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Nestle/Poland Spring Water Battle Tops Sterling News 2008 Wrapup Too

In another look back at 2008, the Sterling News also led their wrap-up with a Nestle Waters/Poland Spring story – this one about the very contentious Wekepeke aquifer.

On the water front, much of the year was devoted to the Wekepeke Aquifer, and an effort by Nestle Waters to use the resource for bottled water. Clinton officials signed an agreement in June to resist Nestle’s advances, but Sterling officials did not immediately sign on.

A local group, the Committee for Informed Citizens, implored the Selectmen to make a similar stand and close off the aquifer to Nestle. Finally, in October, the Selectmen released a statement taking a stand against commercial use of the water.

“The purchase and re-sale of water of the Wekepeke aquifer by any private company, such as Nestle Waters, should not be encouraged or permitted,” the Selectmen said in the Oct. 1 statement. “The sale of public water from the Wekepeke aquifer does not represent sound public policy nor is it in the spirit or intent of the original and subsequent enabling legislation.”

This was classic Nestle/Poland Spring; the deal was halfway to finished before the citizenry found out, and only a strong response got it tabled – especially after questions about the saleability of the water were raised.

January 10, 2009   Comments Off

Poland Spring Threatens to “Leave Maine” If Pesky Citizens Don’t Stop Practicing Democracy

As I noted on the Trout Underground blog, Nestle is staggering a little under the weight of its recent legal setbacks and rural-town rejections.

In Maine, they’ve been handed their walking papers by several towns, and continue to sue (and lose) legal attempts to force a water-taking station on the citizens of Fryeburg.

Now – like a child used to always getting their own way – their Maine brand Poland Spring is threatening to pick up their toys and play elsewhere:

(via the Portland Press Herald site) Several municipalities across southern Maine have begun to take steps in opposition to bottled water, either by proposing moratoriums or passing proclamations criticizing it as environmentally harmful.

This opposition to an industry long associated with good health and purity has surprised officials at Maine’s big bottled water player, Poland Spring, which has responded by increasing its public-relations efforts and saying it might have to leave the state to develop new water sources.

“We don’t want to do that, but we may be forced to,” said Poland Spring Natural Resource Director Mark Dubois, who handles site development out of the company’s headquarters in Poland Spring. “We’re going to go where we can do business. We’re going to go where people look at facts, not emotions.”

Let’s look at a few “facts” (instead of playing on emotions, like the kind stirred up by threats to leave):

  • Nestle/Poland Spring has repeatedly sued the Fryeburg in an attempt to force a pumping station on the town – despite a firm “no” from the citizenry (Could this be a reason other towns are reluctant to deal with Nestle?)
  • Some Mainers are growing very, very concerned about the mountains of plastic waste Nestle puts in the state’s landfills every day.
  • Citizens are wondering about the long-term affects of pumping massive amounts of water from aquifers – especially in the face of climate change
  • Citizens are questioning why Nestle is allowed to pump local water for fractions of a penny per gallon, then sell it at a huge profit – which goes directly to Switzerland

Blaming Outside Agitators

The most unappealing aspect of Nestle’s response to losing (they’re not used to that) is their contention they’re the innocent victims of out-of-state agitators, as evidenced by this quote from Mark Dubois:

Much of the opposition, he said, is coming from organizations from out of state that are concerned about global water privatization or use and sale of water in arid or dry climates that have scarce renewable water supplies.

If you doubted – even for a second – that Nestle regularly huddles with its PR/spin specialists, then the above statement should dispel those doubts.

It’s classic fear mongering, and lest we get labeled an “outside agitator” by Mr. Dubois, I’d like to point out that Nestle – who owns Poland Spring – is the world’s largest food and beverage company, who just happens to be based in Switzerland.

Meanwhile, the opposition groups represented in the story are all from Maine.

Who, exactly, is the outside source of all the problems?

Is Poland Spring Really Leaving Maine?

Next time Dubois threatens to leave Maine, perhaps someone could ask him this simple question:

“And go where?”

The backlash against bottled water isn’t limited to a few small pockets in Maine; it’s a national issue. Citizens are asking questions about bottled water (and its sizable waste stream).

It isn’t “hysteria” as Nestle labeled it; Maine’s citizens are asking questions, and why, exactly is Nestle opposed to that practice? (Hint: it’s not good for their bottom line.)

We’ve seen Nestle’s heavy-handed responses to towns that ask for a fair rate for their water, or those that simply say no to a water taking station.

Now we’re witness to another heavy-handed attempt at manipulation:

“We have a huge investment in Maine,” Dubois said. “We’re not leaving anytime tomorrow, but we have to fish or cut bait by the end of next year. You have to start making decisions.”

While Dubois later uses the words “kicked out” to describe Nestle’s treatment, the three towns in York County voting on the issue are simply for temporary moratoriums so the towns can explore their options.

Activist Emily Posner said:

“A moratorium isn’t necessarily for or against anything,” she said. “It gives folks the breathing room to have that discussion, as opposed to feeling rushed or uninformed. That’s where people were in June, when we saw such an uproar.

“If a community decides they want to sell their water, then that’s their decision,” she said.

That Nestle considers this eruption of the democratic process a sign of an intolerable business climate says more about their business practices than it does about the citizens of Maine.

I’m certain they’d prefer to make sweetheart deals behind closed doors – and out of the public spotlight – but the political process isn’t actually supposed to work that way.

As those flaming socialists at Businessweek said:

Time was when multinationals could arrive in economically depressed communities and pretty much have their way. But in the age of hyper connectedness, residents in McClould were able to turn their issue into an international sensation. Now Nestle has capitulated. The management lesson: no company can afford to go forward with projects like these without engaging ALL stakeholders, not just supporters. Yes, this is David versus Goliath. But the Davids now have megaphones.

Can Nestle stop strong-arming citizens – and start playing nice?

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September 4, 2008   3 Comments

Nestle Waters First Half Bottled Water Sales Decline a Startling 38%

The building backlash against bottled water has sent Nestle’s formerly fast-growing bottled water division into a tailspin.

By my figures, first half bottled water revenues declined a startling 38%.

Nestle bottled water sales decline

From Water Innovation magazine:

Overall bottled water sales fell from 5 billion Swiss Francs (€3 billion) to 3.1 billion (€1.9 billion) due to the slowing economy as well as environmental consumer concerns. However, sales of bottled water in emerging markets such Greater China, Africa, South Asia and the Middle continued to grow. The company’s Poland Spring and Nestlé Pure Life brands achieved positive growth, while its Italian premium water S. Pellegrino also continued to do well on the market.

We can put a number on the revenue decline; what’s not quantified is the the damage being done to Nestle’s name by the company’s insistence on the use of brand-damaging, negative-PR-generating rural water mining projects.

Will Nestle’s stakeholders begin agitating for a change of direction?

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August 30, 2008   2 Comments

PBS Covers Maine Bottled Water Issue, Sidesteps a Few Critical Questions

The bottled water issue is attracting a fair amount of national media attention – something unlikely to make water profiteers like Nestle particularly happy.

I’m always happy to see media coverage of the issue. Yet a recent PBS in this piece about Maine’s water wars fell just a little wide of the mark. (Transcript here; audio and streaming video feeds available on same page.)

The show focused the first half of the report on “angry” residents – without really exploring why they were angry. After all, yet another “public” meeting had turned into a largely private affair, where a large portion of the public simply weren’t allowed to speak or attend. (Perhaps our Nestle readers could explain why this keeps happening whenever Nestle’s involved?)

And unfortunately, PBS fell hook, line and sinker for Nestle’s “we care for the aquifer” spin.

In truth, Nestle does care for the upstream part of the aquifer. That’s where their profits lie.

Where Nestle is basically shucking and jiving is on the downstream end. In Mecosta County, MI, Nestle repeatedly lost court decisions where they contended they weren’t harming the watershed.

At one point they were ordered to stop pumping, and now pump only 218 gallons per minute.

In the tiny town of McCloud, Nestle repeatedly asserted there was no potential for downstream damage to the world-famous McCloud River fishery – despite never once monitoring the flows in Squaw Creek (the trib most affected by their proposed bottling plant).

No impacts? How would they know?

Evidence suggests Nestle’s “concern” for the aquifer extends only as far as their bottom line.

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August 30, 2008   Comments Off