I Don't Understand Ethos Water

Have you heard of Ethos Water?

I first learned about it while waiting for my coffee in a downtown Chicago Starbucks this morning.

It's a bottled water company that aims to "help children around the world get clean water and to raise awareness of the world water crisis." Apparently, for every bottle of the water bought, $.05 will be donated to the cause.

Sounds kind of nice, right? Helping people and all. That's good, right?

But the more I think about this product, the more I think it's the most ridiculous thing ever created.

I mean, this water is being sold in Chicago, a city on the banks of Lake Michigan, one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world and home to 1,180 cubic miles of good-quality drinking water (can you even imagine how much water that is?). But, even though Chicagoans have huge amounts good tap water available nearly free of charge, we are for some reason spending more than $1.50 per bottle for Ethos Water .

Yep. There are 1 billion people in the world without access to clean drinking water, and instead of celebrating the fact that we are lucky enough to have potable tap water, we are buying ultra-expensive "purified" water and, in turn, implying that our tap water isn't good enough.

It's just so ridiculous.

Ethos Water, which will indeed help people without clean drinking water, is like a hypothetical slap in the face to the same people it's trying to help.

It gives me the creeps (even without considering how plastic waste plays into this).

My suggestion: if you're ever tempted to buy a bottle of Ethos water, grab a glass of tap water instead and then donate a full $1.50 towards clean drinking water. Check out the Universal Giving website to find a charity you like.


Anonymous said…
I have seen this water at my local Starbucks too. Our water in Memphis is always ranked in the top tier of the best water in the US, but for some reason we to drink mass amounts of bottled water. In fact the water here is so good, we bottle it and ship it to other parts of the US. I have never understood the need for drinking water that doesn't come from the tap, it doesn't seem natural. At my office we have bottled water and each day I pass it up and go for the tap. I agree with you...we need to be celebrating our naturally clean water and not be filling our landfills with water bottles that contain water that isn't even as good as what comes out of the tap.
Anonymous said…
What a joke; that might be the most hypocritical product I've ever seen. It's such a waste. I bet Ethos Water is cashing in big time for their worldly efforts, even though it's nothing but a PR stunt.
Going Crunchy said…
Most excellent post.

I've seen it before, and the name makes me think of pathos. A feeling of pity, compassion or grief.

I think they were trying to combine ethics and pathos in the name, but it just reminds me of the feeling of grief for Mama Earth. Shannon
Jeanne said…
Shannon, True that. This water is definitely a sad thing.

I looked up the definition of the word ethos, which you can find below. Based on the definition, I think we could almost say that our ethos these days is one of consumerism, with a unique characteristic of that consumerism being the desire to buy things like bottled water that we truly don't need.



1. The fundamental character or spirit of a culture; the underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs, or practices of a group or society; dominant assumptions of a people or period: In the Greek ethos the individual was highly valued.
2. The character or disposition of a community, group, person, etc.
3. The moral element in dramatic literature that determines a character's action rather than his or her thought or emotion.
Sheri said…
I agree that it makes no sense to be selling plastic water bottles under the Ethos name at Starbucks.

I emailed their Corporate division about this. I got a response back saying that the water bottles had a number "1" on the bottom and "they were the easiest to recycle." Somehow that is Starbucks rationalization.
Wow I came across your blog just bouncing around and after I read a few posts the Strong thought HIT ME
this girl can write.I'm bookmarking you .I like your cause and writing style,thanks

PS if you want to see an actually example of someone who can't write
check out
I just wanted to say that I really like your writing style and your
energy for the cause.Gave me some things to think about.Thanks
Anonymous said…
Great discussion guys. Multiply it by a few mill and we may get some change happening.

I know i go against the grain here when I say that tap water isn't as good as you might think.

Not enough space here to justify that but you can read what i have to say at watershed1.com

I will say this though:

If you have ever had Reiki. If you believe in radios but don't know how they really truly work. If you have ever experienced intuition before. If you believe water is far, far more than a clear liquid, then possibly you'll be open to the concept of 'energy'/ether healing water and then you.

If a radio antenna can attract a certain frequency we can't see, that carries infomation in it then surely we should be open to a device that attracts the good stuff, ether (chi, Prana) to the water source. Then, by virtue of the 'intelligence' of water, the waters current sick status is transformed to the resonance of the ether.

Weird? Maybe to many. Untrue? Not to this young duck.

I have one. A Vortex Energizer that is a stand alone device that is placed, preferably, at the mains. All water passing it will take on the resonance/energy of the attracted ether. Result. Water that tastes brilliant. Every test i do with friends comes back the same.

Maybe the world isn't ready for the implimentation of this conept on a large scale but at least we can start at home. Maybe they'll start asking questions.
Anonymous said…
What Ethos doesn't mention in their ads or on the bottle label is that the water source is only 7 miles away from one of the worst Superfund Sites in the Nation (you know-hazardous toxic waste...) including contaminated ground water. I don't think the plastic bottle is the relevant issue here...
Anonymous said…
One in six people do not have access to clean drinking water

Water borne diseases are the leading cause of human sickness and death

The average person in the developing world uses 2.64 gallons of water a day, while the average person in the US uses 100-175

Help end the global water crisis!
Visit blueplanetrun.org
Anonymous said…
Yes, us transporting water over long distances is not environmentally friendly, nor does it make economic sense.

At the same time, to imply that our tap water is clean drinking water doesn't make much sense either. The amount of hazardous chemicals in our tap water is substantial enough to cause damage to our health over a long-term period of consumption.

It's time for us to think of sustainability as that balancing ecological as well as personal health/wealth components.

And in any case, to judge Ethos water for they are doing wrong is to miss the most fundamental point of their company culture of giving back. If every company in the U.S. gave back $.05 for a $1.80 product sold, don't you think the world would be a much better place?

~Bill Baren
Anonymous said…
The argument in favour of natural drinking water is applicable to all the bottled water brands around the world. My family has long back shifted to our own tiny reverse osmosis (RO) based water purifier. Same technilogy is used by best bottled water brands to bottle excellent quality water. Why not everyone of us shift to this small water RO water purifier at home. You will be making your own RO water at home. This will mean not only saving of lot of money but also avoiding tons of plastic bottles.

Rajneesh Potey , India
Anonymous said…
Hi Abigail, Hi all,
I have been an enthisiastic collector of domestic plastic objects for about 20 years - sorry!
But that is not to say that I don't appreciate the negative side of the material.
I am aghast at the needless wrapping of products and of bottled water too.
But one thing gets me about Ethos is that they offer to donate a miserly 5c when they make a huge profit from the water they sell. I occasionally buy bottled water to take to the martial art lessons I participate in but am on the look-out for a permanent bottle. Yes, I sometimes refill the plastic bottle, but I'm told that this is not ideal as the plastic may leach out chemicals.
kazbat said…
Great post. I agree. Except that Ethos does do something good with that .05 cents and if someone is adamant about drinking bottled water, it's better to buy Ethos than another brand that doesn't take that money and help the world with it. People are stupid to buy it if they have good municipal water and at least Ethos is taking that stupidity and doing something right with it.
Anonymous said…
I think Starbucks is applying creative capitalism for a good cause. I applaud them and agree with Bill's post. Criticize companies that do nothing for the greater good.
Unknown said…
i just saw this water at my local starbucks yesterday and when i read the back i couldn't believe the irony. i googled it today to see if i could read more about its purpose and found your post. selling us clean spring water when we have water filters everywhere and can drink boiled water, to only give $.5 towards "programs" that help bring clean water to needy children, how are those programs working? wouldn't it make more sense to sell something else so they could ship the water they're selling us to the needy children instead? i mean it wouldn't be a sustainable project but, might definitely receive less criticism. i'm glad i'm not the only one who noticed the ridiculousness of this product.
ice said…
I thought Ethos was a really good, cool idea, until I too learned the truth behind it.

Personally, I'd rather someone paid $1 for a bottle of Dasani or Aquafina, and give $0.80 to kids in Africa then buy $1.80 Ethos water. It would be a better, more effective use of money. People would get their filtered, bottled water that they are after so much, and people in Africa or whatever would get what, 16x the benefit?

I've heard Ethos/starbucks has a metal water bottle that some of the profit is supposed to help the same charity as the plastic bottled water. I do plan to buy a metal bottle at some point (I've only seen my brothers. He got his a while ago, and I want to see the bottles in person at my local starbucks first), but more because I want a bottle like that and I think it would fit my needs, not because Ethos is giving a marginal portion of their profit to a charity.
Anonymous said…
Everyone here brings up interesting and valid points. Yes, it is weird that this company is selling bottled water, and they probably could be donating more, but also think about the other side - if they donated all of it, the company wouldn't stay alive to do what they are doing.
A point before I go on - ethos is like pathos, but it is the appeal to authority. Someone like George Washington or Mother Theresa would have a large amount of ethos; they are individuals whose opinions would be trusted by a vast majority.
As for this conversation, and the large amount of people involved, it seems like you all have a passionate one.... to put my challenge to you simply, instead of complaining and analyzing what Ethos is doing wrong, do something yourselves about it! Make a difference like you don't think Ethos is!
Anonymous said…
Ok Guys. I have been in the water business for 20+ years. Here are the facts. The bottle costs $ 0.07 each. The water costs $ 0.03. The process costs $ 0.20 per GALLON. Do the math? Only a nickle. Well you know what a nickel used to buy!!! A pickel.
Anonymous said…
Wow, Bottle/Label $ 0.17 cents, Water $ 0.03 cents, RO Process/Transportation/Delivery $ 0.23 cents, ($ 0.43 Cents) Profits Endless...... and the kids get a nickel... the shareholders at Starbucks what a profit center.
Anonymous said…
Great blog post. See here for another: http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/charity-profiteering-the-ethos-water-scam
Unknown said…
I am equally disgusted by Ethos Water. I just wrote a post about it and another water bottle campaign which I linked to below. You may also like the Chris Jordan photos of bottle waste that I added at the end. One thing that you didn't mention is how the commodification of water and its privatization is contributing to water scarcity. It makes buying water bottles to alleviate water scarcity even more ironic.

Anonymous said…
good convo here. spread the word about the evils of ethos water by sharing this link: http://www.ethos-water.com

Anonymous said…
A bottle of Ethos water in starbucks Puerto Rico is $2.51 . In some others is a bit more expensive.....starbucks is a joke
Anonymous said…
Here in the pacific northwest, for the past two weeks, and the next two weeks to come, Starbucks workers are required to ask each and every customer if they would like to buy a bottle of water...that is the promotion for the month, not coffee...Ethos...it is unethical and I wish the media would grab hold of this WASTE.
Anonymous said…
The truth of the matter is that people are not going to stop purchasing bottled water. No matter how many people "go green", there will always be bottled water available in our supermarkets and common grocery stores and delis. At least ethos is one of the companies trying to give something back to communities that are less fortunate and do not have access to clean water. Another water bottle company that is beneficial is volvic. (look into that). I agree that people should just donate the cost of a bottle of water and have filters or purifying systems in their houses, however that is not the case and it will be difficult to get the whole world to agree on this. So like I said before at least ethos is trying to help. And of course they are not donating the whole water bottle cost because then the ethos company would not make a profit. So, the people who care should do everything in their power to reduce plastic bottled waste on their own and if they are really passionate about this donation business then they should do it. However, in reality many people do not care or find the time or will to go and donate money so by purchasing ethos over other bottled water they are at least donating something rather than nothing over other leading bottled water companies.
Kristen said…
I agree with this post. I just spent $1.85 on a bottle of the ethos water (don't judge me...I was thirsty and at a drive thru starbucks). Anyway, I imagine this company makes a freaking fortune because they're sending 0.5 cents and making $1.80. If helping children get clean water was that big of a deal and they were that "compelled to make a difference" I think they should stop being so damn selfish and make 5 cents off it and donate the rest to "make a difference".
Yasser said…
On their website ethos-water.com (with the pix of people in Africa), they PROUDLY say that their revenues so far is $150 million, based on the promise of helping people !!! YET only $6 million have been donated !

This is ridiculous. STARBUCKS should be ashamed of itself, using people pain, in order to make money!

I wonder why they dont donate the $0.05 from their $4 Macchiato!
Anonymous said…
Yet we have a breast cancer month, where we buy all kinds of pink crap, which is exactly the same thing. Wake up people. Please.
Arby said…
I recoiled in horror the first time I saw Ethos water in Starbucks. I also recoil in horror at their (weak, but bitter) drip coffee, but that's another story. (Their espresso is tasty enough, although they aren't proper espressos.) Didn't I see somewhere that Matt Damon helped to promote Ethos?

I have been trying in vain to find info online to that effect. The world loves Matt Damon and if there's anything critical of him online, then it's buried in the mountains of adulation. I too love his flicks. So what?

Maude Barlow (Council of Canadians) has written a few good books about water that I recommend. I read the first of those, Blue Gold. I bought the second, but lost it and a pile of other books I had when I moved. Actually, It looks like they were stolen. This wage slave can't afford to just go out and replace them.

Another blogger pointed out that for Starbucks to reach it's own target for contributions given directly to assist those in need of clean drinking water, they would have to sell an enormous number of bottles, which aren't recyclable. The 5 cents from a bottle that is upwards of $4 is... pathetic. But don't quote me on those facts. I would have to do more research before I would state authoritatively the dollars and stats here.

Which doesn't mean I don't know something about how pernicious the largely unregulated bottled water industry is. Those water companies have chutzpah. They take the peoples' water, often destroying irreplaceable aquifers in the process and sell it back to them, making enormous profits because governments, which protect corporations rather than all of us, don't restrict them or properly tax them. (Actually, Those should be royalties, I believe, and governments here would function as good or bad realtors for the people and ensure that the peoples' resources benefitted the people. As bad realtors, they would fail to mediate productively and in good faith between the the people and the buyers of our resource.)

And so on...
Unknown said…
I don't know how much of their Ethos donations are for Public Relations as it is part of their company culture.

Here's a company (Starbucks) that is committed to building community and awareness as part of their mission statement. They volunteer their people to many world crisis like Katrina and most recently the Japanese earthquake, where they donated a million dollars to the cleanup effort.

Many places do not have the luxury of enormous freshwater lakes. The water in many areas has been treated so much to kill bacteria that the taste of it is unbearable. Paying for a bottle of water when needed is a convenience that has high demand. In other words, their is a market for it. I wonder, how much money these other water bottling companies are contributing to worldly causes....?
Unknown said…
I don't know how much of their Ethos donations are for Public Relations as it is part of their company culture.

Here's a company (Starbucks) that is committed to building community and awareness as part of their mission statement. They volunteer their people to many world crisis like Katrina and most recently the Japanese earthquake, where they donated a million dollars to the cleanup effort.

Many places do not have the luxury of enormous freshwater lakes. The water in many areas has been treated so much to kill bacteria that the taste of it is unbearable. Paying for a bottle of water when needed is a convenience that has high demand. In other words, their is a market for it. I wonder, how much money these other water bottling companies are contributing to worldly causes....?
Rob M. said…
It's not Starbucks donating the nickel a bottle, they CHARGE YOU (or, in my case, ME) that extra nickel! Look at your receipt. It's not deposit on the bottle, it's not tax, it's the "Nickel" they are "donating." Not THEIR nickel on the bottle of water, YOUR nickel for buying it!
Robert Mollenauer
Bermuda Dunes, CA
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
I honestly don't understand why people are complaining about this. Especially those that are SPOILED with fresh, clean, unpolluted water. These bottles are also sold in states with high pollution and far-from-clean natural tap water supplies. Ethos water was created first and foremost by a man that was incredibly concerned with the scarce clean water supply in many third world nations. Why did he have to create this? Oh right, because the good people in the US are greedy and won't donate their own fresh water supplies, such as those in Memphis. The Ethos brand does what they can to give back to the world, and although small, it is still a step in the right direction. And for those that don't think that the money being donated by the ETHOS purchases is enough, I ask, have you done your part and donated your time and money to the cause of supplying fresh water to those dying of thirst around the world? If not, then ETHOS water shouldn't be your first complaint or concern.
Anonymous said…
Sorry, that's just funny.

What a concept! Overcharge for a product and be praised for giving a nickel to a charity.

Most corporations donate heavily to all sorts of charities, as do many Americans - without the need to tell everyone how awesome they are, or mark up the prices on bottled water to only donate a fraction of that mark-up to a charity.

In addition to charitable giving, every US taxpayer contributes towards the billions in foreign aid.
Anonymous said…
I just thought the same thing today (get tap water and donate the $1.95). Perhaps it is because I am from Milwaukee (Go Midwest) and we invested a lot of money in water purification after the cryptosporidium outbreak in 1993 (my family was on vacation in Cincinnati). Perhaps it is also because I am not naive, and I realize that my purchase would serve many purchases for Starbucks, including delivering profit, raising the figure that they can cite in their annual report on CSR. Also, it should not be forgotten that charitable donations have significant adverse revenue consequences for the government, i.e. you are funding a corporate tax deduction. So please, don't drink the water. Better yet, don't go Starbucks unless it is freezing at 6 in the morning and you need somewhere, anywhere to go...and remember that drinking glass after glass of whole milk helps local dairy farmers. Long live the betrayal of false morality and On Wisconsin!

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