10 August 2020

It’s time to talk about water.

As I’m writing this, I’m melting in a Saharan heatwave. I’ve got the fans on full blast. The breeze only tickles my skin. Or maybe that’s the sweat trickling down it. The only relief I get comes from a crisp, cold, refreshing glug of Evian mountain water. It’s the high mineral content that makes this water harder than most, and which gives it its thirst-quenching bite.

My fridge is currently stocked with Evian. I’ve been drinking it non-stop for two weeks — comparing it alongside other mineral waters like Highland Spring and Volvic. What’s this new obsession with water? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the stuff. How fundamentally it’s one of the simplest things on the planet. It comes out of the tap for Christ’s sake, why would anyone buy water? Am I just being naive (that’s Evian backwards by the way) or is there something truly special about bottled water?

When I started this experiment two weeks ago, I was a Brita-filter guy; my head filled with negative connotations about the water industry — but there might be something in the water, because I think I’m having a change of heart.

Rather than looking at water as the most basic commodity on earth, I’ve come to appreciate the story and the beauty of it, and as Evian would say, its purity.

Let’s perform a miracle for a moment and turn water into wine. Why do we choose certain wines over others? A wine aficionado will tell you it’s all about the flavour, the smell, the experience, they’ll talk about sulphates and rich terroir. But can the average Joe really distinguish a famous San Gimignano from a £4.99 Pinot Grigio? Probably not… But in the World of Wine, brand is king. That average Joe will pick up the San Gimignano if he wants to impress, because it’ll have a DOP sticker on it, and he might have heard it nicknamed as “the gold of the towers’ town”. The reputation of the wine sells the wine, and the more people drink the wine, the more their pallets evolve to appreciate the micro-differences that do really make this an incredible Italian white.

So why don’t we think about water like this? It’s just water isn’t it? It’s free? What if I told you that every glass of Evian takes 15 years to travel through the mountain rock. 15 years of Mother Nature’s natural purification process. A decade and a half to create a beverage which might just be the purist thing you can put in your body — That’s a lot longer than the average vintage wine takes to make.

Evian has pushed the purity message at the forefront of its campaign since forever; teaming up with athletes to showcase the sought-after purity of their water (hence why that Sharapova doping scandal was such a big head turner).

They bottle over 8 million bottles a day, which is about the limit, even though they’re using up to maybe 5% of the water available from the mountain. This is important to understand, because there’s a sense of logic here that goes right into the heart of the brand. Any other brand would jump on this and in the words of Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood “Drink it up!”. But there’s such a respect for the mountain, for bottling at source, for maintaining purity, that they hold back.

When local industrial agriculture threatened the spring’s purity, Evian intervened to help make the practices more eco-friendly, protecting the environment and the purity of their water. They didn’t ask farmers to go bust making the transitions either, instead, they invested themselves — took the brunt of the bill to bring about change.

And now Evian have gone even further. They’ve reduced waste and emissions by switching to hydropower and biogas. They’ve planted 130 million high CO2 absorbing trees around the world. This year, 2020, Evian is now certified by the Carbon Trust as carbon neutral. Now lots of other brands are running to the carbon neutral pledge, whilst writing this, I’ve just been pinged an email by Hello Fresh telling me that they’re going carbon neutral too.

Brands like Evian have realised quicker than most, that their existence depends upon a healthy planet.

Big brands have the power to bring about big change. But perhaps it’s the water brands who are leading the charge. Brands like Evian have realised quicker than most, that their existence depends upon a healthy planet. In other words, there’s a direct link to the environment and the purity of Evian’s water

I know what you’re thinking… But what about plastic? Should we really be supporting brands that churn out more plastic than anyone else? It’s a tricky question.

Evian believe in closed loop recycling. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel like some start-ups are doing, they’re looking at ways to transform the plastic industry for the good. They’ve teamed up with Loop Industries and set a goal for their brand to be 100% recyclable by 2025. Ok, so it’s not tomorrow, but this kind of change is enormous and enormous change takes time. It could even be sooner than that given the current pressure on the plastic industry. Evian and Volvic have just produced their first fully recyclable bottles earlier this year. And Highland Spring is out in front, increasing a roll-out of its own 100% recyclable eco bottle. Competition in the bottled water industry is hotting up.

Of course, this closed loop recycling model will need a heck of a lot of investment if it’s going to work properly. Making bottles 100% recyclable might not be enough if there’s no infrastructure within countries to make recycling second nature. Could Evian introduce a loan/payback scheme similar to what Norway’s been doing? The Danone Giant certainly has the resources to. For me at least, that’s a reason not to boycott Evian. Because I’m supporting a brand that is capable of bringing about the change the world needs. A brand that is passionate about preserving its purity. A brand that time and time again has reinvested back into the environment it draws its water from.

More than ever we’re seeing CSR play a huge role in shifting consumer habits. There’s a beautiful circle here — brands want to be seen to be doing good and people want to see their brands doing good. But don’t write-off these water brands just yet, as I’ve said, they more than most, actually want to do good.

Written by Alex Hamilton.