In a recent Businessweek article, Kim Jeffery the CEO of Nestlé Water North America, makers of Poland Spring waters, whines (yes, whines) that they are misunderstood and not given the credit they deserve. Clearly he thinks all the charges of greenwash are unfair.
But, are they? The article tells of all the environmentally preferable things that they had done but that no one knew about. The article then goes on to say:
Part of the reason Nestlé Waters wasn’t touting its environmental efforts, according to Jeffery, was that he and the rest of management considered such actions business as usual.
Yes! That’s the point. the “green” things Nestlé were doing were part of normal business operations, many of which saved the company lots of money. Are they good for the environment? Of course. But that’s not really what greenwashing is all about. Its about consumer marketing. This is where the real greenwashing occurs. Before I go on, I want to say that I truly applaud the industry for implementing eco-bottles. That said, it seems to be a blatant case of greenwash to position bottled water as being good for the environment. Water companies should tout eco-bottles, but they shouldn’t suggest that they are good for the environment. They should sell the water, not the the environmental friendliness of the packaging. I would like to ad, that Nestlé is not the worst offender of greenwashy bottled water ads and their ad campaigns are far less offensive than those for Fuji Water and Deer Park.
Nonetheless, these types of ads violate two classic greenwash tactics, as defined by Greenpeace’s Greenwash Criteria:
1) Dirty Business- These ads tout bottled water as a source of environmental reduction! Yet, we all know that the core business is inherently polluting and unsustainable.
2) Ad Bluster – These ads and PR campaigns exaggerate and misrepresent an environmental achievement in order to divert attention away from environmental problems of bottled water. There is nothing about bottled water, other than eliminating the product category, that will truly reduce the impact on the environment.
Or as thecynic of Winnipeg put it nicely on the blog greenwashingindex.com:
Several Nestlé bottled water brands, including Poland Spring, advertised their new ecobottles. The bottles have 30% less plastic, and can be recycled (that not any different, they could always be recycled, but why not mention that anyway). they ignore the fact that many still end up in the landfill, or worse on the side of the highway. Anyway, it’s still 70% of the plastic that takes energy to produce and then kicks around in a landfill for 500 years.
The point is that businesses and marketing folks need to be honest about what they are selling. The charges of greenwashing won’t go away until bottled water companies change their advertising and PR campaigns. When they make an eco-advancement they should shout about it. But they should not use it to misrepresent, mislead or divert. As consumers who care about real environmental impact reduction, we need to resist this type of advertising because, as aptly put by Business Ethics, greenwash diminishes the value of legitimate corporate environmental successes and ultimately results in consumer and regulatory complacency. And that ain’t good.
I think that Antonio makes a salient point. People started drinking bottled water out of a concern for the safety and purity of the water they were getting from taps.
While NYC at this point has a good reputation for producing some of the best city water on the planet, it is also heavily fluorinated, and many people don’t want to get their fluorine from water at levels they can’t control. Great for teeth, but purportedly not great for the brain.
So bottled water is offered simply because there is a demand for it. There is nothing wrong with a company producing a product for which there is a demand, and making a profit. Especially when that company has shown a high level of responsibility in providing that product as efficiently and therefore ecologically as possible.
What many green sites and thinkers neglect to take into consideration is the total ecology of capitalism. Without demand, there is no supply. Without efficient (and therefore affordable) supply, there is no demand.
Kudos, though, to anyone who demands a more efficient, ecological, and therefore affordable, product. Especially when that product is a commodity. I want anything and everything I consume to be as ecological as possible.
The world’s water supply is a constant. It doesn’t float off into outer space. The only thing which changes is where it is stored, and where it is plentiful. Unfortunately, there are many regions of the world which are both overpopulated and non-ecological in their consumption of local resources.
Fortunately, in the U.S., that’s not our primary issue. However, we’re not necessarily ecological in what and how we consumer, and a lot of what we consume isn’t local. To me, this is the real issue: local means no transport energy waste. How many things did you order online this year and have shipped? How many products did you purchase which were made overseas? And how many of any of these vendors accommodated that energy consumption with offsets, to keep the cycle ecological? If the carbon offsets were your option, did you take it? We’re about to offer carbon offsets through our site. Will you take responsibility and spend an extra dollar?
But back to water.
Wanting water which is pure and free of contaminants isn’t much different than wanting water which is cold. While you’re so critical of a company which puts it in bottles, why not look at your own habits of wanting it cold? Most countries would drink tap water at room temperature without a second thought. Making your ice cubes and keeping your water cold in your refrigerator’s water dispenser probably consumed nearly the amount of energy as that bottle.
For that matter, look at how much energy you use when you do your laundry. Did you know that 95% of the Kyoto Protocol’s requirements could be achieved simply if everyone who washes in hot water used cold water instead? Cold Water Tide has proven to be as effective at washing in cold water as regular Tide is in hot water. P&G, the world’s largest brand / consumer products company in the world, did a comprehensive study of ALL of the energy usage of ALL of its products, worldwide, from sourcing through production through sales through consumer consumption. No small task. Consumers’ use of hot water was higher than all of the P&G-controlled energy consumption put together. Simple. Supply and Demand. Stop demanding hot water for your laundry.
If you don’t want to drink bottled water, don’t. If you do for purity and convenience reasons, drink it and then recycle your bottle. If you recycle your bottle, it may end up in one of our 8bottles shirts, which are themselves made only from 8 post-consumer recycled bottles.
The most perfectly ‘green’ system is really the most ecological system — one in which all waste is converted back into use. As far as I can tell, the only waste in Nestle’s product is the issue of transporting the bottled water. If Nestle were to have sufficiently regionalized production networks, or to investigate other means of providing convenient, safe water at or near the point-of-sale, then this energy consumption could be eliminated. Only the drinking vessel’s production and transport would remain, which would be nearly negligible.
So to me, the real solution to a good product – safe, conveniently dispensed water in a bottle – is to minimize the energy required to produce/transport/sell it, to minimize the energy required to recycle its packaging, and of course, to find good applications for that recyclable material.
We’re doing our part with that last piece. You can visit http://www.8bottles.com for more information if you like.
Dear Jennifer and Earl,
Your ignorance is only overshaowed by your lack of information. Bottled Water is more than just municipal water in a bottle. Nestle Waters invests extensive man hours and money to ensure the purity and superior quality of its products. As a consumer I want to be informed and have the choice to drink water from a bottle vs the TAP. By the way I do not want to lose the opportunity to have this choice.
I would love to discuss your own “Environmental Sustainability” commitment. I would love to discuss what personal habits you have changed to ensure that we all do our part to protect the Earth. Rather than attacking an industry that has some concerned players, like Nestle Waters, let’s try to work together to protect the Environment through dialogue and accurate information driven comments, while allowing everyone to make educated, personal choices on the products we all pruchase..
I would like to suggest that bottled water is a symbol of our lack of understanding of where our water comes from. it is an indication of our unwillingness to look beyond our own convenience. For many millions of people, water is not a convenience that can be purchased at will and then be left unfinished. People are dying for lack of what we call a convenience.
Sorry I missed your comment until now, Jane.
Wow, its hard to know where to start. Water is just like any consumer product? In most industrialized countries, clean, drinkable water is FREE. And what is it exactly that your are producing? Nothing. In most cases you are simply processing (at great environmental costs, I might add) and then reselling municipal water that rightfully belongs to everyone. So, what exactly is the consumer benefit bottled water offers. Convenience. Yes. Status. Yes. But, the reality is that bottled water is a huge environmental blight all in the name of convenience and status. That seems like a paltry tradeoff.
But, more to the point of my post…
You should shout about your eco-improvements. But, you should not position your packaging as being good for the environment. It’s NOT better for the environment, at best its less harmful. Less harmful does not equal good. So, if you still don’t understand why consumers are upset with you, its because as mentioned your ads tout bottled water as a source of environmental reduction! It’s simply not true. And,your ads misrepresent an environmental achievement in order to divert attention away from environmental problems of bottled water. I repeat: there is nothing about bottled water, other than eliminating the product category, that will truly reduce the impact on the environment.
Consumers will continue to resist this type of advertising because it diminishes the value of legitimate corporate environmental successes. If you care about the environment, that’s simply uncool.
We’re pleased you agree we should be talking about our Eco-Shape bottles. Like you, we think reducing the plastic content in our bottles is an important step toward a lighter environmental footprint. The Eco-Shape half-liter bottle uses 30% less plastic than the average juice, soda, or other brand of bottled water containers. And, when more than 70 percent of what we drink comes in a bottle or can, why not choose the lightest beverage package?
By making our bottles lighter, we conserve resources and emit less carbon. Because of Eco-Shape, we avoided using 65 million pounds of plastic and reduced our PET greenhouse gas emissions by 8% this year alone. We continue to go even lower, and plan to find ways to use recycled plastic or renewable resources to make our bottles.
However, I respectfully disagree that the bottled water business is “inherently polluting and unsustainable.” We have an impact on the environment, like any consumer product company, and we’re working hard to reduce that impact through LEED-certified plants, efficient water use, source protection and packaging innovations (as Kim pointed out in his BusinessWeek interview). It’s because of steps like these that we believe we have the lightest environmental footprint of any packaged beverage company in the U.S.
Too many bottles end up in landfills – there’s no doubt about that. But we think the issue has less to do with the bottle, and more with the lack of recycling options. While water bottles account for less than 1% of the waste stream in the U.S., we believe that recycling options are woefully inadequate in our country. We are campaigning aggressively for stronger municipal recycling laws to make it easier for customers to turn our bottles in so they can be made into carpeting or fleece jackets, or even recycle bins.
We know we – our company and our industry – have more to do. Please take a look at our 2008 Corporate Citizenship report – our first – for more information on our future goals and past accomplishments. For us, as for any company, environmental improvement is a journey, not a destination.
Director, Corporate Communications
Nestlé Waters North America
Thanks, Dean. Your article is excellent as well. Keep up the good work!
Good article. Execs need to be called on the carpet for this sort of thing. So do the PR and marketing folks who promote it. I just blogged about this very issue (using bottled water as an example). http://blog.koifishcommunications.com/2008/11/14/the-ethics-of-advocacy.aspx