The marketing campaigns by bottled water companies have won the hearts and minds of Americans during the past few decades.
So imagine that now, as we wean ourselves off the single-use bottle, xx of which are thrown away each hour, we now have to create publicity campaigns to convince people to use public water again.
It’s happening–I heard about it most recently at the 2019 Green Sports Summit when a soldier turned corporate marketing executive turned public affairs expert talked about the campaign in Philadelphia going on right now. After Philadelphia Water Department surveys found that 40% of the population was drinking bottled water instead of city tap water, they began a campaign, Drink Philly Tap. The campaign began last spring and is aimed at getting pledges from 15,000 city residents to migrate to tap water from bottled water. They have installed a “water bar” at City Hall, chosen 60 community leaders as “ambassadors” for city water, and are in the midst of a large publicity campaign.
Their goal is to decrease usage of water bottles.Their research showed that the messaging was not around reducing waste; the messaging also needed to be around trust of their own water system.
Remember, Philadelphia is a historic and industrial city, in the mode of Flint, MI, where residents had good reason to distrust their water system. While Philadelphians did not have a similar calamity (in Flint, it is estimated 100,000 residents were affected), the research of Perfecto Sanchez’s Journey One (a human resources social engagement impact company) ( found that residents opted for bottled water because they had a vague feeling that it was cleaner than city water. (Photo, left; the author heard Perfecto speak at the Green Sports Summit in Philadephia).
So their campaign is all around the trustworthiness of city water.
Here in Frederick County’s schools, the research has been done as a result of Maryland HB270 passed in 2017, which required testing of all school water systems. Facilities Director Laura Olsen says that stands true for all 931 of the water fountains in the county’s schools. The number of these is set by building and health codes in place at the time of construction; typically, she says, it is at least one in every major corridor and also large gathering areas such as gym and cafeteria.
FCPS is not waging a war on single-use water bottles, though the number of water fountains has increased in the past few years giving students more access to non-bottled water. Its a school-by-school policy as to use of water bottles, and some schools, like Oakdale High School, which placed bottle filling water fountains like this one in their hallways, have gone to great lengths to make water-bottle fillers available to their students and staff.
You know, it really hasn’t been that long in the history of mankind that the plastic water bottle became ubiquitous–just three decades, in reality. Perrier first began marketing bottled water in 1977. Let’s hope the campaign to turn away from single-service plastic water bottles goes faster.