By Joseph Doss

Every American has the right to drink clean and safe water. And today’s consumers have many choices available to them when deciding how to obtain their drinking water. The three main categories—bottled water, tap water and water treated by point-of-use (POU) or point-of-entry (POE) devices—provide quality water products to satisfy the needs of a thirsty consuming public.

Responsible cooperation
These principle groups have a responsibility to work together toward a common goal of providing the American public with the best possible drinking water. By working together, the various providers can ensure continued consumer trust in all drinking water. This cooperation fosters confidence and eliminates unnecessary confusion and fear among the American public about their drinking water options.

Common goals
The goal of all water providers is to make safe, quality choices available to a nation that’s turning increasingly to water for hydration and refreshment. From the bottled water perspective, choice is a guiding principle—the foundation of our part of the drinking water industry. As evidenced by the growing number of bottled water brands found at retail or through home and office delivery, there’s opportunity for consumers to choose based on certain brand attributes. But no matter what the choice is, they’re receiving a safe, convenient drinking water product with consistent quality and good taste. Certainly, there’s robust competition among the various brands of bottled water as they vie for increased market share.

Healthy competition
This brings to mind a key point: Competition. The bottled water industry doesn’t view public water utilities or POU/POE treatment equipment makers as “the opposition.” Bottled water is a beverage—a packaged food product. As such, we’re slugging it out with other beverage choices such as soft drinks, ready-to-drink tea, juices, and fruit drinks for the consumer’s “share-of-stomach.”

Eight glasses a day
For all of us to succeed, it’s crucial that consumers be aware of the benefits of, and the need for, water. In recent years, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) and the bottled water industry has embarked on a strategic “hydration” campaign to strengthen the public’s knowledge about the importance of water and hydration. Through this program, IBWA delivers information and messages about the importance of water consumption. Not bottled water specifically—just H2O. It’s up to the consumer to decide, at any given time, which choice best satisfies his or her need for water.

Of course, we’re pleased that consumers are choosing bottled water in growing numbers. As evidenced by the explosive sales growth of the industry over the past decade, more and more consumers are turning to bottled water. Here again, it’s the power of choice. Consumers are choosing bottled water because of its convenience, safety and consistent good taste.

Consumer surveys
IBWA’s recent Consumer Usage Survey, which polled nearly 3,000 Americans in 14 cities, has provided a wealth of information as to what consumers are drinking and how they make their choices. Teaming with the Rockefeller University in New York, IBWA surveyed consumers through Yankelovich Partners to gain insight as to how much water Americans are drinking and why—or why not—they’re choosing water. We discovered that a majority of Americans know that water consumption is important to health and wellness. Despite this, behavior hasn’t followed suit. Through this survey tool, knowledge came to the forefront to form a clearer picture of the consumer marketplace for water and the rationale for choice.

Although the survey uncovered a great deal of information specifically related to bottled water, our efforts provide a glimpse into consumer perceptions and actions related to water consumption, regardless of its source. It’s this type of broad view, without regard for boundaries, that can enable the drinking water industry to move forward and best serve the public.

A common forum
At this year’s annual meeting of the American Water Works Association (AWWA) in July, all sectors of the drinking water industry came together in a meeting to explore issues that impact drinking water and shed light on the many similarities and differences that shape the consumer’s access to safe and clean water. What emerged was a sense that we share more in common than we do as separate industries. IBWA, along with representatives from AWWA, the Water Quality Association (WQA) and privately owned water systems engaged in constructive dialogue that moved our industry toward a more united approach. Yes, there may be times when the varying sectors of the water industry have to agree to disagree. However, the willingness of all parties to share information and ideas provided a commonality of purpose that can serve to move our efforts forward. A collective body of knowledge working together on common issues can serve us well just as the rising tide that lifts all boats.

Conclusion
By working together, all sectors of the drinking water industry can exert an influence on legislators, the media, opinion leaders and the consumer greater than the sum of our parts. By embracing this philosophy, by turning it into action, we’ll see gains in quality and service that ensure continued availability of safe drinking water for all.

About the author
Joseph K. Doss is president of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA). Founded in 1958, IBWA has grown to over 1,500 member companies that account for more than 85 percent of all bottled water sales in the United States. IBWA’s membership includes U.S. and international bottlers, distributors and suppliers. Consumers can contact IBWA at 1-800-WATER-11 or its website—http://www.bottledwater.org—for more information about bottled water and a list of members’ brands.

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