Diplomacy in a Bottle of Water

While governments are talking about planning to work to protect our environment and while they are trying to achieve agreement with each other to start to protect environment, in the meantime the environment took a lead and became a big issue for everyone on the Earth.

Figure 1 Source: (Google, 2017)

There is a high number of negotiations and talks on range of the topics covering environmental issues from ocean pollution to global warming. There are billions of stakeholders, environmental activist groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which creates platform for such talks. NGOs promote environmental problems, run campaigns to encourage change and to warn about existing or possible consequences. Both activist groups and NGOs play crucial role in moving forward with this issue. They give policy advice and suggestions, do research and provide environmental expertise. Furthermore, they organise groups of volunteers to go on the ground and to help where possible. Also, they raise attention of wide public who then put more pressure on their own governments to take action. However, the more countries get involved in this issue, the more complex it becomes and finding solution is more and more difficult. It is hard to make an agreement on improving environment when leaders do not have a will to compromise their trade and business deals. On the other hand, independent NGOs are able to make decisions without clash of interest and to take action much faster.

Sometimes, the campaigns of NGOs succeed to persuade public to act even without government involvement or without official policy in place. For example, the case of bottled water. ‘In the last 40 years the bottled water industry has gone from a business prospect that few took seriously, to a global industry worth billions of pounds’ (BBC News, 2017). How is that possible if we consider that water is natural, simple source which is essential for life? It is very simple – put it into the plastic bottle, brand it, promote it and sell it. What governments do about this to protect its citizens from paying for their very basic need like water is? They take advantage of water privatization and its profit by collecting taxes from each bottle sold.

“I think bottled water is the most revealing substance for showing us how the global capitalist market works today,” says Richard Wilk, professor of anthropology at Indiana University (BBC News, 2017).

‘The bottled water market is the fastest growing drinks market in the world’ (Environmental Technology Centre, 2017). According to the data collected by the Environmental Technology Centre, ‘Britain consumes 3bn litres of bottled water per year’ and ‘the UK bottled water industry is worth £2bn per year’ (Environmental Technology Centre, 2017). As stated in BBC article ‘Bottled water has become liquid gold’: ‘Like all products, its success is driven by consumer demand’ (BBC News, 2017). But, given that water is a matter of life and death, do consumers have any other choice? Plastic bottle allows people to have constant access to water and to transport a beverage anywhere with them.

This is where NGOs step in. For example, The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Food and Water Watch, brought into attention that bottled water is harmful not only to our wallets but also to the environment. Companies state that all disposable water bottles are recyclable, however as per the Environmental Technology Centre, ‘for 2007 it is estimated that 13bn plastic bottles of water were sold in the UK of which only 3bn were recycled’ (Environmental Technology Centre, 2017). Long-terms campaigns led to the phenomena of refillable bottles. Refillable bottles as well as reusable plastic coffee cups became very popular and widely used by public. This shows that people can take steps forward even without governments implying policy. Companies quickly caught up on this and started to distribute different types, shapes and colours of refillable bottles and cups. So, the business side is still involved, but it surely does safe money of consumers and safe the environment at the same time. The Environmental Technology Centre collected data to outline reasons to use refillable sports bottle instead of buying bottled water – Click here to access the list of the reasons.

Figure 2 Source: (Google, 2017)

The effort of NGOs played, and still plays, crucial role in bottled water issue. Their campaigns promoted the usage of refillable bottles and they continue to encourage people to use them as much as possible. Moreover, this was not the only success of NGOs in regards to the environmental issues. There many other campaigns and conferences run by large as well as small NGOs, from the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and Greenpeace to GreenBlue and many other organizations and activist groups. Their hard work and the ability to reach out to public in the way that people listen often pay off and celebrate progress. For instance, UNEP in cooperation with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is currently running campaign to promote the Sustainable Development Goals. They use image of popular Smurfs, which is attention catching, memorable, and most importantly it makes whole generation of children to listen and to learn about environment and healthy lifestyle. Perhaps future of our environment is the hands of NGOs rather than governments?



BBC News. (2017). Bottled water has become liquid gold – BBC News. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11813975 [Accessed 22 Mar. 2017].

Environmental Technology Centre. (2017). Should we be using bottled water?. [online] Available at: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/etc/news-water.php [Accessed 22 Mar. 2017].

Food & Water Watch. (2017). Corporate Control of Water. [online] Available at: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/problems/corporate-control-water [Accessed 22 Mar. 2017].

Susskind, L. (1994). Environmental Diplomacy: Negotiating More Effective Global Agreements. 1st ed. [ebook] Oxford: Oxford University Press. Available at: http://0-lib.myilibrary.com.emu.londonmet.ac.uk/Open.aspx?id=44245 [Accessed 22 Mar. 2017].

Sustainability Degrees. (2017). The 14 Most Influential Sustainability NGOs. [online] Available at: http://www.sustainabilitydegrees.com/blog/most-influential-sustainability-ngos/ [Accessed 22 Mar. 2017].

United Nations Environmental Programme. (2017). Environmental Diplomacy. [online] Available at: http://staging.unep.org/disastersandconflicts/Introduction/EnvironmentalCooperationforPeacebuilding/EnvironmentalDiplomacy/tabid/54581/Default.aspx [Accessed 22 Mar. 2017].




One thought on “Diplomacy in a Bottle of Water

  1. agp0095 April 1, 2017 / 10:21 pm

    A very interesting take on the topic, loved the title and it really drew me into your blog. Also, I liked that you mentioned how NGOs target different age groups in promoting a healthy lifestyle. Loads of good example of different NGO groups and organisations


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