The $15 billion-a-year bottled water industry may not seem a likely source of controversy, but surprisingly it is. Critics point to the fact that bottled water doesn’t always differ in quality from tap water, encourages the unsanitary reuse of plastic bottles, contributes to the accumulation of garbage, and leads people to ignore the lack of reliable supplies of drinking water for a billion of the world’s people—including the 30,000 people who die every week from unsafe-water-related diseases and the almost 6,000 children who die daily from diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation.
Now several companies have entered the fray by using religion to market their bottled water. Spiritual Water, for example, a new line of purified municipal water, sells under 10 different Christian labels—including "Formula J" with head of Jesus with the Fatima prayer in both Spanish and English on the bottle (see above right)—and claims to help people “stay focused, believe in yourself, and believe in God,” reports a Newsweek story by Lisa Miller. The Spiritual Water company, founded by someone who used to be in the pest-control business, donates a portion of its profits to charity. It also says its containers are ecofriendly because fewer people are less willing to throw out a bottle bearing an image of Mary or Jesus.
In Minnesota, however, a group of Catholic sisters have a different taken on the bottled water issue: They object to the whole idea. “I believe that water is a gift of creation, and it’s a gift for everybody. Nobody’s exempt,” says Sister Mary Zirbes of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minn. “It’s meant for everyone, and therefore it should not be a commodity to be sold. It should be free to everyone.” With the Benedictine Sisters of St. Joseph and other faith groups nationwide, the Little Falls Franciscans have begun a letter-writing campaign and designed and distributed coasters to encourage people to drink water straight from the tap.
What do you think of using religious images in products and advertising?