Can Bottled Water Be Socially Responsible?

KeeperSprings.gifBottled water has sprung a leak. Critics of the $15-billion industry have stirred up anxious sentiments about the waste created by so many plastic bottles—and the oil and energy it takes to make them.

This rising tide of public opinion has created a tough problem for Keeper Springs—a bottled water co-founded by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. that reinvests all of its profits into protecting America’s waterways. 

It’s a 21st-century Catch-22: Can a bottled-watered company dedicated to preserving the environment be genuinely environmentally responsible?

Beverage Business Insights is reporting this week that Kennedy and co-owner Chris Bartle are thinking about turning off the valve at the company in response.

I’m sure ethics play a big part in this decision. But I wonder if the market is putting a bigger squeeze on Keeper Springs. The brand is small—I’ve found it at Columbia University, but few other places—so it’s possible that retailers are just cutting back because of changes in demand.

Otherwise, wouldn’t it be smarter for Keeper Springs to leverage the issue to differentiate its brand: “If you’re going to drink bottled water, drink one that’s actually helping the environment.”

I haven’t seen any comment about the plastic-bottle flap from Ethos, the Starbucks brand of socially conscious water (“helping children get clean water”). But I’m sure the folks there are working through the same perplexing communications challenge.