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

  • Jeff Kelley

    Jeff -

    You raise some good points, but I think you are taking the “convenience” of having tap water everywhere for granted. I recall two incidents this weekend alone where I was in need of water and there was no tap nearby.

    I understand that bottled water comes in plastic, but so do sodas and other beverages (and yes, I understand you can’t get soda from your tap). Tap water is generally/most times safe, but what about those times when it is not?

    I recall being at Lollapalooza last year in Chicago. 75K people in Grant Park on a blistering hot August day. If there was no bottled water, people would have literally died. You really can’t expect people to lug around a canteen or Nalgene bottle everywhere they go and replenish it whenever they happen upon a tap. Really think through the argument against bottled water, and I think you’ll realize that it’s not an unecessary evil. It’s needed in the world.

  • Lois

    Yeah! Wonderful idea. We know where our water comes from:not always the case with bottled water.

  • Beth Holzman

    What an exciting way to start this Monday! We need more CEOs calling for similar environmentally-conscious changes. It can and does start at home – and for this, I am inspired by this Australian town’s “we can, we will, here we go” attitude and its application to Timberland’s headquarters.

    I was a little nervous when reading this post when I saw reference to the Nalgene bottle, which has been the target of previous environmental campaigns due to the toxins possibly leaked through this indestructible plastic. Lucky for Nalgene consumers, when I followed the link I saw that the product referenced was BPA-free – good to see we’re walking the talk with the materials referenced here and in our own products that can help with water and waste saving efforts.

    So here’s another question: what about the water coolers around our office? What kind of water are they filled with? “Bigger” bottles or the clean stuff from our local water treatment plants?

  • Jess

    I appalaud your efforts to ban bottled water at the Timberland headquarters. I work for a company that makes stainless steel replacement water bottles. We have also chosen to reduce our use of bottled water in our offices. We also only use reusable cups, plates and silverware and we are involved in the recycling program our city offers. The more earth conscious we are, the better this world will be for all of us. It’s exciting to learn about CEO’s that are committed to making our world a better place.
    Keep up the good work!

  • admin

    Beth — great question! The water coolers in Timberland’s headquarters building source from local town water (same as all the other water in the building), then the water cooler units filter the water for drinking.

    Thanks for your comment — and for thinking “beyond the bottle” about how we can improve our water use.


  • Jason

    Jeff Kelly said “…You really can’t expect people to lug around a canteen or Nalgene bottle everywhere they go and replenish it whenever they happen upon a tap…”

    My wife and I have been doing this for years. It takes a bit to establish the habit, but then it becomes second nature. It’s the same with bringing cloth bags to the farmers market and grocery store or turning off the water between rinsing each dish (probably increasing water efficiency by 50%).

    It’s just forming the habit.

    And then you’d be surprised how jarring it can be to see your ‘old’ way of doing it. Couple weeks ago we had guests staying with us who volunteered to do the dishes. When they left the water on between rinsing the soap off of each dish it pained me to see all that water being wasted. Now when I forget to bring our Nalgene bottle or don’t remember to fill it up somewhere and end up buying plastic bottled water it is not pleasant because I see how much trash gets generated by something that I didn’t really need.

  • – Ramsey Mohsen; web consultant, DJ, video blogger, lifecaster & internet addict. » A website project I manage, won an award!

    [...] Seeing and hearing all the things Timberland has dedicated itself to is exhausting (and I’m not just saying that because their my client). They do everything from planting over 1 million trees worldwide, to things like Timberland’s CEO banned bottled water at all their corporate offices. [...]

  • – Ramsey Mohsen; web consultant, DJ, video blogger, lifecaster & internet addict. » Project launched: Timberland Earthkeepers Blog

    [...] It’s exciting to help lead part of the effort Timberland has dedicated itself to (and I’m not just saying that because they’re my client). They’re doing incredible things, like planting 1 million+ trees around the world, and drastic things like banning the use of bottled water (by their CEO) at all their corporate offices. [...]

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    [...] an employee of the brand that banned the bottle, I was thrilled to see that Brita was encouraging Sundance goers to do the same. [...]

  • Jsanford

    What’s the status of bottled water being banned at your company?

  • Anonymous

    Jsanford, thanks for asking. You won’t find any bottled water in Timberland’s vending machines or cafeteria.  Water is available from any one of our many bottle-free water coolers, though!

  • Chelsea Baade

    You may want to ad Elkay’s EZH20 bottle filler stations and encourage employees to bring there own refillable bottles. Elkay is a partner of The Green Schoolhouse Series, where they are installing these amazing bottle fillers next to the drinking fountains.
    Chelsea member at The Green Schoolhouse Series

  • Rob Feckler

    To many of us who are always on the go, bottled water is a convenience. Water is a necessity, but safe drinking water may not be always available in the places we go. Recycling used water bottles is a good way to cut down waste stream.

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