In my second interview of real people that are making a difference, questioning the status quo and trying to make a positive impact upon the environment, I had the opportunity to interview Tappening.com co-founders, Eric Yaverbaum and Mark DiMassimo.
After watching the groundbreaking film, Garbage: The Revolution Starts at Home!, a film that points out, in simple, everyday terms the amount of waste an average family creates, mostly spurned by our hyperactive consumer culture, Yaverbaum and DiMassimo decided to do somehting about it. Their cause, get people to significantly reduce, or eliminate, the consumption of one-use bottled water. One of the most inefficient products on a grocery store shelf, Yaverbaum and DiMassimo are taking on the bottled water industry and calling them on their decades long run on pushing overpriced water that is extremely wasteful, with plastic water bottles clogging waterways and littering roads across the world. All done for the sake of convenience, until recently unquestioned by the average consumer, until now.
Hence Tappening.com poses the question... is it time to rethink bottled water?
Eric and Mark, Welcome to Bamboo Geek.
1. What prompted you to start Tappening? And what do you hope to achieve long-term from Tappening?
Mark and I were very angry about what we viewed as the extreme and unnecessary waste of resources and the resultant pollution of the Earth, caused by the bottled water industry. As marketing professionals, we viewed the multi-billion dollar campaign that convinced people that they ‘needed’ bottled water as being one of the most successful advertising coups ever perpetrated in this country.Also – my daughter, Cole, kept asking me what I can do—as a public relations professional-- to benefit the environment. Eventually, the idea for the Tappening campaign crystallized for us. Our long-term goal for Tappening is to continue to educate the public about the benefits of using tap water whenever possible, and to discourage the unnecessary purchase and use of bottled water.
2. I know that the documentary Garbage: The Revolution Starts at Home was an inspiration for both of you. I have watched it myself. What was the biggest thing that you took away from that film?
One strong message we got from the film is that we can’t wait for slow-moving politicians and self-serving corporations to implement much-needed changes. The film motivated us to take the reins and try to bring about some change on our own.
3. I read recently that the bottled water industry is facing the slowest sales its had in almost 20 years. Some attribute this to the economy, others to a growing environmental consciousness creating a more savvy consumer that is thinking twice about bottled water use. What do you think is happening and do you forsee this as a lasting change in behavior or a cyclical phenomenon?
We believe it’s a combination of both factors. With the bottled vs. tap water debate getting so much attention recently, coupled with the weak economy – it’s a kind of perfect storm; a lot of people are deciding that bottled water is an unnecessary—as well as harm-causing-- expense.
We believe that this is growing development, as more and more people become educated about the facts.
4. Great job on the Message in a Bottle Campaign. Any response from the folks at CocaCola?
Thank you. We know that Coca-Cola has been closely following the Tappening progression. Their initial response was to tout their recycling programs which truly are terrific. Truly - and we applaud them for it. But that’s not the answer. It’s at the tail end of the problem.
5. Its hard these days not to feel like a very small voice in a big corporate world. You are taking on some big companies like CocaCola to effect real change and better the environment. What words of inspiration would you give someone trying to better the environment these days?What do you see as the biggest obstacle to making substantive change to create a more sustainable planet?
There’s no doubt that corporate forces are omnipotent in today’s world. It’s been very gratifying for us to be able to use our respective long-honed marketing skills—in public relations and advertising/branding – to make an impact felt by the Goliaths in our culture. In terms of inspiration, we always say that that if you’re passionate about something – and can translate your passion into action – you can make a viable impact. Yes, the biggest obstacle to making substantive change, in our view, is the immense economic and political power yielded by the mammoth corporations. But, again, it’s very gratifying to have seen that the little guys can sometimes make a difference.
6. I recently wrote about how recycling is sometimes used by companies and consumers as an excuse to buy more things - the "hey, it can be recycled" justification. Although, I do think recycling is good, it really should be the lesser used in the three "R's" (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) cycle. This certainly applies to the bottled water industry. Anyone who knows about the three "R's" knows that reducing is the best solution for the environment. Tappening encourages people to use reusable water bottles and tap water - thereby reducing - by no longer purchasing bottled water. Less fuel wasted in transportation, less energy used to recycle, less litter, and less squandered oil to make the plastic bottles. The concept of "reducing" runs deeply against our "consumer culture." Have you found a lot of resistance to the concept of just "reducing" by not buying bottled water from the average person?
We believe that once armed with the facts about the wastefulness and non-necessity of bottled water in most instances, and the stresses we’ve been putting on our environment, in general – a lot of average people are coming to realize that it’s imperative to re-evaluate the rampant excesses of our ‘consumer culture.’ We believe the greatest value of campaigns like Tappening is to encourage people to really think about these issues and, hence, help to bring about a shift in consciousness.
7. The bottled water industry clearly markets their product under the guise of "convenience" for the "on the go society." Has this marketing ploy been hard to counter when asking people to forgo the bottled water and prepare a little more ahead of time by preparing a reusable water bottle? Aren't you really tring to undo millions of dollars and years of marketing (or more bluntly, mass brainwashing) by the bottled water industry trying to get the average consumer to rethink bottled water?
Yes, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. First, by making it clear to consumers that it’s the many countless millions of dollars in marketing money spent in the past 30 years that persuaded them to believe that they “needed” this product in the first place. In terms of the mobility issue – we’re not saying that bottled water has no valid place ever– just that 80% or 90% of the time, people can quite easily fill a reusable bottle with tap (perhaps using some kind of relatively inexpensive filter system, if they feel a need for it). We think it’s a really small inconvenience or sacrifice for consumers to make, in view of the larger issues.
8. So can you tell us what is next for Tappening?
Tappening has just introduced the Tappening (duffle-type) Bag on the www.tappening.comwebsite. We rethought our original plan and made a decision not to send the almost one million empty water bottles we received with messages inside to Coca Cola, because we realized that by sending a convoy of trucks from the north down to Atlanta – we’d be using an awful lot of fossil fuel for what could be perceived as a publicity stunt. And, Coke could have used this as an opportunity to publicize their recycling program.
Instead, we recycled this massive number of bottles ourselves. Our bags are made of 100% post-consumer recycled materials; yesterday’s discarded bottles and yogurt containers.
We’re also set to announce that all of the reusable bottles sold on our website are 100% BPA-free.
And, most essentially - we’re going to keep working to keep this issue in the forefront of the national consciousness.