Nestlé is not the bad guy when it comes to bottled water.

Image by frankieleon | flickr.com

Image by frankieleon | flickr.com

Nestlé gets a lot of flack for applying for permits to bottle and sell water from 29 facilities across North America. But let's not forget, they are in the profit-making business. They are interested in selling products that consumers will buy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m frustrated by the devastating environmental impacts of bottled water too, but I’m even more infuriated by those that create the demand for these products.

Nestlé isn’t famous for having a positive ethical or environmental reputation. They continue to draw water from California’s depleting aquifers during the severe drought. They are the largest multinational food and beverage company and are ranked as one of the world’s most valuable brands. Nestlé Waters North America is the third largest beverage company in the continent and they claim to “share concerns about drought conditions in British Columbia”. They have been cited for buying and bullying their way through regulations to gain permits to precious water resources for sale in single-serving quantities. How can we stop powerful companies from getting their way with “protected” resources? They are much too powerful for many municipalities to go up against.

The most effective ways to end the environmental impacts from bottled water are to diminish the consumer demands, and establish and enforce regulations that prevent companies like Nestlé from taking the water.

Draining consumer demand requires public education and questioning the norm. It begins with word-of-mouth and having viable alternatives available. People buy bottled water because it's convenient, it's cheap relative to other on-the-go beverages, and it's advertised as representing a desirable lifestyle. But what is also convenient are portable water bottles which have also become readily available and affordable; what is also affordable is tap water – costing about 2000 times less than bottled water; and of course not harming the environment is a solid lifestyle to have as well! These are just a few ideas we can use to educate others. Earlier this summer I was helping to coordinate a family picnic and instead of purchasing bottled water we filled large coolers with iced tap water and guests provided their own cups, plates, and cutlery.

Passing stronger environmental laws will require public pressure as well. It requires the voices of informed citizens to encourage their local governments to present the values of their community and not be bought by big money. One recent positive example comes from the work of EcoJustice and Wellington Water Watchers that pressured Nestlé to restrict water taking during periods of drought with success.                                                              

So next time you see an attack ad targeting Nestlé, the authors are probably not far off in placing the blame, but there are other factors at play. Nestlé is going to continue to take water so long as they are permitted to, and so long as there are consumers handing them money in return for the bottled commodity.

This article was originally published via Sustainable Collective, which has since merged with The Starfish Canada.