Yet water neutrality is a fundamentally prob-lematic concept because the value of water is not the samein all contexts, and water is a local resource.
Reduc-ing the quantity of water taken from another watershedwill do nothing to compensate for the loss to the originalwatershed. And, the denition of water neutrality that sixorganizations came up with is not actually reducing thenet impact to zero, but rather doing everything “reasonablypossible” to reduce its footprint and make up the differ-ence.
As long as “reasonable” is up to Coca-Cola’s owninterpretation, its claims of going water neutral are unlikelyto signicantly change its overall water use.
Greenwashing the Bottled WaterIndustry
Water use is not the only environmental problem theindustry has incentive to cover up. The industry has beencriticized for its environmental damage due to its high en-ergy use and production of plastic waste. The Pacic Insti-tute estimates that bottled water in the United States usedthe energy equivalent of 32 to 54 million barrels of oil in2007 — enough to fuel about 1.5 million cars for a year.
The manufacture of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bot-tles, water extraction, bottling and distribution amounted toup to 2,000 times the energy cost of producing tap water.
Moreover, only one out of every four of the tens of billionsof plastic bottles used in the United States in 2006 wererecycled.
At that rate, millions of tons of empty plasticbottles end up in landlls. In a recent report, the U.S. Gov-ernment Accountability Ofce quoted waste industry ex-perts who claimed that for the purpose of landll man-agement, these bottles will “never decompose.”
In order to present a greener image, the industry is pro-claiming its commitment to recycling through pressreleases on America Recycles Day,
and advertising newlighter bottles
or bottles made out of plants.
Nestlé evencommissioned a peer-reviewed study which concludedthat bottled water has the lightest environmental footprintamong packaged drink alternatives.
Yet these efforts donot make bottled water environmentally friendly. Even if plastic bottles are thinner, they are still likely to end up inthe trash. Coca-Cola’s new “PlantBottles” are not as greenas they sound — they are still PET plastic, although oneof the components of the plastic is made from sugar canerather than petroleum. Nestlé’s press release about its studydistracts from its own nding: that tap water has the small-est water and carbon footprint of all.
Attack on the Tap
As long as water is sold in plastic bottles and shippedaround the world, the industry will continue to use water,consume energy and generate waste. The best way toavoid these impacts is to drink tap water, which has alower water footprint than bottled water, a lower carbonfootprint than bottled water and does not use plastic pack-aging at all.Yet the bottled water industry’s attempts to sell packagedwater appear to have had negative effects on the country’sdrinking water supplies as well. Messages that bottledwater is the ideal source of water likely contributed to adecline in consumer condence in tap water, which meansless support for public drinking water. As bottled watersales steadily increased in the last 10 years, the federalfunding for water infrastructure systematically declined,contributing to poorly funded water systems that can fur-ther compromise public condence in drinking water.
Many American consumers are seeing through the indus-try’s marketing tactics and joining a nationwide movementto Take Back the Tap. College campuses, municipalities,event planners and restaurants around the country have jumped on board to stop drinking or selling bottled water.
But as more and more people are turning back to the tap, itis not enough to simply stop buying bottled water. The pub-lic must also invest in public water infrastructure so thattap water remains a safe, affordable source of environmen-tally friendly drinking water. A federal Clean Water TrustFund would accomplish this goal by providing a dedicatedsource of funding for public water infrastructure.
CEO Water Mandate
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé have all signed on to theCEO Water Mandate — a part of the United Nations’Global Compact program in which multinational corpo-rations commit to working to address the global watercrisis.
The CEO Water Mandate, as well the UN GlobalCompact, has been criticized as a lot of talk and littleaction; because it is not binding, companies can sign onwithout actually changing their behavior.
In 2010, theCEO Water Mandate received a greenwashing award fromthe organizers of the Public Eye Awards, an annual eventorganized to coincide with the World Economic Forum toshame corporate players for their environmentally damag-ing practices.
Selling Water to Kids
The bottled water industry is also using the childhood obe-sity epidemic to paint a more positive picture of itself. Theindustry is selling itself as a healthy alternative to soda. Forexample, Nestlé is funding research into the health ben-ets of water, and even selling water to kids using packag-ing specically designed for children, such as in Nestlé’s“Aquapod” bottle.
Yet teaching kids to drink bottledwater is teaching them to make a less environmentallyfriendly choice. Tap water has the same health benets asbottled water without the impacts. A recent article in theNew York Times reported that school water fountains canlower a child’s risk for becoming overweight.