Environmental Injustices Surrounding Bottled Water

By Caity Varian       

Every second of every day in the United States, a thousand people buy a plastic bottle of water and a thousand more people throw one of these bottles away, adding up to more than thirty billion bottles purchased every year and resulting in tens of billions of dollars in profits for the beverage industry. Water was first sold for emergency storm supply purposes in grocery stores in the United States and is now being marketed and sold all over the world by multinational corporations. Public water supplies are increasingly being pressured by beverage companies to privatize their services. The emphasis on profit in the bottled water industry has exacerbated existing inequalities on local, national and global scales.

In the United States, the beverage industry has capitalized on public fear of tap water, marketing bottled water as a healthy alternative and a safe solution. The imagery and rhetoric employed in bottled water marketing and advertising has worked to construct the consumption of bottled water as the solution to the global water crisis, hindering any sort of political or collective action towards improving the quality of municipal water sources and the quality of freshwater more generally.


Companies such as a Nestle, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo extract water and harness municipal water sources, damaging these sources for local communities and future generations. If the bottled water industry continues to grow and thrive, aquifers and groundwater sources will become depleted and only those that can afford to do so will be able to purchase clean drinking water. Bottled water costs 240-100,000 times more per gallon compared to tap water. If the bottled water industry continues to thrive, municipal sources will become more and more scarce and expensive, making clean drinking water more expensive and less accessible.

Bottled water does have an important role to play during emergencies when municipal water systems are temporarily disrupted and in some major cities and countries of the world, bottled water may be the only available source of safe drinking water. However, the perception of bottled water as a status symbol in the United States or as the main source of clean drinking water for the American people needs to be dismantled.

Resistance to the bottled water industry must be addressed at the level of both production and consumption. A “take back the tap” campaign needs to be employed to promote a cultural shift away from the consumption of bottled water. Creating awareness about environmental injustices that persist within the bottled water industry and establishing transparency within the industry will be crucial. Environmental Justice activists must work to persuade consumers to avoid bottled water whenever possible and to pressure public institutions and local governments to stop buying it. In terms of production, local communities need to actively oppose and protest specific instances of spring water extraction by the beverage industry, advocating for the preservation of municipal water sources. We need to think about drinking water as a cultural resource, a political resource, and as an economic resource, and deeply consider the implications of all of these perspectives.


Exemplary Nations for Women: Cabo Verde & Palau

It is important to support countries that are socially responsible. Our CEO Pamela Hawley tells us about Palau and Cabo Verde!

Adobe Spark (8)Cabo Verde, previously known as Cape Verde, is a drought-prone nation made up of ten islands located about 500 km off the west coast of Africa. Although the country lacks natural resources, they have a strong reputation for their efforts to create political unity (BBC 2016).

Cabo Verde is also taking a strong stance for women’s equality, as nine of seventeen cabinet positions and three members of the supreme court are women.

Palau is another island nation that has developed a social structure where women are highly respected. Palau is made up of 200 islands located in the western Pacific Ocean (Palou 2014). Palau is a great model for many nations, specifically because their inheritance regulations have supported women for hundreds of years. They believAdobe Spark (13)e in a matrilineal system, meaning that descent is determined by the mother. The emphasis on female kinship ensures that descendants inherit property based on a natural female lineal link. This long-held belief helps Palau sustain strong woman’s rights, such as ensuring that women receive equal pay to their male counterparts.

It’s nice to see these countries providing greater opportunities for women as a natural part of their culture.

It is important for us to support women and these small socially responsible countries. Next time you are planning a trip, consider traveling to socially responsible nations. Our tourism can benefit Cabo Verde and Palau which are two of the Top Ten Best Ethical Travel Destinations of 2017.    

Additionally, we can support women who do not have the benefits of living in a matrilineal nation like Palau by helping them gain access to family planning. 

“Palau.” Countries. Infoplease, 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

“Cabo Verde Country Profile.” BBC News. BBC, 16 Oct. 2016. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Facilitating Social Change

By Aidan Donahue

I often feel helpless watching the news.  Images of injustice continually appear on my screen, gripping me with a sense that something needs to change.  I see growing income inequality, videos of police officers using excessive force, Syrian refugees forced out of their homeland and demagogues scapegoating marginalized groups.Slovenska_vojska_tudi_med_vikendom_v_velikem_številu_pri_podpori_Policiji_01_B

Despite the emotions stirred in me and many of my peers, I often don’t know how to help.  The lack of progress makes these issues feel insurmountable, a dangerous feedback loop that fosters impassivity.

I have found that the vigor of these shared compassionate emotions is often not matched with an organization that takes action.  All too often, I have had an inspiring conversation with a friend, then returned to school the next day, without changing my actions.  Do not get me wrong, sharing these feelings and perspectives is a critical fuel to social sentiments.  It puts everyone in a position to comprehensively and thoroughly analyze current events.  it makes people aware of what is going on.  It forces people to think.  What is missing is a visible avenue towards action.

The ironic truth to this situation is there is actually a countless supply of organizations working to improve people’s lives.  As an intern at UniversalGiving, I have been able to learn more about some of these nonprofits.  They are led by inspiring individuals, conduct meaningful work, and give the marginalized groups a voice.  They are pragmatic idealists, achieving tangible results under the vision of a better world.  The only problem is that these causes are often underfunded and understaffed, in need of more practical tools to accomplish their goals.

This is why facilitating philanthropy is so important.  For every under-resourced non-profit, there is a group of people who want to help, but just do not know how.  They need each other, they just don’t know where to find each other.

Visibility is a critical barrier in connecting these two sides.  If people see opportunities to make a difference, they can act on them.  A central location for nonprofit listing and publicity allows for a clear and thorough experience.

UniversalGiving bridges these caring people with these impactful nonprofits.  By providing a platform for our partner organizations, UniversalGiving has created a hub for compassionate people to turn their emotions into actions.  People find what works for them: type of project, international location, size– from a dollar donation to a year-long volunteer project.  No matter what the opportunity is, the important part is that people are able to make an impact in a way that is meaningful to them.

Interning at UniversalGiving has really shown me how important it is to give people a voice, an avenue to express themselves.  When people can channel their passion for progress into real change, then we get closer to living in a world of caring.

Turn your emotions into actions here!


Social Entrepreneur Fights Mafia

This is a guest article from Ashoka.org about Dario Riccobono, leader of anti-mafia movements including the “sticker campaign” and his nonprofit AddioPizzo Travel.

“While the movie The God Father has become a cult in many countries, it has done Italy and Sicily much damage by glamorizing one of their worst social plagues. The mafia is often perceived to be mostly about gangster’s lifestyle. Instead, it is essentially about economic, political and cultural control of a territory through an intensely localized grasp from which all other pathways of power flow. Given its long history with mafia culture, Italy is at the forefront of the anti-mafia movement. It has long been understood that fighting the mafia is not only the responsibility of public prosecutors and the police but of every citizen. The anti-mafia movement in Italy is large and well-organized. Libera, the main anti-mafia organization is the only Italian NPO to feature in the top-100 list compiled by the Global Journal of Philanthropy. The last few years have seen the emergence of several social entrepreneurs working towards a similar objective but adopting different methods.

Dario Riccobono is one of the social entrepreneurs who grew up in a mafia-affected area. He was touched by the anti-mafia movement and later decided to create a new approach to solve the problem from a different angle. Dario was born in Capaci, a small town, sadly known by everyone in Italy as it is the place where Judge Falcone was killed in his car in 1992 (the mafia blew off the highway when he was traveling with his wife). A large social movement was shaped as a result of this tragedy and the anti-mafia movement became a strong player in Italy’s civic society. Important victories were obtained, such as a confiscation law, passed by a popular referendum, to make all goods confiscated from the mafia available to non-profit organizations for free to be used for social good. However, mafia infiltration in all aspects of the social and economic life remains a problem.

To be able to assert its rule on Sicily and control the territory, the mafia has collected a local “protection” tax (called Pizzo in Sicilian dialect) for decades. This is still largely collected across the whole of Sicily, even in large cities such as Palermo. Those opposing such a levy, or those calling the police on them, would have their premises burnt and their families threatened. Police would often turn a blind eye to this phenomenon, focusing instead on more violent crime.

Darios’s new idea began by leveraging the power of consumers in fighting against the Pizzo. AddioPizzo (goodbye Pizzo) began working in Sicily in 2004 under the slogan “a society paying the pizzo is a society without dignity.” By leveraging the strong sense of “honor” and “dignity” shared by many Sicilians, AddioPizzo began to reframe the concept: not only the pizzo-paying business, but anyone who purchases goods from them, is a tacit accomplice of the mafia. Addio Pizzo began by rallying over 1000 signatures of people who pledged only to buy products or services by businesses who would not pay the pizzo. As the percentage of those paying was over 80%, he created a demand for pizzo-free products. As too many people have lost their lives fighting individually against mafia , Dario understood that the only way out of this eradicated cultural and economic model is to involve every person in understanding that even buying a product sold in a shop that contributes towards the mafia’s racket means to be involved with mafia. Consumers’ behavior has an influence on society and it was time for this behavior to shift. Dario was among the first members of AddioPizzo, bringing together individuals who refused to pay the pizzo into a movement working towards change in Sicily.

Dario’s role as a leader and social entrepreneur became overt as in 2009 he created a spin-off of Addio Pizzo called AddioPizzo Travel. Dario understood that the mafia was becoming a global economic giant, and it could be fought only if the same mindset shift among citizens and consumers happened outside of Sicily, in the rest of Italy and beyond. As Sicily is part of a common European market, in which goods and people are free to circulate, Dario understood the power of including non-Sicilians in the fight against mafia. This struggle needed to spread to as many regions and countries as possible and at the same time focused on the younger generation, which has the highest potential to win this fight against the mafia in their lifetime. He began therefore to focus on tourists and schools.

Tourists visiting the island can use Addio Pizzo Travel as a tour operator as well as a cultural mediator. They will organize a holiday in which every hotel, car rental, restaurant, etc is part of the network and is certified mafia-free. They will also offer the opportunity to join one or more specific tours which present Sicily through the lenses of the anti-mafia: they will show you how the movement began, take you through the first businesses to rebel, to the houses of the first young people who said no to the mafia and lost their lives because of it. You can explore the economic power of the mafia, or the political one.
The same offer, albeit age-specific and more in depth, is offered as an option for schools. Rather than visiting only the historical or artistic heritage of Sicily, Addio Pizzo Travel makes sure that young people and their teachers are made aware of the power of the mafia and that they become actors of change in their own communities.

Addio Pizzo is a powerful movement which is anchored in Palermo and focused on local change. Addio Pizzo Travel, on the other hand, has the power and ambition to become a global player by creating awareness of the mafia infiltration in the economy to more and more people and to empower them to begin by leveraging their power as consumers through an anti-mafia brand. This could be extended to other areas of Italy in which a similar illegal levy is raised by organized crime (Calabria, Campania) but also to other countries with similar problems but lack of civil society involvement in fighting it.”

Read more here!

“Dario Riccobono.” Ashoka.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.

Business as a Force for Good

By Ted Yavuzkurt

Pause for a moment and reflect. Now think: who really changes the world?

If you’re anything like me, you probably thought of governments, or activists, or maybe nonprofits. And you’d be right—they do have tremendous power to shape society.

But that mindset leaves out another major player: business.

Now, I’ve always seen business as a force for change—but not always for the better! The news is full of stories about Big Pharma, Big Oil, or Big Banks using capitalism as a justification for ruthlessness. Proverbial “Evil Corporations” can sometimes seem to be the dominant forces in the business world.

I’ve realized that this viewpoint is unnecessarily narrow. Businesses, like people, come in many different forms. Some deserve the ire of society and some don’t.


And some are really trying to do their part. Today, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is rapidly becoming a standard business practice. Companies of all sizes are managing employee giving campaigns, running philanthropic foundations, and transforming their business models to benefit society.

In other words: Milton Friedman is out. Giving back is in.

PricewaterhouseCooper conducted a massive survey of CEOs this year. What did they find? A whopping 84% of those surveyed say they are now expected to address wider stakeholder needs. To translate that from business-ese: they can’t just make money for people that own stocks. They’ve recognized that they also need to do well by customers, communities, and countries.

This is why Walmart is raising wages and oil corporations are investing in clean energy. Even libertarian capitalists like WholeFoods CEO John Mackey have wholeheartedly embraced CSR. Mackey wrote a book about it: Conscious Capitalism. In his mind, corporations are very well suited to producing value for society – in fact, they have an ethical responsibility to do so.

I second Mackey. Corporations can and should do well for the world. They’re potentially more nimble than NGOs, more responsive to societal demands than governments, and more influential than activists. Companies that choose to leverage their strengths to do good can have an incredibly positive impact.

Look at Unilever: years ago, Unilever realized its warehouse distribution model wouldn’t work well in rural India. Company executives could have sat down and decided that they’d push forward anyway, because the company would still make some money. This would benefit the company and shareholders, but leave Indian society largely unchanged.

This isn’t what Unilever did, however. Instead, it upended its traditional business model and trained local women to resell its products. This was the beginning of Project Shakti—a shift from top-down to bottom-up distribution.
Untitled2.pngProject Shakti

Unilever started the program in 2001. By 2012, more than 65,000 women were participating. These women, on average, had almost doubled their household incomes. Meanwhile, Unilever made $100 million in sales.

Whatever your perspective is on corporations, the scale and power of Project Shakti is indisputable. Unilever didn’t do well by exploitation – it did well by cooperation.

As we look to the future, this type of double bottom line work is going to be ever more important. Governments, NGOs, and activists have done their utmost to create positive change. Now, it’s time to get business involved in giving back.

This is what I like about UniversalGiving (UG). UG has joined the growing ranks of nonprofits who see businesses as partners, not as enemies. Through these partnerships, UG is able to create impact on a scale that is simply impossible acting alone.

All boats rise with the water. It’s time to start looking at business as part of the solution—not part of the problem.