Sunday, April 26, 2009

Political Consumption in a Bottle

To continue with with my procrastination maneuvers, I am going to share the bottled water that I discovered yesterday. The company is Okanogan Highlands Bottling Company which sells bottled water with different labels on it so that your water consumption can have a political message to it. According to the website, the label and the owner, the water bottling company started in 1998 as a response to the cyanide leach gold mining that was taking place in Okanagon County in Northeast Washington State. The idea was that "water is more precious than gold." An extra twist is that after you consume the precious cyanide-free water that was actually bottled in Oregon not Washington, you can send a message in a bottle to your favorite representative in the other Washington, D.C. The website shows you step by step how you can drink your water down to the last drop, write a message, roll it up, put it inside the bottle, place stamps and mailing labels and send. According to the label, purchasing this water is POLITICAL ACTION. By buying bottled water you are helping ensure clean water, according to the branding.
Starting in 2003, consumers were also able participate in the peace process and send a personal bottled message to the President of the United States. The description of this product on the website is just beautiful:

Much care was taken in designing the Water for Peace label. We learned from developing the Water More Precious Than Gold label that words are powerful. Dr. Masaru Emoto of Japan describes in his book Messages From Water how water responds to that which surrounds it. By photographing the crystalline structure of frozen water, Dr. Emoto demonstrated how music, words, pictures, and intention actually changed the quality of the water inside the container. Positive words on the label create "high vibration water" within the bottle. We decided to create a totally positive, inspirational and beautiful water label to enhance the already delicious spring water we are using.

The "Si se puede!" water was launched in December of 2007 and supports reforming current "immoral immigration procedures." If the purchase is in Washington State, one dollar from each case of water will be donated to Washington Community Action Network (CAN!) Washington CAN!, a statewide, grassroots lobbying organization that works on immigration among other issues.

I am torn. I love the creativity and good intentions behind the water bottling effort. I also appreciate the call to political action through the letter writing. But as a friend on facebook explained, "There has got to be a better way to spread messages than selling cheap goods." I agree. I met the owner at the World Rhythm Festival and expressed my concerns. He said that he looked into using bottles made out of corn but that the corn used in these bottles was genetically modified. Sometimes he wonders if he should just give up. I shrugged. I didn't have an answer to that. He may be encouraging others to be more politically active, or not.

I have been asking myself how the political efforts of the Okanogan Highlands Bottling Company differ from the Ethos Water campaign. For each bottle of water purchased, Ethos Water, which is owned by Starbuck's, will donate $ 0.05 to their goal of providing $10 million in humanitarian water relief efforts throughout the world by 2010. What bugs me so much about the Ethos Water campaign is that the privatization of water is one of the reasons there are water shortages throughout the globe. Buying a commodity that should be available to all but has been privatized in order to provide water to those whose water has been usurped is hypocritical. Water is a right, not a commodity.

We live in a consumer culture and we all navigate within it. But marketing commodities as a means of creating political and social change makes me very uncomfortable. While the Okanogan Highlands Bottling Company may ask the consumer to write a letter after buying and drinking the water, the route is circuitous. Consumers don't need to buy bottled water to write a letter or donate money to Washington CAN. They may even be able to donate more than $1 per case. This type of consumption is passive and perhaps even cowardly. And I am not even discussing the waste. I will leave that to Chris Jordan:

Plastic Bottles, 200760x120" Depicts two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the US every five minutes.

Partial Zoom

Detail at Actual Size

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