Starbucks’ Ethos Water to Fund Worldwide Water Issues

ew_logo.gifA huge percentage of the world’s population dosn’t have reliable clean water to drink. Starbucks Coffee intends to provide $10 million of clean water infrastructure in developing countries via sales of its new brand of bottled water “Ethos Water“.
Of course, I wonder how much good yet another brand of plastic-bottled water will really do. But the Ethos humanitarian mission seems to be pretty well spelled out to the point that every element of their marketing specifically refers to it. It will be a brand worth watching to see just how much of a difference it really makes.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

11 responses

  1. While I think bottled water is wasteful, the fact of the matter is that there are tens of millions of Americans who do not and purchase it all the time. Now, if there are two water bottles side by side and they both cost the same and one is going to help raise $10,000,000 for those who currently don’t have access to clean water, I have to think that one is going to kick some serious butt in the market.
    I think Starbucks is on to something big here and I bet it takes off like crazy. I just wish a smaller, truly green operation would have beaten them to it.
    Jason Trout
    Join in on the discussion with other eco-entrepreneurs over at

  2. $10,000,000 seems like a lot until you consider how much they spent on marketing, packaging, etc. And the profit Starbucks will make on this is sure to be staggering, as it is with all bottled water. I’d be impressed if they donated all profits of this stuff to Africa clean water projects. As it is, it’s just another growth opportunity trying to trick consumers into buying something they can get for free from the tap.

  3. If you read on the ethos water site, the idea was born and came into existence before Starbucks purchased the company and I can tell you their goal wasn’t to trick consumers into buying something they can get for free. It’s to use a product already in existence and used in this country (bottled water), and take a share of the existing market to raise awareness and money for clean water projects in 3rd world countries. Starbucks obviously feet aligned with their mission statement and could raise much more awareness by bringing it into their business plan. The founder of the Ethos Water company was hired and is now working for the Ethos portion of Starbucks corp to continue his original idea but now with the ability to raise awareness on a much more global scale and raise more funds by selling it through starbucks.

  4. What you guys as well as many other bloggers online commenting on this story have failed to realize is that Starbucks is not creating or launching this brand now in 2005. It was created by two people in Los Angeles in 2002 and has been selling here on the West Coast ever since. I had a chance to meet them back in 2002 because of my involvment in the Jewish community and was very impressed with both of the founders. Now that they were bought out by Starbucks, I feel as though they are not getting the recognition they should be.

  5. I’m in the camp of thinking the world doesn’t need another brand of bottled water but… after googling Ethos water and reading how people’s decision to by it was based on it’s promise to donate 5 cents for every bottle sold to fulfill their’s and Starbuck’s promise to donate 10 million dollars by 2010 for clean water projects, I think it’s a great idea. Many of these folks weren’t previously aware of the water crisis. 5 cents doesn’t seem like much but if it puts the world water crisis on people’s radar screens, that is a lot of intangible value that will pay off as momentum builds for this (not to forget the 10 million). Go Ethos and Starbucks!

  6. If a consumer were to donate the $1.85 purchase price for a bottle of Ethos water to, or CARE International, then get their drinking water from the tap, there would be a heck of a lot more impact than the $.05 that Starbucks will donate.
    In addtion, there would be much less of an impact on the environment. Did you know that a huge amount of water is consumed when manufacturing plastic bottles? 17.5 kg of water is used to make 1 kg of PET (the plastic). Additionally, in the U.S., 30 million plastic water bottles go into landfills in the U.S. EVERY DAY.
    Also – Ethos has a bottling plant in Phoenix, AZ. I don’t know about you, but it seems a little screwed up to me that water is being bottled in the desert, then shipped all over the U.S., and possibly the world.

  7. I love the humanitarian efforts, and I’m not trying to criticize Ethos (because they’ve done much more than I have), but why are they bottling fresh water that they could be giving out in areas that need it? I think the idea somewhat defeats itself…

  8. Starbucks is smart. Ethos is the only water that I am aware of that has a sense of activism to it. So Starbucks has a monopoly on the “social water market.” Since they charge $1.80 for it and donate $0.05, they stand to make a healthy profit. I assume this is just plain bottled water, nothing is mentioned of its origins, be it an exotic spring or a super tecnical purification method. So taking ordinary bottled water, raising the price, and donating approx 3% of the purchase price to a chairtable organization is a extremely smart business move. I personally will not be a person who purchases it.

  9. I’ve read blog after blog on this subject and a couple of things really stick out. The ‘stated’ cost [to the compnay] for a bottle of water is around $1.20 for a pint from a self replenishing spring in Pennsylvania. If the founders of Ethos/Starbucks are so interested in getting more money to the ‘unwatered’ areas of the world, find a cheaper water supply. I can go to the store and buy a bottle of great tasting water (Dasani, aquafina) for $.99 to $1.09. Yes, I know that Coca-Cola owns that brand but Ethos is also tied to Pepisco for distr purposes. How do they make a sig profit at on such a cheaper price. Another unethical result to this socially responsible idea is the empty plastic bottles being sent to our landfills. Has Starbucks forgotten why they sell their ‘hot’ coffee in paper cups.
    Another thing that people in general need to know is that Ethos water is a business, in other words they want to generate a profit. Is it ethical to promote a $1.85 bottle of water with social resp in order to do so? You have to make that decision.
    If it were seriously for the best interest of JUST the people it was intended for (non-watered areas), Starbucks would do better just to post a sign with a jar saying the exact same thing Ethos is saying on their sign and have people donate their change. Of course, those exec’s at Ethos/Starbucks wouldnt get that huge return they see from that $1.85 bottle of water, but the profit shouldnt be what it’s about, right?

  10. Pete is so correct. I have just emailed Starbucks, suggesting they contribute $0.80 instead of &0.05, as they can STILL make a healthy profit for their shareholders. I personally would not by such expensive water, and feel charities like the Heifer Project make better use of my money.
    And it’s true that we are putting a tremous strain on our landfills with all of the empy plastic bottles. Hopefully, enough of us will wake up to the fact that we can help others by giving money to good charities AND being responsible denizens of the world by being mindful to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

  11. I love the idea of what Ethos is doing. And yes, I think that Starbucks is making FAR too much profit from it, but Ethos/Starbucks has started to come out with other products, such as cups. I bought one the other day. That way I made a contribution, as well as stopped adding to the plastic bottle waste by using tap water and ice. :)

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