Posts Tagged ‘bottled water’

Take Back the Tap!

In honor of  the first anniversary of Timberland’s ban on bottled water (give or take a month), we give you the Story of Bottled Water by  Annie Leonard.  Annie is the same woman whose Story of Stuff inspired us to take a critical review of our spending and consumption habits, and she’s done it again with this thought-provoking video on the bottled water industry.  Her explanation of “manufactured demand” (a phenomenon not limited to the bottled water industry, by the way) is reason enough to take 8 viewing minutes out of your day.

Water Chronicles, Chapter 3

As we continue to plug away in our effort to remove bottled water from our headquarters buildings, the team at Timberland’s distribution center in Ontario, CA kindly and quietly shared the following experience they had in executing a similar effort … two years ago.  A note from center maintenance supervisor Willie Williams to operations manager Dwayne Davis reads:

 I received a flyer advertising water coolers that didn’t require water bottles.  From a maintenance standpoint I was intrigued because the coolers with bottles require periodic cleaning of the inside of the cooler and this one did not, because of an internal activated oxygen system.  Better yet, the company offered to match or beat the price per gallon we were paying for the bottled water.  At that point I made a list of Pros and Cons:

  1. No more pallets of water bottles by the coolers in the distribution center, which would give us more floor space and look much tidier.
  2. We wouldn’t lose production time from workers of each department transporting bottles.
  3. No more cleaning the coolers to prevent any algae buildup. (My favorite!)
  4. We wouldn’t worry about running out of water if our consumption increased during a hot spell.
  5. I always hated the idea of a truck that gets about 4 MPG delivering all those 5 gallon bottles of filtered water when the technology was here to just filter it ourselves.

I couldn’t think of any … so we went ahead and switched.

A couple of Earthkeeping lessons from this story:

  • There’s no shortage of good ideas and actions happening all around us, every day (even within our own company!) – all we have to do is listen and learn to make our own efforts that much better.
  • Saving the planet doesn’t have to be the sole motivation for making a positive environmental change – and often isn’t.  As Willie points out, switching to bottle-less water coolers didn’t cost more, saved both floor space and production time … and also took a few CO2-emitting trucks off the road.

Thanks to Willie, Dwayne and our Ontario crew for sharing their success story … and a few happy photos of their bottle-less water coolers:

Water is Way More Complicated Than I Thought

Two weeks ago, I announced here on Earthkeepers a new ban on bottled water at Timberland headquarters buildings globally.  I was psyched about the announcement, even more excited about the action.  You know what I’ve learned over the last 2 weeks?  It’s really exhilarating to want to run a more sustainable business … but to actually do it is really freaking hard.

Get rid of the bottled water – simple ask, right?  How hard could it be?  Little did I know.  First there’s a supply issue to contend with – our facilities team reports a 4-week supply of bottled water already in house and we don’t want to be wasteful, so can we continue to offer it until the supply runs out?  Sure, okay … makes sense.  Then the vending machine folks chime in, what about the plastic soda bottles in the vending machines?  Are we getting rid of those, too?  Wow.  Okay, sure.  No more plastic bottles in the vending machines.  But hold on, says the guy in charge of our dining services – we don’t have nearly enough glasses and cups to accommodate the increased demand from people who would otherwise be drinking bottled water.  We’re gonna have to add more dishwashers, or buy more glasses … yikes.  All I wanted to do was get rid of the bottled water, now I’m buying new dishwashers?  How come it’s never as easy as you think it will be to get something done?

That was the noise from our internal community – but we had a lot of valuable feedback from external folks, too.  Many of you rightfully pointed out that the bottled water debate is a lot more complex than I indicated in my previous post, and that it does in fact serve a good purpose – critical, even – in many areas of the world.  Chief among the arguments we heard:

  1. Tap water isn’t a completely “no cost, no effort” option – it costs money and energy to sufficiently treat public water so that it is safe to drink, and more money and energy to deliver it to people and businesses.
  2. In some instances – in crowded public places, on long trips, when you’re out in the middle of nowhere – it’s not realistic to expect clean, drinkable tap water will be readily available.

All this information made me realize that bottled water is about as hard to understand as it is to get out of our buildings … and also made me glad for the engagement with people who care enough about this issue to share their thoughts (even if their thoughts were, “Jeff you’re being stupid.”).

I have a better appreciation now for when and where bottled water is necessary, and I certainly believe that plastic has its place in the world, for all sorts of good uses.  But I hold on to the notion that in the corporate world, where tap water is clean and reuseable containers are (soon to be) plentiful, we can do better than bottled water.  And so we forge ahead with our plans to give the bottle the boot from our corporate offices, hopefully in the next few weeks.  I’m excited to see idea translate into real impact – however small – despite the few good headaches we endured in the process.

I’m also excited about the real-life Earthkeeping dialogue this project produced; we shared a big idea, you were interested enough to want to talk about it, we came away smarter and more evolved in our thinking.  That’s the power of engagement – bigger, better, smarter outcomes.  I’m appreciative of the effort from those of you who joined in.

I realize getting rid of bottled water doesn’t negate our environmental footprint as a company (if only …), nor does it solve the climate crisis.  But I’m of the mind that taking even one small step in the right direction is better than staying where you are … and that low-hanging fruit is there to be picked.

Now don’t go too far … my To Do list also includes removing all paper products from our headquarters cafeteria, save post-consumer paper napkins.  This could get ugly.

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland

Banning the Bottle

So, a town in Australia decided to ban bottled water.  Was all over the Twitter universe, everyone merrily tweeting away to applaud the leadership.

On its face, a pretty cool snippet; a group of concerned citizens, in one small town, deciding “we can, we will, here we go.”  And as a consequence, they eliminate a huge and unnecessary element of modern “convenience,” namely “bottled water.”

On every level, the idea in the developed world of “bottled water” is absurd.  We live in countries, in Europe, Asia and North America with water processing infrastructure that ensures that our taps flow abundant and clean water to us, for no apparent cost and with no effort.  But that is not enough–no, we need 12 oz sports bottles for our lunch boxes at school, and refrigerator cases at work and at the ballpark full of 16 oz bottles.

Huge business, and the range of options is staggering–from socially aware water (see Ethos at Starbucks) to value water (at Wal-Mart).  In the middle, huge businesses at Coke and Pepsi among others, selling us…convenient water.

Never mind the convenience of the tap.

Never mind the convenience of buying, once in your life, a Nalgene bottle, and refilling it as frequently as you would like, for free, from the myriad of taps at your disposal anywhere in the developed world.

No, let’s indulge in bottled water.


  • In dollars, the bottled water business is reported to be anywhere from $50 to $100 billion each year.
  • In bottles, the number of PET water bottles used in the US each year is 50 billion (200 billion worldwide!) — and only 25% of those are recycled!

Come on.

So, the town in Australia says, no more insanity–no more bottled water in town.  Not sure how they will enforce the ban–sheriffs armed with water pistols loaded from the tap, ready to blaze away at the miscreant with the Dasani bottle?  But the Aussies are at least doing something.

I have an idea.  Call it barmy, mate–but as my first order of business in the office today, I’m gonna ban bottled water at Timberland headquarters buildings globally.

I don’t need a referendum, doesn’t matter if Congress doesn’t like it, the UN can spew its noxious vapors in some meaningless debate as per usual–I am the CEO, and if I can’t fix this stupidity–save our employees’ money, cut our waste stream, stop validating the insanity of “business as usual;” if I can’t do this much, then maybe the cynics and the skeptics are right.

Will report back from where the rubber meets the road.  Real change begins not with rhetoric, but action.

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland