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Posts Tagged ‘bottled water’

A bit of a mix-and-match today. I guess that’s what you get after a weekend…

1. Bottled Water Wars

Most people know that I’m not a huge fan of the anti-bottled water campaign. I think the campaign is too easy and lack substance and sometimes even just plain light on facts. But sometimes the bottled water people just asks to be hit. You might recall that I wrote about the cool anti-bottled water video by Annie Leonard in a Daily Stain. Well, as expected, the bottled water industry ‘hit back.’ Let’s look at what they had to say, shall we?

First they had to tackle the recycling figures used by Annie Leonard and the team. Annie and team said that 80% of plastic bottles in the United States end up in landfills or are burned in incinerators. Sound pretty awful doesn’t it? So the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), using different statistics, hit back saying that “water bottles were the most recycled plastic containers in the United States, with a 30.9 percent recycling rate.” Now just hang on a minute here. So they are arguing that 69.1% vs 80% no recycling makes a huge difference? I am sorry, but 30.9% is just as bad a fail as 20%. Pick any one of the two but they both point to one single thing – a failure of recycling plastic bottles. Period. Don’t nitpick percentages when your own figures are so miserable.

The second bit of the IBWA statement that hit me as odd was this beauty: “‘Consumers are really quite thoughtful in selecting and enjoying a safe, healthy, convenient, calorie-free beverage that’s delicious, refreshing and a very smart drink choice.” What would you have thought they were referring to if you read this sentence without knowing the context first? Water right? How about good old tap water? That is a “safe, healthy, convenient, calorie-free beverage that’s delicious, refreshing and a very smart drink choice.” Actually, I would add “almost free” to that sentence if they did indeed refer to tap water and that would make it a very smart drink choice… Sorry IBWA, by using the words “safe” and “healthy” in the same line it seems as if you indirectly hint that either (1) other drinks in plastic containers aren’t safe or healthy (orange juice anyone?) and that (2) water not in plastic containers might not be as safe and healthy. Wrong again. Please refrain from using this line. Either say what you mean and be transparent about what you mean or don’t say anything at all. Hinting has never been the best defense.

The third argument was another open door for criticism. The IBWA said that “bottled water was a necessity – particularly in emergencies like floods, tsunamis and earthquakes.” Mmm… Let’s think about that one. Makes perfect sense. So tell me IBWA, how much of bottled water sold is actually for emergencies like floods, tsunamis and earthquakes? A tiny fraction of the actual total sold. I don’t see a flood or a tsunami or an earthquake hitting any of the people walking the streets right now with the bottled water in their hands. It’s another weak argument where you are trying to twist the argument and not address the real issue. I am sorry – get better arguments as none of the large bottled water companies would survive if they only sold bottled water for use during emergencies.

The bottled water industry’s case wasn’t helped by the UN reporting that bottled water isn’t sustainable – wasting resources and consuming 17 million barrels of oil a year. Ouch… That must have hurt.

Are you surprised that Annie’s video has been watched over 150,000 times and the IBWA one around 300 times? I’m not. Apart from the entertainment value and lack of clear arguments on the side of the IBWA - the biggest reason? Annie and team have no vested interest in this apart from helping the world be a bit more sustainable. Yes they might be wrong in some of their facts and not know the line between fact and fiction as often as we like, but the average Joe in the street knows that the IBWA is protecting their interests and industry while Annie and her team have no money in this game. Values vs Value. And when it comes to story telling – values tend to be more creative and believable.

2.   How responsible is clean tech companies?

We tend to assume that a company that has some inherent goodness in the product must be a good corporate citizen right? And I don’t mean that goodness captured in that burger joint you frequent. Think of the Prius – good for the environment so it must be good. Mmm… Maybe we need to rethink that one. Yes, the Prius is better for the environment than the alternative Hummer but it’s not exactly eco-friendly. Just a tad friendlier. I wouldn’t suck on the exhaust pipe just yet – still emitting some bad stuff, just less than others. And let’s not even talk about how the car is made.

But that’s almost too obvious. How about clean tech companies? Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition just did a study to create a Solar Scorecard. Pretty neat and interesting way to look at companies we assume would be green and clean. As with the Prius, they found that not everything is the way we expect it to be. Some of the companies rate pretty well while others rank low when it comes to their use of toxic materials and broad environmental practices. Neat, but it triggered something else for me.

What about the social impact and practices of these “green” companies? Do we assume that they are great because of the products they produce? Well, just half of them have analyzed the social and environmental impacts of their supply chains, and half also have worker codes of conduct in place with their suppliers. Not so great. Just half have checked that those products that help nature don’t nail people?

Maybe we are forgetting that nature means nothing to humans if humans don’t exist. Saving the earth only has relevance if people can enjoy what is saved. Maybe we should worry about people as much as we worry about the environment. Sure, go hug a tree but when last did you hug a human?

3. Foul smell of NatGeo

Maybe the world economy is really going down the tube when an institution like National Geographic sells it’s brand down the river. I’ve always assumed that National Geographic is all about nature - recording it, protecting it and not selling it. But not anymore. The Guardian ran an excellent piece about National Geographic putting its name next to a few air fresheners. Two broad thoughts on this.

First, and one that really hit the spot, was the names that they gave the air fresheners. One was called Alaska’s Glacier Bay (the others were Japan Tatami and Nevada Desert Flower.) Really? Now how do you capture the natural essence of Alaska’s Glacier Bay? A little bit of Ppg-3 Ethyl Ether, a dash of Parfum, a hint of Linalool, a drop or two of Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, a handful of Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, some Hydroxycitronellal, pinch of Geraniol, a little Coumarin, and some Citronellol, Cinnamyl, Alcohol, Limonene and Cinnamal to round it off.

Or as the Guardian puts it, “Mmmmm, I love the smell of Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde in the morning.” Yes… Maybe not so natural.

And it’s a plug-in as well? Pulling electricity from those oil wells in Alaska to power the Alaska’s Glacier Bay? Really silly idea.

But the biggest problem is the National Geographic brand. Who thought this was a good idea? If they tried to sell me a tumbler made from recycled materials or a backpack or some hiking boots then fine. But the Guardian rightly points out that this deal undermines the National Geographic brand and the values people thought it stood for. Really… It smells foul.

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The Stain...

Just a few short links and discussions of interesting pieces on CSR and Sustainability picked up on the web. No promises but I’ll try to have these bits and bobs often. Today we talk about Unilever vs Nestle, corn syrup vs table sugar – what’s good and what’s bad, CSR rankings getting Marc Gunther all worked up, cool video of anti-bottled water activist and cows watching television. Hope you enjoy.

1. Unilever Top Ranked Sustainability Company in Food and Beverage Industry

I wasn’t too surprised at Unilever being judged the most sustainable company in the food and beverage industry. Well, the most sustainable amongst its peers – large multinationals. What did surprise me was how close it was and the companies who followed Unilever. Unilever scored 64% in the benchmarking by Two Tomorrows. Not great if it was to be your school grade but pretty good for a sustainability score. I mean really, you can’t score 100% and still breathe…

Anyway. What did surprise me was Nestlé being ranked number two just a few percentage points behind Unilever – 59% vs 64%. Nestlé ranked above companies who are generally viewed as pretty good – Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch InBev for instance. I do think this is one example where communications and benchmarking passed each other like ships in the night. Nestlé has never been the most popular company in the world. Greenpeace just launched another campaign against Nestlé because of palm oil. And, of course, everyone is still on their back because of baby milk and coffee sourcing. I’ve worked with Nestlé a few times in the past and they aren’t a bad bunch – not perfect but not as bad as what people would like to believe. What they do struggle with is communicating what they do effectively. Their second place ranking is pretty good compared to the others on the list. Unfortunately for them the same can’t be said for their ranking on how the general public and activists in general perceive them to be.

Nestlé apart, go have a look at the list. It’s pretty interesting. The best part is the “key findings” section. Some really insightful observations. I hope those companies listed use this to make some changes in how they operate. In Nestlé’s case – how they communicate.

2. High Fructose Corn Syrup is Much Worse than Table Sugar

Looks like high fructose corn syrup is losing the battle with table sugar. A new study shows that rats eating HFCS instead of sugar and even fat will all turn into obese not-so-little rats. I won’t go into the scientific details as it bores even me to death but the short of it is… HFCS is bad for you and much worse than the alternative. Of course the guys living of HFCS will fight this tooth and nail to save their rather large behinds. Unfortunately this isn’t really an argument they can win. Firstly, the move to use HFCS and the obesity rates in the US have an uncanny similarity in time and increase in the USA. Secondly, this is a scientific study not paid for by one group or the other. I tend to find truly independent studies more believable than those paid for by industry groups or companies. That’s just me.

Thirdly, HFCS really tastes worse than good old table sugar. I hope this study can convince Coke and Pepsi that they really need to bring good old sugar back into their sodas. The stuff they sell here in the US is just not the same as those back home or in the UK. Or pretty much anywhere else in the world. Why? Because they use the syrup stuff instead of the real thing.

But don’t celebrate by eating a couple of spoons full of sugar. The medicine won’t go down easily just yet. HFCS is worse than table sugar. But that doesn’t mean table sugar is good for you. Let’s just say that HFCS is worse than the other crap being sold to us and our kids daily. The best would be to try to avoid as much of both HFCS and table sugar as you can. We take in too much of the stuff. The choice between HFCS and table sugar is like the choice between being bunched or kicked. I prefer neither.

3. The Story of Bottled Water

Now I’m not one to believe all the hype about how bad bottled water is for the environment. Yes, it’s pretty crap – especially the bottle but it’s not the most evil product in the world. And tap water isn’t as innocent as everyone would like us to believe – from either an impact or health perspective. However, this video by Annie Leonard is pretty cool in explaining the Story of Bottled Water from an activist perspective.

4. Lies, damn lies and CSR ranking

Of course that man Marc Gunther would write another thought-provoking piece just as I write about Unilever and Nestlé above. Bet on Marc to cut to the chase – the problem of ranking companies on their CSR practices. Very interesting piece where he tackles CRO for their list of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens. He questions the list and especially the methodology they use because companies generally seen leaders in CSR, such as Timberland, Google and GE, did not make the list but companies such as ExxonMobil, Hess and Southern Co did make the list. One example that really triggered Marc to question the relevancy of the CRO ranking is that Whole Foods, a long time leader in CSR, did not make the list but Yum! Brands does. To quote Marc, “Yum!’s contributions to corporate responsibility include KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” Point taken…

Marc has some excellent arguments ranging from questionable ratings, preconceived beliefs influencing ranking, difficulty to assessment across different industries and the methodology used – best to go read it yourself. It’s pretty short and to the point.

I know many companies who aim for these rankings. And for some it makes perfect sense. However, I’ve never really looked at rankings to make a judgement on a company. And most activists don’t care about rankings either – except their own rankings targeting the “bad companies.” Rankings should not replace actual work and will never do the job of good solid stakeholder engagement. It’s like reading a movie review, the critic will give you their opinion but you will really not know if it is a good movie for you until you’ve seen it yourself. But Marc always gets a high-ranking in my books. Excellent and thought-provoking article.

5. Have You Seen the Latest Episode of Desperate Cows?

Got to love ecorazzi for finding some fun stuff. This one is about a Russian farmer providing his cows with a few televisions showing beautiful pictures of green grass and meadows. Okay… Maybe he can give them a few treadmills to get their bodies working. Hopefully they won’t need any steroids or hormones when they work out. And please refrain from showing them Food Inc.

Have fun and I’ll be back tomorrow. Or sometime close to that!

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I am getting a bit sick and tired of hearing about bottled water. You know, the “big issue” of how bad bottled water is. Worse than cigarettes. And alcohol. And drugs. And anything else you can think of. The new evil. It makes you want to go and hug Exxon. Really. Come on. It’s bloody bottled water people.

Almost every mayor of across the US is telling their constituents how bad it is. That it litters the city. That it is just sooo bad. That you should drink from the tap. Hum. Well now. Why don’t you first stop the killing in the cities before you start bitching about the litter. Why don’t you start recylding plastic instead recyling old crappy politics? Get your house in order before you start bitching about a bloody plastic bottle. Really. If a plastic bottle is the worse of your worries…

And these “activists” go on and on about the water scarcity. Hum. Duh. You grow industry and populations and the water levels drop. Not difficult math you know. You know how much bottled water takes out of the ground? Around 0.002%. Doesn’t seem logical to me to start there if you are concerned about water scarcity. Maybe you should start with where the big water “eaters” are. And where do you think this is? Farming. Yes, farming. Up to 80% of water goes into farming. Yes, they need to use the water to produce the crops. But they are also some of the most inefficient users. Just spraying it all over the place. And don’t think of the farmer in the movies. No! Most farming is done by large commercial farms owned by large multinationals. They don’t give a damn about the water. Or the land. or the people. Just about the profits.

Oh yes. They tell me all about the leaching of the plastic bottle. And that I should drink tap. You know what is in that tap? Iron levels too high. Lead in the pipes. Pharmaceutical waste. Chlorine to kill the bugs. Etc. Etc. etc. Damned if I don’t and damned if I do. By the way – stupid. I drink the bottle when I am on the road. Not while at home. You gonna bring me a personal tap with when I travel? And want a refill? Don’t give me the fountain crap. You know where that mouth has been that just drank from it? Huhu. Don’t think so baby.

It’s just stupid. This bottled water attack. Does it make sense? Most likely if you want to save money. But don’t think it will make you save the earth because plastic bottles just don’t have enough of an impact. Less than 0.05% of the waste in landfills.

But it’s easy. An easy target. Easy to go after the bottle of water. Because you hold it in your hand and make an easy connection. So you drop the bottle of water and reach for a… Coke. And up goes obesity levels. Stupid campaign. Stupid idea. Campaigning in the MTV era… Just grab any campaign and let’s see who will fall for it. I think the bottled water campaign is like the Backstreet Boys – empty, little substance, no real impact, but easy to sell because it looks good. “As long as you love me”. Bah!

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