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Feeling Bubbly?

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Who’d have thought a company enabling you to make fizzy water at home could be at the heart of as much controversy as SodaStream have been?

Not only was this Israeli based firm criticised for launching a manufacturing plant sited on the West Bank and then pilloried for closing the plant leading to mass redundancies amongst Palestinian employees (damned if you do and damned if you don’t) but the big bottled drinks companies are unhappy with Soda Stream vilifying them.

Their ‘free the bubbles’ ads were banned from the Super Bowl breaks in 2013 and 2014, supposedly for mocking Coke and Pepsi as they showed their bottles exploding. Nevertheless, the resulting media focus and having Scarlett Johansson fronting one of these ads certainly helped drive viral views.

There’s the exciting high pitched squealing of effervescing bubbles followed by that long sigh, as if the machine itself is ‘aaahing’ with pleasure

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) have issued a cease and desist order rebuking SodaStream for their 2016 advert. The central premise of their latest Game of Thrones themed ‘Shame or Glory’ advert criticises the purchase of single use plastic bottles. SodaStream have kicked back claiming to be a small company fighting for the planet in the face of self-interested, cash focused, big businesses. Once again, the resulting media circus is likely to help SodaStream sales, especially with Christmas around the corner.

I already have a SodaStream at home. I admit I bought it for some of the key reasons cited in their advertising; avoiding lugging heavy bottles back from the supermarket and also to ease my environmental consciousness. A little bit of nostalgia played a part as I grew up with a SodaStream. Another element which I won’t underestimate is the great fun factor – it’s not just my children who enjoy making their own sparkling water. There’s the exciting high pitched squealing of effervescing bubbles followed by that long sigh, as if the machine itself is ‘aaahing’ with pleasure. It’s the sound of expectation, you know a refreshing drink is moments away and you have the satisfaction of having made it yourself – well, with the help of a machine and a CO2 canister.

Consumers and YouTube vloggers alike deride SodaStream’s flavours claiming they are a sad shadow of the famous brands they are trying to copycat. I’m sure it’s true but as we don’t buy flavours for our fizzy water at home, this doesn’t bother me. I’m happy to drink mine ‘naked’ or graced with a slice of lemon if I’m feeling adventurous.

However, my conscience isn’t totally at ease, the West Bank manufacturing debacle is difficult to swallow. I may be saving on supporting the transportation of 1000s of bottled drinks but my carbon footprint is reduced, not completely erased as I still need to purchase transported metal gas canisters (albeit I recycle my empties).

It’s difficult to be a conscientious consumer and navigate the growing volume of information available online about the products we buy and therefore the companies we choose to support. There’s no easy solution but while I ponder the political and environmental impact of my purchasing decisions, I’m going to make myself another glass of bubbly water.

Vanessa Lenton – Head of Regional Media

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