Price of tap water x 2000 + plastic bottles + manufactured demand = The Story of Bottled Water

We’ve been meaning to write something on Annie Leonard’s “Story of Stuff” online phenomenon for some time. But then we thought: why not give some real “digital natives” the opportunity to express what they think about it? So we set a challenge for a cl…

We’ve been meaning to write something on Annie Leonard’s “Story of Stuff” online phenomenon for some time. But then we thought: why not give some real “digital natives” the opportunity to express what they think about it? So we set a challenge for a class of undergraduates at Copenhagen Business School who we knew were using our book and were about to watch some of the Story of Stuff content as part of their CSR course. Write us a review, we said, and we’ll feature the best one on the Crane and Matten blog.

And so here it is – a terrific guest blog from the winner of our challenge, Camilla Marie Thiele, a bachelor’s student at CBS.

The Story of Bottled Water” presents a narrative of how the bottled water industry came into being by “manufacturing demand” for an unnecessary product through misleading advertisements, and how this product is effectively trashing the planet. This narrative, which is cleverly presented in animated video form with smartly drawn cartoon characters that attract the attention of adults and children alike, attempts to expose the bottled water industry and its deceptive selling practices in an effort to help us consumers see through the deception. That said, the video also points the finger at us – the consumers – who purchase these millions of litres of bottled water every year and toss them out with little regard to where those chunks of plastic pile up.

Annie Leonard, the writer and narrator, offers a compelling argument of how the bottled water industry has worked to deceive us, where that industry has strategically called into question the quality of regular old tap water and manipulated all of us into thinking that water from the tap is inferior to water from the bottle. This is part of the bottled water industry’s plot to manufacture demand with an ultimate goal of relegating tap water to just showers and washing dishes!

And, as Leonard argues, it is obvious why the bottled water industry must work to manufacture demand because it costs 2000 times more for bottled water than tap water – not to mention that tap water has been shown over and over again to be just as high quality (if not better) than bottled water. Leonard goes on to argue that this has led to the current situation where because of this manufactured demand, people around the world are spending their money on bottles of water whereas the real demand issue of access to clean tap water is grossly underfunded. And this happens while the bottled water industry is laughing all the way to the bank!

Leonard is right – that does not sound sustainable. It is time that we took back the tap.

The seven minute animated video that is “The Story of Bottled Water” is part of a wider collection of videos known as The Story of Stuff Project. Since the first The Story of Stuff video was put out in 2007, this project has become an online phenomenon clocking up over 10 million views. This figure now includes my fellow classmates and I since we viewed both the Story of Stuff and the Story of Bottled Water as part of our bachelors course in Corporate Social Responsibility at the Copenhagen Business School.

The Story of Bottled Water critically examines the environmental and social consequences of an unchallenged allegiance to consumerism by using the bottled water industry as a compelling example of the harms that can result. And it is effective because even though The Story of Bottled Water is part of an activist campaign taking on a suite of very serious issues, Leonard frames the points in a satirical and highly entertaining way. Despite – or maybe because of – the simple videos and their easy-to-understand-manner, it is a message that provides substantial food for thought for every kind of audience. And perhaps most importantly for my fellow business school students and me, The Story of Stuff provides the opportunity to really dive into the questions about the responsibilities of business, in particular the responsibility of companies that manufacture demand for products that are not even needed.

Making a product that is not needed, and then spending all of your time and energy to manufacture demand for it? Hmmmm, that sounds like a huge waste. Why don’t we call for companies to focus their time and innovative energy on meeting real demands? The world is full of a lot of really big challenges and thus there are a lot of very real demands out there that could use creative people and companies addressing them, and ultimately turn these problems into more sustainable solutions. This calls for a re-calculation of the first equation:

Real needs + innovative products + sustainable solutions = Responsible and sustainable profits.

And who knows – you might even smile on your way to the bank. So be smart and think outside of the bottle.

Camilla Marie Thiele is a bachelor’s student at the Copenhagen Business School studying Business Administration and Organizational Communication. She can be reached at

The blog challenge was facilitated by Robert Strand, a PhD fellow at CBS and one of our occasional guest contributors. Thanks Robert!

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