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Around the world, the bottled water industry is faced with a number of opportunities and challenges that can impact the way bottled water is sourced, produced, sold and marketed.
Until recently, the bottled water market was segmented by regions of the globe. Brands were marketed and sold, with few exceptions, within a nation’s borders, and issues such as quality and safety, environmental impacts and access to sanitary drinking water remained within the confines of a specific country or region.
Global brands, however, are now on the rise and so is ownership of these brands by multinational companies. Internet usage, more aggressive activism and worldwide coverage of seemingly local topics are causing issues to transcend national boundaries at a rapid pace. Hence, there is a critical need for the global bottled water community to work closely to develop and share resources and tackle these important issues. No longer are most issues isolated to one country or region; that “isolated” issue can circumnavigate the globe and become a worldwide concern with the click of a mouse.
Until 2000, the U.S.-based IBWA served as the global organization for the bottled water industry, and there were bottled water associations around the globe that operated as IBWA chapters. IBWA served as a clearinghouse of information and resources that each chapter would independently adapt to address matters, such as the development or enhancement of country-specific regulations and standards. IBWA also provided technical resources to help ensure that bottled water production met the highest safety standards possible. IBWA also served—and continues to serve—as a non-governmental organization for the Codex Alimentarius Commission that establishes the Codex Alimentarius, which has become the seminal global reference point for consumers, food producers and processors, national food control agencies and the international food trade.
As the global IBWA chapters developed, each realized the benefit of establishing an independent organization dedicated to the unique challenges and opportunities of its home nation. IBWA and its global chapters determined that those needs were best served by disbanding the “chapter” system and instead uniting under the banner of the International Council of Bottled Water Associations (ICBWA).
The following associations are ICBWA members:
ICBWA operates under the following mission: “Members will further strengthen and promote the global bottled water industry by supporting and adhering to rigorous international product quality standards, by facilitating learning and providing a flow of information about the bottled water industry, among its members, international agencies and stakeholders.”
The Codex Alimentarius continues to be an ICBWA focus, as it has had an enormous impact on the thinking of food producers and processors as well as on consumer awareness. Its influence extends to every continent, and its contribution to the protection of public health and fair practices in the food trade is immeasurable. In 1985, the United Nations adopted guidelines that advised, “Governments should take into account the need of all consumers for food security and should support and, as far as possible, adopt standards from the ‘Codex Alimentarius’ of FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] and the World Health Organization.”
But, with a new era, come new challenges. Issues such as proper use of water resources, public drinking water infrastructure development and access to sanitary drinking water have thrust bottled water into the global spotlight as governments work to create efficient and cost-effective drinking water distribution systems in developing countries. As evidenced by the March 2006 World Water Forum in Mexico City, activists are using bottled water as a rallying point in their call to arms for drinking water access. Misguided allegations focus on bottled water as an obstacle in drinking water infrastructure development and bottled water companies as “water barons” that block consumer access to their right to clean drinking water through “privatization” of water resources. Using Internet and e-mail technologies, activist messages are broadcast around the world to others with like-minded agendas.
What these activists fail to acknowledge is that bottled water is often the best short-, mid- or even long-term solution to provide sanitary drinking water to populations in need. Estimates for public water infrastructure development range in the trillions of dollars. Bottled water’s minute share of dollars spent on drinking water pales in comparison to the real need for the public and private sectors to develop and implement drinking water solutions that are economically feasible. In addition, in most developed countries, bottled water is but one of many packaged choices for consumers looking for an alternative to beverages with caffeine, calories, sugar and other ingredients.
Such issues demand the attention of the global bottled water industry, which, through ICBWA, is coming together to set the record straight and position truthful messages about bottled water. During the coming months, ICBWA members will develop strategies to address this challenge and opportunity to provide the facts about bottled water on the global stage. The goal is to help ensure that consumers and governments alike can make balanced decisions about this critical consumer product.