“Puffery” prevails over substance, bottled water company says in legal proceedings. But does the public care?
Companies making exaggerated claims about their products is nothing new. But when they do it about sustaining a natural resource, the stakes are raised. And how we react matters.
It was a rare occurrence.
In a legal proceeding the bottled water company, Blue Triton (ex-Nestle), said its sustainability claims like “water is at the very core of our sustainable efforts,” are simply aspirations.
It went further saying its sustainability statements were “non-actionable puffery,” according to reporting in The Intercept. Meaning, I presume, the company was puffing up its claims beyond what it’s actually doing, but that’s not illegal.
Puffery is, “exaggerated commendation especially for promotional purposes,” according to Merriam-Webster who then wrote, “hype.”
It should come as no surprise that companies hype their claims about the products they sell and the services they provide. Hasn’t that long-been understood, think caveat emptor? It’s like the fine print disclaimer, actual results may vary. The burden is on the consumer to make a discerning choice.
The surprise is that Blue Triton admitted to it. A court will sort that out but for me, there’s a bigger bottled water issue in play here. It’s as a collective, do we care?
By law, water is held in trust for the people by the state. That’s the Public Trust Doctrine. But a company extracting it, putting it in plastic bottles and selling it back to the public issue appears to be a settled practice, it’s ok. At least in Michigan.
The public, writ large, has weighed in on the issue and is onboard with the bottled water biz. If you doubt that just look at the size of the water aisle at your local big box store. Or at the carts carrying cases of water in plastic bottles headed for cars in the parking lot.
Is it of concern to the state of Michigan? Not really. Bottled water fights where grassroots activists effectively challenged the legality of the water taking is a memory from 20 years ago when Nestle was setting up shop in Michigan..
Since, there have been skirmishes between Nestle and activists but the administrations of both political parties have sided with the bottled water biz, saying they’re required to do so by law.
Change the law you may say but there’s been no political will to climb that mountain. It’s not a Gov. Gretchen Whitmer priority and other top officials like Liesl Clark, who runs Michigan’s environment agency and Attorney General Dana Nessel occasionally give it an obligatory mention. But nothing beyond rhetoric happens. And it’s not seriously on the radar of Michigan’s legislature.
So, case closed? Yes, for now.
Puffery will prevail over substance until the public rejects bottled water by weighing in with its pocketbooks. Or until politicians have an epiphany and say, “what were we thinking.”
And as long as puffery and political "see no evil" prevail, water and society will continue to be the loser.