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[GreenYes] Bottled Water Interview in New York Times

THE NEW YORK TIMES ? Business Section

November 3, 2007

Saturday Interview

A Spotlight on the Green Side of Bottled Water


LAST summer, environmentalists took on the bottled water industry. On their
Web sites and in their press releases, many environmental groups pointed to
bottled water as a prime example of an unnecessary product that uses scarce
resources and adds more plastic to overtaxed landfills.

The industry?s growth did slow down. But most industry experts ? and even
some environmentalists ? concede that the outcry was not the reason.
Instead, it was a combination of higher prices, relatively cool weather and,
perhaps most important, the maturity of the industry.

?We weren?t even selling refreshment-size bottles of water until 1989,? said
Kim E. Jeffery, chief executive of Nestlé
/custom/nyt-com/html-companyprofile.asp&symb=NSRGF;NSRGY> Waters, which
sells Poland Spring, Perrier and five other branded waters. ?But the
per-capita increase in bottled water use is growing, and will continue to

In a recent conversation, Mr. Jeffery maintained that bottled water would
continue to sell briskly no matter how much criticism came its way.
Following are excerpts from that conversation:

Q. Tap water is not only more environmentally friendly than bottled water,
but it is also less expensive. Won?t that combination eventually woo
consumers back to their faucets?

A. Bottled water wooed people away from soda and sports drinks, not taps.
About 70 percent of the beverages people drink come in packages. All our
research shows that if bottled water weren?t available, people would buy
Gatorade, or fruit juice, or other sugared or diet beverages. Some 16
percent say they would drink tap water ? but you can?t go into a deli and
ask for a bottle of tap water.

And you may pay $4 for a bottle of water at Fenway Park, but it costs you
about 15 cents a bottle when you buy a case at the market. It?s still a lot
cheaper than other convenience drinks. And, considering the obesity
epidemic, a lot healthier.

Q. Healthier? But there have been scares over the years about contamination.
That?s true of tap water, too ? but those problems can be solved with filter

A. Sure, there have been isolated incidents ? but those were problems with
contamination that was introduced at the store, not at the point of
manufacture. Our whole industry adheres to a formal set of good
manufacturing practices. Infant formula is the only other product regulated
by the Food and
d_drug_administration/index.html?inline=nyt-org> Drug Administration that
can make that claim.

Q. Still, environmentalists are trying to make people feel uncool, even
guilty, about carrying around bottles of water. Don?t you fear a backlash?

A. Not at all. We?re aware of the heightened noise level, and ever since
July, we?ve been doing telephone and Internet surveys every few weeks,
checking on whether people?s perception of our industry is changing.

The research consistently shows that people are aware of the issues
surrounding bottled water ? but they are not going back to sugared drinks,
and they will not rely on their taps.

Q. But they may be buying bottled water despite its environmental impact.
You?ve maintained that bottled water actually helps the environment. Isn?t
that somewhat counterintuitive?

A. We?re not perfect. The entire consumer products industry is behind the
curve on recycling, for example.

But we rely on a sustainable source of water, so we?ve always been conscious
of conserving the springs and the land around them. When we find a new
spring, we build a plant nearby. We are constantly reducing the distance our
product must travel to customers. It would be rare for product to travel
more than 250 miles from source to store.

Q. None of that addresses the issue of bottles. Can you really justify using
all that plastic?

A. We use less packaging than sodas or other convenience beverages. Nestlé
Waters is rolling out Ecoshape, a 12.5 gram plastic bottle that holds half a
liter of water. It?s about 15 percent lighter than our current bottles, and
we use 10 to 15 percent less energy to make it. By year end, all our brands
will use it.

Think of it ? a half-liter bottle of Poland Spring will use less than half
an ounce of plastic. The bottles for carbonated beverages are twice as
heavy, and Gatorade bottles are three times as heavy.

Q. You make Nestlé Waters and its industry sound like a group of tree
huggers. If that is so, why do you think so many environmentalists are
trying to put you out of business?

A. They are trying to frame this as a fight between bottled water and tap
water. And what they really want is to ensure the quality of municipal water
supplies. Many of them are afraid that the easy availability of bottled
water might take the spotlight off the need to manage the municipal
infrastructure better.

Q. So why aren?t you fighting back? I haven?t seen advertising that extols
the environmental benefits of bottled water.

A. I?ll happily answer questions like the ones you are asking now. And we
have started airing commercials about our lightweight package because we see
it as a point of differentiation for us.

But like any company, we have finite resources. Look, we?ve got the
lightest-weight packaging containing the healthiest product. I want to spend
our advertising dollars talking about the attributes of my product and of my
company. I don?t want to spend them on some negative conversation that some
other group has decided to start.

Kendall Christiansen

Gaia Strategies

151 Maple Street

Brooklyn, NY 11225

o: 718.941.9535; cell: 917.359.0725

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