Rebranding Tap Water: NYC Water-On-the-Go Campaign

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On a recent walk along New York City’s Union Square Park, I came across a beautiful sight: walking in 95-degree humid heat, I saw fountains and fountains of cold, clean, and free drinking water.  A city employee, wearing a ‘NYC Water’ t-shirt, urged me to hydrate and drink some of “the best tap water in the world.”  Not used to such humidity and heat, I took this as a much-welcomed request (I live in San Francisco where it is 60 degrees as I write this).

After some prolonged gulps, I heard the man explain the virtues of New York City’s tap water: “It’s Healthy, It’s Affordable, It’s Green, and It’s Convenient.”  New Yorkers profess that their tap water is indeed “the purest and tastiest” in the world.  This summer, the New York Department of the Environment is rolling out an environmental education campaign on city streets to inform residents of just that–and to discourage people from buying bottled water.

Leon Kaye covered the story earlier this month, but to recap: The city’s Water-On-the-Go program sets up water fountains in high-traffic, visible locations at public plazas, greenmarkets and parks around Manhattan.  The Water-On-the-Go fountains first appeared on July Fourth and will continue to pop up around the city until Labor Day.

Three-thousand miles away in San Francisco, another city that claims to have “the best tap water in the nation,” another anti-bottled water education campaign is underway.  Last December, the San Francisco Department of the Environment announced partnerships with GlobalTap and TapIt to promote “on the go” access to the city’s great-tasting Hetch Hetchy water–and to reduce waste from the use of plastic bottled water.  GlobalTap’s drinking water refilling stations and TapIt’s list of restaurants and cafes where people on-the-go can refill their water bottle make access to clean tap water convenient .  Both projects are also in line with San Francisco’s official stance on bottled water; in 2007 Mayor Gavin Newsom banned the purchase of bottled water in city offices.

From the Catskill Mountains to the Hetch Hetchy Valley, clean (and free) drinking water flows into people’s homes and out of faucet taps.  But still, more than half of all Americans purchase $4 billion in bottled water each year–even though most bottled water is pretty much the same as tap water.  Despite the creativity and visibility of  New York City’s and San Francisco’s “water on the go” campaigns, I wonder: will these programs convince people to let go of their designer bottled water, and instead fill up with tap?

What do you think makes an effective environmental education campaign?  Let us know; post your comments below!

Nayelli Gonzalez is a writer and sustainable business strategist who advises Fortune 500 companies, specifically those in the apparel industry, on their approach to sustainability, stakeholder engagement and strategic communications. She is also a trained journalist who writes on sustainable business trends and the apparel industry for a variety of publications. Follow her @nayelligonzalez