Ethos Water is Evil

October 3, 2006 - Get free updates of new posts here

Lately I have seen more people drinking Ethos water. If you haven’t heard of them they are the exclusive water at Starbucks and claim to donate money to help children around the world to get clean water. Awww, how nice.

ethos water bottles

In reality they ONLY donate 5 cents of each bottle to the children. Each bottle is $1.80 and I am sure they are selling well at Starbucks. So 2.7% of every bottle goes to children. Is that really going to help?

thirsty water children

Seems to me they are going to an old school marketing tactic of “It’s for the Children.” I just don’t buy it. I am sure the company is sincere and they are trying to do good but come on only $.05, that is nothing. They remind me more of this guy:


I think it comes down to sincerity and generosity. Why do we feel good about Ben n Jerry’s? Even though they sold out, they give a huge chunk of money away and constantly try to help the environment.

Bottomline: If these guys were legit they would be a non-profit and donate all proceeds to the children. As always they need to keep it real.

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33 responses to “Ethos Water is Evil

  1. Ray Dotson Reply

    Interesting point. I always wonder about this sort of thing and try to work out the numbers. It does seem like it’s just paying a little for the publicity. Like celebrities begging for your dollar while wearing $400 sunglasses.

  2. Noah Winecoff Reply

    I was drinking Ethos yesterday at the local Starbucks, but the only reason I bought it was because its the only water they had and I was THIRSTY. Its funny that you made this post today because yesterday was the first time I have ever drank it and I also noticed they only donated .05 cents per bottle and thought it was very low too.

    Its hard for me to justify paying a $1.80’ish for water, but they had me cornered (yeah so I could have went to another place).

  3. Noah Winecoff Reply

    You know that is a good point, but I do have an explanation, though I do not think it is a good enough.

    In my mind I was thinking “Ok I am at Starbucks, if I ask for a cup of water they will PROBABLY force me to buy the bottled water like some places of this genre sometimes do in my area.” In all honesty I really thought that yesterday.

    Should I have asked?…darn straight I should have. Why didn’t I? I have this problem of doing a task the quickest and easiest way without bringing attention to myself when I am in a public place. I have slight anxiety in crowded public places.

    But now I know they will give me water in a cup =)

  4. Joseph Hunkins Reply

    I like that your bring attention to the math problem here, but I don’t think this is “evil”, it’s more like “Superficial solutions as usual”. Please analyze the Fair Trade movement – I’m close to concluding that despite their good intentions it was so inefficient that it may be doing a disservice to farmers, keeping them in a low yield biz. What people *should* do is get the tap water and donate 1.80 to NETAID or another worthy place. This will do far more good. But they won’t do it, complicating the analysis. Even a “clean” non-profit charity cause like Paul Neuman products (100% to charity), can suffer from inefficiencies that make it more rational for people to buy generic pasta sauce and donate the difference between that cost and Neumann’s Own to a charity they get to choose.

  5. Ben Reply

    Perhaps sbux was counting on a rising US dollar to offset the $.05 donation (i.e. $.05 USD being worth $1 Argentina). Disclosure – I’m sipping a carmel frapp right now.

  6. Joseph Hunkins Reply

    Noah – cool. I’m very glad to see you pointing out these “charity” challenges. The good news is that you can do a LOT with small contributions to many worthy causes, especially when they address “cheap to solve” stuff like global health.

    Ben – hey! Tomorrow make that drink yourself and send $1 to poor peeps, or buy Noah a slice of Pizza.

  7. Guy Reply

    “Fortunately for us, our opportunity to achieve scale was achieved when Ethos was acquired by Starbucks Coffee Company last year. Starbucks agreed to commit to give five cents for every bottle on any size bottle sold, anywhere — whether that bottle is sold in Starbucks stores, or in any other channel, to the funding of clean water projects. Five cents is more than 2.6 times as much as we would have been able to donate as a private company.”

    – from Noah M.’s link…

  8. Sri Reply

    Starbucks needs to rewrite all books in Marketing!!!

    How the fuck does this company get away with charging $5 coffee’s and $1.80 water bottles???

    It is not so bad in the US but try going to Asia… have coffee/tea stalls right next to starbucks that charge $0.25 for coffee and Starbucks charges $4….yet you see more people at starbucks in 3rd world asian countries!!!! WTF!

    Philip Kotler….please explain this!!

  9. Jason Reply

    I could never go into Starbucks and just order tap water. I always make fun of the teens who do this. It is still a business, and in the end they are trying to make money.

    Getting water and nothing else is like how the bums live inside the public library. Have you seen the Seinfeld episode?

    Maybe they should donate more money to help the cause, but it is millions more dollars then we are donating. It makes my $150 donation to the United Way last week seem sad.

  10. prlinkbiz Reply

    The first time I saw Ethos water in Starbucks a few years ago, I read he fine print. It was a privately owned company- with a great mission. It was a great business move for Starbucks to acquire them. You’re right 5 cents is so very little- however- in comparison to what other companies are doing- most of which is nothing- that is a big deal. At least good is being done. People are in business to make money. They don;t have to give it away- but they are- and that is at least a start. How much are YOU giving to charity? And if you are so passionate about it, why not start your own not- for-profit org?

  11. Mike Sabat Reply

    There is a very large proportion of Noahs hanging around here.

    I’m not standing up for Ethos, but I do have a few things to say on their behalf (actually maybe I am standing up for them). First, they are wholesalers. Even though sbux is selling the water for $1.80, Ethos is selling it to sbux for much less. If I had to guess I would say starbucks maybe pays Ethos $0.70 a bottle. Maybe.

    Ethos obviously builds that 5 cent donation in the price, but when you deal with a huge company like sbux they are pretty in control of price negotiation. And again, if I had to guess I would say that Ethos is only profiting a few cents a bottle. So yet again, my wild gues is that the 5 cent donation would equal no less than 30% of their profit.

    And now for a shameless plug. I am starting a donation program with my Fwingers product ( Fwingers are sign language alphabet key chains. Starting 10/10 for every $4 keychain we sell on the website we are donating $1 (yes 25%) to a deaf school of your choice.

    We are trying to build awareness for the deaf community (with a cool, visible ASL product) and donate some substantial money to organizations that really need it.

    Thanks for checking it out.

  12. Noah Kagan Reply

    this is the real noah. ha. water is water to me so i think if the comapny is going to focus their marketing efforts on donating money to get children clean water they should make a more substantial push. 5 cents just doesn’t cut it in my book.

    mike, those things are cute. send some over so we can give them away.

  13. Joseph Hunkins Reply

    Re: Play Water Pump – what a fantastic concept. Also note these great water innovations: Dean Kamen (of Sedgeway fame) is working on a water purifier that produces electricity and runs on anything that burns:

    Also a clay pottery super cheap filter/ceramic filters (make it easy and cheap to filter water):

    Hey, all you Noah’s should go back to the Ark you came from! Damn heathen onliners!

  14. RIITTA Reply

    Let me take this opportunity to let you know the commitment Starbucks has made ,It is a promise of 10 million dollars by 2010, in total. You say ten cents a bottle is not alot- put it in those terms- makes a bit of a difference.Do not knock a company that ensures that it does the right thing..sad that others can not just understand that at times there is good out there- have we become so questionable as a society that we can not just embrace human effort.. ps my figures are in Canadian..
    and to add ..price differences in Asian locations are due to the fact that most of those stores are actually licensed !!

  15. olivia Reply

    $.5 may not be much, but if you were a poor child in Africa I’m sure five cents would mean a lot.

    have you ever heard “EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS?”

  16. Colby Reply

    As an employee of stabrucks who thinks Ethos is a total scam . i totally support people just asking for tap water. WE have to get it for you (tap water). Its part of the customer service policy. And no one really minds doing it…

    Ethos water is 2.50 in canada (10 cents goes to charity). They are trying to raise 10 million for kids. If they were to raise that 10 million it would mean they would have to sell 100 million water bottles. If they sold that many water bottles they would make 240 million in renenue. 10 million to charity 40 million to expenses 190 million in profit. Ethical.

    Ethos is exploiting consumers.

  17. Marc Reply

    I’m in the water distribution business, although not as big as ethos, I know how much it cost to produce these bottled water. With volume playing the greater role on price and taking in consideration how many sbuxs there are world wide, you are probably looking at lest than 20 cents to produce on of these bottled water, maybe even less.

    But what I don’t understand is, why are so many people getting upset? Is it the cost you are paying to purchase one of these bottles? If you buy a crystal geyser bottle form a vending machine, you are paying at least a dollar or even more. Any of that money going to charity? They pump out so many bottles, it probably cost them less than 10 cents to produce.

    Like someone mentioned above, when was the last time you donated to charity?

    Ultimately, if you want more than 5 cents going to a good cause, take out your check book and make it out to a charity.

    Devils advocate

  18. Jim Reply

    I saw this Ethos water in Starbucks, and it was certainly more than $1.80, and right beside the price, there’s the statement of the $.05 per bottle to the charitable cause.

    My problem really isn’t the cost of the water… it’s the fact that the mark up beyond what is a fair price for bottled water (could go to the deli next door and buy a bottle of any overpriced water for $1 – $1.50) isn’t due to an increased cost due to charitable giving.

    Yes, I can get out my checkbook and send in money to a good cause. It just seems pretty poor, when it’s obvious that a company like *$ can’t part with more than it’s > 1000% markup on a bottle of water which probably accounts for less than 1% of their sales to begin with.

    It’s even more sad as I sit here and just saw an ad for a charity that says they commit $.80 of every $1 they receive to their cause. A company such as *$ should be able to sacrifice more. And maybe if they did, they might sell more $1.80 bottles of water. I can honestly say that I would be more likely to buy the water if a knew a substantial portion of my payment were going to the charity. I don’t even care if *$ still was making a decent profit on the water

  19. Joan Martini Reply

    Will 5 cents even cover the damage caused to the environment by the plastic bottle.
    In most of US, Europe, Canada, tap water is a better, safer answer. We Americans have been so brain washed into using an inferior product and paying absurd prices for it. Half the bottled water out there (the safer half) is coming from municipal water supplies. I have heard pediatricians advise new mothers to use tap water for infant formula. Most were shocked to be told they show boil any bottled water especially “spring” water.

  20. Christina Reply

    As a tap water drinker and someone who refuses to purchase bottled water, I find Ethos’s method of attempting to solve the problem doing more harm than good.

    The bottled water industry actually wastes a lot of water, and in the process, damages ecosystems and communities. A ton of petroleum is also used, for both production and transport.

    Below is a rather old blog post I wrote about this topic a while ago.

    And I agree that actually donating money to a charity would be more efficient. Maybe you could list some alternatives? (I will actually be looking for one in the near future)

  21. Jen Reply

    I bought two water bottels of ethos water from safeway tonight for $.99 so I hardly think this is just a starbucks label.. and if your so upset about how expensive it is drink tap water, its probly way better for you, and the enviroment, rather then using another plastic bottel that pollutes our water and food. So next time your in starbucks ask for tap, the bonus its free! And next time you at the grocery store if you must spend the $1.80 donate it to the man out front rining the bell for the poor. Every litle bit counts, Stop complainning. Starbucks suck anyway!

  22. Nadiha Reply

    this is so funny! I can’t believe they’r selling water. This is wrong on so many levels!

    A few years ago, meaning more like 15 years, no body bought bottled water. Commodification of water is absurd.
    And now, these people to throw in a measly $0.05 are wasting more water, energy (it takes a lot of water + energy to make those plastic bottles). This whole thing is so fucking wasteful and unsustainable. Maybe if African governemnts and governments of developed countries’ got to gether and actually came up with a solution, people wouldn’t have to come up with a pathetic $10million goal for 2015.
    As noble as Starbucks’s intention maybe, this whole process is a bandaid solution to a much larger problems. And please, $10million is pocket change for this company.

  23. water pump Reply

    that’s very nice we should take part in such organization who help in drinking clean water. Most of the children drink water which is really unhealthy for them some time they know that but they don’t have money in order to have clean water and help in them to live we should help them.