This is something Muhammad Yunus warned about in his latest book: the Corporate Social Responsibility is often just a disguise for profit-making activity, which he opposes. Yunus is in favor of full social entrepreneurship: no profits involved. Take the case of Ethos, the bottled water, which the New Internationalist calls bullshit in a bottle (I agree). What is Ethos?
"In what is quite possibly the last word in cynical advertising, Starbucks and PepsiCo have teamed up with Matt Damon (the Hollywood star who drives a Toyoto Prius to save money, not to be part of an ‘environmental trend’, so he says) to distribute a brand of ‘charitable’ bottled water called Ethos."
What’s wrong with that? First, it is environmentally bad: we need to reduce the amount of bottled water we use in our countries. We have perfectly good tap water (it is even sometimes bottled and sold to us as bottled water). And if it has a little taste, get a Brita filter, ok? Our societies invested a lot of money so we could turn on the tap and get clean water, which went a long way to improve our health and living conditions.
And of course, plastic bottles are, well, plastic… petroleum products. We should reduce our use of those, as much as possible. We should Think Outside the Bottle.
And of course, we should also be careful with our consumption of water. Here is a map of water use, from the great Worldmapper website.
But that is not all, look at domestic water use:
And industrial water use:
Ok, so, you get the idea that we should be a hell of a lot more careful regarding our water use. And when I say "we", I mean North America and Europe, mostly, then China. If you look at the map right above, it is obvious where industrial use is the largest.
But back to Ethos. The third problem with Ethos is the cause it claims to support. The humanitarian claim is this:
"According to the Ethos Water website, five cents from each bottle purchased is donated to a Starbucks foundation to ‘alleviate the world water crisis’."
Ethos sells, on an average, for $1.80 per bottle. That means that the donation represents 3% of price of the bottle, something critics have been very quick to detect and campaign against, see for instance The Truth About Ethos.