments. Lame.

  • Tom,

    You said “We can’t all go to a natural spring for fresh water, so we buy it in 100% recyclable bottles. And then we recycle them.” and “as a capitalist,you surely must respect the freedom for all of us to buy whatever suits our lifestyle — as long as its recycled properly”

    But in the e-mail received by me on October 10, 2008 by Jeff Kelley of your organization he said “the bottles, remember, are 100 percent safe and fully recyclable…it’s just no one does.”

    So your organization willingly admits that no one recycles the bottles.

    Look, no one is trying to bully anyone into not buying your product. Producing the facts about the waste that plastic bottles create and the harm that they cause the environment is simply educating people so they can make choices.

    Bottled water has its place – in disasters and perhaps when you occasionally are really thirsty and need to stop for something. The average person’s health is not going to fail if they wait ten minutes until they get to a water fountain or a faucet for a drink of water.

  • First, it’s apparent Mr. Lauria’s experience as spokesperson for the Tobacco Institute has prepared him well for the kind of verbal swordplay that passes for logic in an industry association that sells us the water from our taps at gasoline prices. To whit:

    “We can’t all go to a natural spring for fresh water, so we buy it in 100% recyclable bottles. And then we recycle them.”

    Of course, “we” don’t recycle them, municipalities do, and taxpayers pay for it. And while we’re on the subject of recyclable plastic containers, I’d like to ask Mr. Lauria how much recycled plastic IBWA member and bottled water leader Nestle uses in its containers.

    I’ll wait here for the answer.

    And second, you left out a few steps; we don’t simply “buy” spring water, we pump it out of an aquifer, transport it, bottle it in plastic, transport it great distances by truck, sell it, drink it, and then throw 70%-80% of the bottles in the landfill.

    In their ongoing attempts to build that ludicrous supply chain, spring water bottlers like Nestle (leading member of the IBWA) sue tiny towns in Maine five times in an attempt to force them to permit a 24/7 truck loading station in a residential area; damage a watershed in Michigan by overpumping; and intimidate opponents of a proposed water bottling plant in California by subpoenaing their personal financial records.

    I could go on, but then I wouldn’t have the time to point out that bottled water manufacturers are now actively doing what they formerly pretended they didn’t do – bashing the quality of public water supplies.

    Undermining confidence in public water hardly qualifies your member companies for inclusion in the “great stewardship” hall of fame, and it’s a sign of what they’re capable when their hefty profits and fast-growing market share are threatened.

    It’s disgraceful.

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  • Quick answer to the recycling issue: all plastic PET containers were recycled in 2008 at a 24.6% rate. A bale study will soon have an exact figure for just water bottles. Of course, we do everything we can to support recycling. Our members have high goals for post-consumer content in future bottles but today we face a shortage of available plastic. When Jeff Kelley noted “nobody does it” he was speaking figuratively, of course. Recycling rates have been improving for years.

    Anyone walking into a supermarket can’t help but notice that everything in every aisle is packaged in plastic and that ALL needs to be recycled. There’s a single-minded focus in this blog that only water bottles are a concern. That’s not every “eco,” folks!

    I am proud of my varied and diverse public relations career. How odd that activists single out one job (at the Tobacco Institute) while ignoring my many other positions, including the Department of Justice and the media counselor to the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan after 9/11. President Hamid Karzai and I grew to be close friends.

    Looking at the comments here, it’s obvious Jennifer Kaplan doesn’t know here own readership. There’s plenty of unreasonable and incorrect corporate hatred here on these pages. I ask the Nestle-hater: some of IBWA’s member companies trace back to 1820s using and protecting the same springs sources, yet you state they are not good stewards. How wrong you are!

  • “He told me it just isn’t feasible to carry around a reusable bottle.” ?????

    Do you know how many 10,000s of reusable/refillable promo water bottles my industry sells a year (I wish more came from recycled material but that is another story).

    If it was truly not feasible we would not be selling so many of the darn things. What an incredibly silly thing to say.

  • Now on the Entrepreneur side of this issue.

    I am still surprised no one is making water stations to fill all those Nalgenes and Siggs for those on the go people Tom mentions.

    Most bottles are standard sizes 250Ml, 500Ml, 1L, right?

    When I lived in Istanbul (a long time ago) there was what looked like a gas station down the street from my apartment. It was actually a water station for fresh clean water. I have seen something like it a Wal-Mart for 5+ gallon water cooler jugs.

    Someone – entrepreneurs listen – someone could make a water station the size of soda machine or smaller that dispenses exactly 250ML, 500ML or 1L of fresh clean water for the folks with reusable bottles. Place these as stations in coffee shops, etc., or wherever soda machines work today.

    (Yes you can refill from a tap for free, but sometimes there is no tap or you are somewhere that tap water is not the best option. Whatever, let us assume the consumer wants to pay for water).

    For the seller the margins are better as you no longer need to pay for packaging or the added weight of that packaging.

    For the Eco and health crowd you get fresh clean water, for less than bottled and without the plastic bottle baggage.

    I really think there is an idea here.

  • common man

    Things must be getting pretty rough for the bottled water industry if their representation (IBWA) is monitoring and providing comments on this blog to try to substantiate the value of its product! And by the way, recycling rates for PET have actually come down quite a bit since bottled water consumption has increased in recent years. I argue that bottled water drinkers are fat, lazy, and don’t care about how their actions affect the environment.

  • Scott Talarico

    I feel all negativity toward the bottled water industry is totally rediculous. The reason people drink bottled water is because they do not trust our public water systems to be safe; period. We do not
    want to drink flouide and other chemicals that flow through old rusty pipes. Pure Bottled Water is the healthiest choice. Unlike soda loaded with chemicals and toxins, and/or bottled juice fermenting in large vats waiting to be bottled; if you choose to drink the recycled sewer water it is your choice. Go ahead, live it up. But we who prefer our bottled water prefer the choice.
    About eight years ago I became a bottled water only drinker when the municipality where I lived sent out a letter in December;the water in September,October,and November was unfit to drink. (Three months after the fact.)
    Fact is, municipal water is repeatedly found contaminated, unfit to drink, “Boil Alert”. How often is bottled water found unfit to drink? To me it is a clear choice that should be left to the consumer. Pure or Poision!

  • To the Common Man: Looks like we’re damned if we do; damned if we don’t. If I ignore the chatter here, I’m elitist and uncaring “corporate shill — if I participate in the discussion, then my industy must be “desperate.” Well, this is one corporate type who wants to advance understanding about hydration needs and recycling EVERYTHING. We have a lot to discuss and I am here — even while I’m vacationing with my family in snowy upstate New York.

  • For consumers who want to see an unbiased report on bottled water check out
    ABC New’s report:

    Bottom line: bottled water is neither safer nor better tasting (in blind taste tests) than municipal water.

    Also, please let me be clear. My personal objection is the marketing behind “eco-bottles” not the bottled water industry. You won’t find me saying big bottled water companies should close up shop. But, I would like to see them stop buls***ting us about how their bottles are good, actually good, for the environment. Let’s just start with that single issue. I pose this single question to the industry: why not focus on a more honest consumer benefit like taste or safety (if those claims can factually be made)?

  • “I ask the Nestle-hater: some of IBWA’s member companies trace back to 1820s using and protecting the same springs sources, yet you state they are not good stewards. How wrong you are!”

    If I am a “Nestle-hater” as you so quaintly put it (better a name-calling offense than doomed defense, I suppose), then I’m entirely the creation of the Nestle hyper-active legal department.

    Stewardship? In Florida, Nestle aggressively lobbied to extract 1.47-million gallons per day from drought-stricken Blue Springs – while state water scientists wanted the amount set at 400,000 gallons per day to protect the spring, running at the lowest flows ever recorded.

    They were ordered to cease pumping in Michigan due to damage to the watershed, and in McCloud, cheerily kept repeating the mantra that their 160,000 acre foot withdrawal wouldn’t harm anything downstream – despite never conducting a single flow monitoring study.

    These are simply a handful of highlights. Stewardship? Please.

    BTW Mr. Lauria – PET recycling rates have actually declined (The EPA includes compost [leaf collection] in its 30 percent nationwide recycling rate), and my assertion that Nestles uses exactly 0% recycled materials in its current packaging is apparently correct. The idea that a plastic shortage is the cause is laughable; prices for recycled plastic products have plummeted in the last few months, suggesting a lack in demand.

    The industry’s logic is typically twisted; a better answer than recycling is to not plasticize something that comes out of the faucet in the first place.

    This is bottled spring water’s forgotten toll – the rural communities overrun with trucks, split by divisive tactics imposed by predatory companies and their sizable legal departments – while their six-figure spokespersons

  • I’d like to amend my last comment because it came out kinda wrong (I was typing in the Tampa airport and suing their free WiFi). What I meant to say was that regardless of any other gripes I have about the industry I have been trying, in this series of posts, to stick to the topic of greenwash.

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  • I am not sure if this has been addressed in all the comments but 1 liter Bottled Water uses 26 Liters Water + 1 Kg Fossil Fuel + 1 Pound CO2.

    How much water is used to make 1 liter?? 26 Liters!!!. Forget carbon footprint but talk about waterprint.

    Use the tap!