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Where Do You Draw the Line?

Ethos is indirectly the origin of the modern English word ethics and the definition of ethics (from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is:

a set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values

The New Internationalist Magazine (NI) June 2008 issue brought to light “Bullshit in a Bottle”. Just so happens, Ethos has a new definition. It’s the name of a bottled water company with a slick website and “is a profit-making enterprise disguised as humanitarian relief”.

There is a long list of what is wrong with the bottled water industry in general: Energy consumption, pollution concerns, health hazards, wasteful, expensive and unnecessary. And now add to the list “exploiting the plight of Africans to sell more bottled water.”

Ethos Water is a company currently owned by Starbucks which uses PepsiCo to distribute its water to wholesalers and retailers across the country. According to their website,

five cents from each bottle purchased is donated to a foundation the gives grant commitments to humanitarian water programs that alleviate the world water crisis.

Ethos seems to really be in the “cause-related marketing” business who’s goal is to ultimately bring more profits to Starbucks. I agree with the NI’s analysis:

Given that the water retails at $1.80 per bottle and five cents represents just a three per cent donation, it would seem that β€˜helping children get clean water’ may not be quite as important as boosting company coffers… Critics say it is a profit-making enterprise disguised as humanitarian relief, that Ethos is exploiting the plight of Africans to sell more bottled water, and that donating directly to a reputable charity dedicated to water projects in Africa is a better way to address this serious problem.

Why don’t you just purchase a reusable home water filtration device and donate the $1.80-a-day to that reputable charity.

For more on ethics and charitable gving:
Go Green by Doing Good
Just Add Eco-Friendly Detergent and Rinse
Sustainable Cuisine Greenwashing – Again

4 comments
  1. Kelli Best-Oliver

    Agreed. Just found out an acquaintance of my husband’s just started a charity that sells bottled water and donates the proceeds to clean water projects in Africa. My husband totally has cognitive dissonance over it because the project is so counterproductive in the grand scheme of things. He doesn’t want to call his friend out for what his friend thinks is a worthy cause, but he also can’t consciously support it, either.

  2. Mary Jo Bergs

    Stuart,
    Thanks for bringing this BS further into the light. Many people are ‘too busy’ to actually volunteer their time to a worthy cause, so they make a cash donation instead to make themselves feel they are contributing. Marketers have learned this and play on the guilt factor “why buy one water at $1.75 when you can buy this one at $1.80 and help a community?” Why at all? Get a reusable bottle, filter your own water and send $9/wk ($1.80×5) to a real charitable organization. You’ll save money, the earth and help a community in a greater way.

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