Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Morality of Water: Can you drink bottled water and call yourself a friend of the environment? If you think that’s a silly question, read this article from the U.K.’s Independent, which examines the cost—environmental and financial—of producing what may be the developed world’s most unnecessary product.

“It costs 10,000 times more to create the bottled version than it does to produce tap water, say scientists. Huge resources are needed to draw it from the ground, add largely irrelevant minerals, and package and distribute it - sometimes half-way around the world. The plastic bottles it comes in take 1,000 years to biodegrade, and in industrialised countries, bottled water is no more pure and healthy than what comes out of the tap.”

It’s that last bit that has always made me wonder about bottled water drinkers. In the U.S., tap water is subject to stricter regulations as far as purity is concerned. (In many cases, bottled water is simply tap water with fancy packaging.)

Others will make the case that bottled water tastes better, which is does—if you know it’s bottled. But in blind tests—as the often incisive Penn & Teller demonstrated in their HBO series Bullshit!—no one can tell the difference.

Bottled water—at least in those countries where tap water is perfectly potable—is almost entirely a product of marketing. It’s one of Seth Godin’s lies consumers tell themselves—although the water companies have been pushing the lie awfully hard themselves: Coca-Cola underwrote a program called H2No, for example, designed to help waiters dissuade their customers from drinking tap instead of bottled.

I don’t think anything of this is exactly unethical, but it certainly feeds into the cynicism many people have about modern marketing.

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