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Michael DeJong

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Water, Water Everywhere

Posted: 03/24/09 02:10 PM ET

N-e-s-t-l-e-s. Nestlé makes the very best - Green-washing!

In one way or another, I've been an environmentalist my entire life (born of Dutch immigrant parents who found a use and re-use for everything.) I've just completed my third book on 'clean living,' and have been blogging about the environment for the past few years. It's my passionate "little hobby" that I thankfully get to do for several websites including The Huffington Post. I am a strong believer in speaking truth to power, and have tried to always keep this in the back of my mind in everything I write.

Just recently I was approached by a marketing firm whose motto reads, "Every brand has a story to tell. Those that tell it best, win." (Apparently, regardless of the truth.) It was their hope, that as an eco-blogger and author with a following, I would be interested in being the editor of, as well as creating my own supportive content for a new website they are custom-fitting for Nestlé Waters -- an online way of introducing a new line of bottled water with bottles made of more recycled plastic than other company's bottles.

After walking downstairs to talk to my partner about selling my soul, and about five seconds of research, I uncovered the following tag line created for Nestlé: "Bottled water is the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world." (Say what?!?!?!)

So says the Swiss-based multi-national in an attempt to mislead the public on the true impact of their (or any company's) bottled waters. Making false and misleading statements regarding the environmental impact of their numerous labels of bottled water (72 or so at last count) to those who dig swigging the overly packaged H2O, seems par for this manufacturer's course. In case you didn't know, Nestlé Waters is the number one bottled water company worldwide and owns Perrier, Poland Springs, San Pellegrino, Panna, Contrex, Vittel, La Vie, Aquarel (with "a light and pleasant taste for the whole family" - huh??!!), and Nestlé Purelife (the leading bottled water sold in the developing world and the 2nd largest selling bottled water on earth).

Many water bottles manufactured by Nestlé (the same "good food-good life" company who's been known to sue small towns and parlay trade deals in secret) aren't often recycled at all. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of plastic in municipal solid waste recycling plants has increased from less than 1 percent in 1960 to only 12 percent in 2006. Nestlé Waters itself states in its 2008 Corporate Citizenship Report that many of its own bottles end up in the solid waste-stream and that most of its bottles aren't recycled even though almost all beverage bottles are recyclable.

Nestlé Waters' latest eco-attempt is to use recycled plastic for its bottled waters (this being the main subject of the web site about which I was approached). Claiming a new "cradle-to-cradle" philosophy (and endorsement by William McDonough and Michael Braungart--unsubstantiated at the time of this writing) could ultimately prove to be more expensive, perhaps toxic, and -- in the end -- recycled plastic may not be the best material for bottling water in the first place.

Some might call it "green-washing," but when a company like Nestlé pipes-up about its unfounded environmental credentials with an attempt to address ecological concerns and to self-promote as a green steward, it's "super-GREEN-washing." Their disingenuous attempts to gain our trust are merely international marketing smoke and mirrors meant to exploit our super-brawny purchasing power.

By bottling water and then shipping it from here to kingdom-come, because it's now packaged in a thinner and "100% recyclable" bottle -- if it sits in a landfill, a trench, or a field -- it doesn't make it "eco!" Not to mention the environmental and carbon footprints involved in the manufacture and distribution of said bottles.

Often taking the lead in water policy-making through questionable lobbying, bottled water manufacturers like Nestlé ultimately need to be regulated and be held responsible for the quantity and quality of the water that they end up bottling, the pollution they make in the process, the pollution they leave behind, and the environmental impact on the communities they strong-arm for the "natural spring water" in the first place.

Bottled water, even from a super-slick eco-spinner like Nestlé, will forever be a massive waste of our collective resources. As a multi-national giant posing as a collective of local companies that contribute to the local good, that boasts of being self-accountable and self-regulating and transparent, maybe Nestlé itself needs to get its house in order. Not so that they can do business with us but, instead, for us to continue to do business with them.

Much like the motto of the marketing agency that approached me to create propaganda for Nestlé, perhaps every brand does indeed have a story to tell. But in this instance, if the story is a lie, no matter how well it's told, the brand might also just lose.

For more information visit: www.stopnestlewaters.org

P.S. Note to Nestlé: It's just water for God's sake. In most developed countries, it comes hot and cold from the tap and for those that are worried about the local purity of their H2O, there are always at-home filtering systems from faucet units to pitchers (skip the eco-inefficient under-the-counter models). If you really want to be the eco-Merlin of the world, take your ill-gotten profits and help the developing world you've been exploiting and build water systems to ensure that every village, slum, and ghetto where you've been peddling Nestlé Purelife has potable tap water and efficient sewage systems. Now that would be a story worth telling!