Coleridge’s epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is about a sailor marooned and dehydrated in the salt water of the ocean, as retribution for the arbitrary shooting of an albatross. This is a simplistic interpretation of a complex work, but there are echoes in the modern world’s disregard for the earth’s limited resources.
Michael Green is a man on a mission: to get the whole nation drinking water out of a tap and plastic bottle free. This is no airy fairy whimsy, but determination from a successful business man who knows how to make things happen. He was brought up near Bradford by a no-nonsense mother who used to direct her children to Council pop (ie tapwater) rather than some fancy cordial.
In 2008 Mike took his building skills to Sri Lanka for several months, to help with the continued devastation from the 2004 Tsunami, and became obsessed with the effects of destruction that we are visiting upon ourselves as a planet. On his return, the Mayor of London and Thames Water were launching a combined initiative called London on Tap. This was a project with the best of intentions which flopped through lack of impetus, but during which Mike met the winning designer of the tap water restaurant carafe, Neil Barron, a professor at the Royal College of Art.
There are two parts to Mike’s business model for tapwater.org: one not for profit (totally altruistic), and the other which will generate profit to fund the first. Plastics are not biodegradable, and fragments are increasingly being found in the stomachs of fish in the ocean, not to mention the carbons emitted during the transport process of large amounts of water. He is passionate about educating schoolchildren, because the drinking habits of teenagers in particular, set the pattern for the future. And also about reaching young people en masse, at universities and festivals (Lime Tree Music and Arts Festival in Yorkshire will be plastic bottle free this summer).
But what about the ubiquitous plastic bottles carried by much of the population in hot weather? Mike’s answer to this is to garner a network of “filling stations”. For example there is a tapwaterorg app for iPhone users showing the nearest participating outlet at which to refill your empty bottle. And one for Android coming soon. In the meantime there is a map on tapwater.org. And that’s where part of the income generation kicks in. Neil Barron has designed a funky bottle which will be sold shortly via the tapwater.org website. The idea is that you leave home with an empty double-walled container, and fill it (or even half fill it) at participating cafes, restaurants and pubs as and when you need. Optional extras are a frozen stick attached to the inside of the lid to keep the water cool and tablets to create a flavoured drink, but at a fraction of the cost. The venues get promoted on the tapwater.org website and of course get potentially new customers entering their premises.
The second part is to persuade restaurants to offer tap water instead of bottled. An increasing number of enlightened ones now do so readily, but because of the taste, bottled brands are still on the menu as an option. One way out of this is to install water treatment equipment in house, which is a service offered by tapwater.org. Sparkling water can be produced via this method too.The capital cost is offset by decanting the water into house-branded carafes and charging for it, but at a lower price than the usual branded mineral water bottles. Huge savings on storage space, and good PR for being eco-friendly. Treating water to make it taste better has added benefits for coffee purists: the newly opened St Ali in Clerkenwell wants the equipment for use through the coffee-making process. It’s a win win.
So, what’s in it for Mike? Apparently this man is truly a saint, although certainly not of the worthy variety. He has invested a deal of personal money in this project already, and doubts if he will see it returned. Once it starts generating proper revenue, 20% of the profits will go to the not-for-profit part. The intention is to create a self-sustaining business providing the infrastructure for continuing the campaign for many years. He deserves support for his energy and commitment to trying to save the planet from the same fate as the old seafarer.
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