Selling Charity in a Bottle
By Peter Orsi

(Business 2.0) – Bottled water everywhere, but which brand to drink? Ethos Water wants to help consumers choose by tapping into their consciences. Founded in 2002 and acquired by Starbucks in April, Ethos donates 5 cents for every bottle it sells to help bring clean water to developing countries. According to Unicef, an estimated 4,000 children die each day from a lack of clean water. "It's arguably the world's largest public-health crisis," says Ethos co-founder Peter Thum.

Since he and Jonathan Greenblatt launched the brand, Ethos has expanded into Whole Foods and other retailers on the West Coast, distributing some $100,000 to water-infrastructure projects. With help from Starbucks--which recently began carrying Ethos in its 4,700 U.S. stores--those 5-cent drops in the bucket will soon turn into an ocean of aid. Based on sales projections, Ethos plans to give at least $250,000 to clean-water projects this year. Not only has the coffee giant promised to honor that, but it's also pledging $1 million in 2006 and a total of $10 million over the next five years. Owning the brand means that Starbucks gets to keep a bigger share of its $25 million in annual bottled-water sales, and so far Ethos seems to be a hit, despite its $1.80-per-bottle price tag. "People are buying it by the case," Greenblatt says.

Now Starbucks VPs, Thum and Greenblatt are touring the country in a biodiesel RV, meeting with Starbucks employees to educate them about the brand. They're also hosting three- to six-mile "walks for water" to raise awareness of the daily treks that families in the developing world make to obtain H 0. "Ethos is not a product with a cause," Thum says. "It is a mission with a brand." -- PETER ORSI