You might be surprised to discover there are two competing walks this weekend promoting World Water Day.
On the surface, they may look identical, but underneath, two very different forces are at work.
The 6-kilometre strollathon Sunday (March 25), starting at 11 am at Queen's Park, is the fundraising project of WaterCan, an NGO/charity that funds local, community-controlled, sustainable water projects in 32 developing countries.
WaterCan communication coordinator Jennifer Davis explains from their Ottawa office that her group has no connection to the Walk For Water on Saturday (March 24), beginning at 10 am at High Park. That effort is being organized by a wing of the Starbucks Corporation called Ethos Water.
"We've been bumped out of the limelight by Starbucks, and we're not very happy about the whole thing," says Davis.
At Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, vice-president and Ethos Water founder Peter Thum says he wasn't aware of WaterCan's funder and is delighted with their efforts. Thum tells me he got the idea of selling bottled water in 2002. "I was in Africa and saw the world water crisis first-hand. A year later, I started working on founding a company called Ethos Water."
Africa's water crisis inspired him to sell bottles of water to Americans for $1.80 U.S. apiece ($2.49 with tax in Canada). For each bottle sold, a nickel (a dime in Canada) is invested in water access in developing nations. He makes one other thing very clear about Ethos Water's walk: "We're not selling anything."
Sara Stratton of Kairos Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, a group campaigning to save the planet's water and against bottled water, is not reassured. "Maybe they're not trying to sell anything on World Water Day, but every other day of they year they are selling water." Kairos's slogan is "Water: life before profit."
Stratton is not alone either. A website slamming Ethos can be found at www.ethos-water.com.
Thum calls the site "defamatory" but has no plans to drown out the dissent. "It's unfortunate," he says, "but everyone is welcome to their opinion. As of this year we've raised more than $4 million U.S. and helped more than 460,000 people."
Stratton acknowledges the positives of raising money and awareness but is stunned by Starbucks' approach. "They could use their existing profits. I don't understand why they had to bottle water to convince people there are water-access needs."