Consumers Want to Make the World a Better Place

"We think of water being available, as being free, as being a human right. And yet at the same time, we abuse the availability of water," says Peter Thum, the founder of Ethos, a company that sells expensive bottled water to help third world countries have clean drinking water. Consumers can enjoy a bottle of his fresh H20 and help people in need at the same time.


Thum tapped into a universal desire to make a positive impact on the planet. In 2005, he sold Ethos to Starbucks for $7.7 million. In our latest installment of Big Think's Edge, Thum explains how to launch a successful company that leaves a lasting legacy of good. Profits and helping make the world a better place can have a happy marriage. 

The inspiration behind Ethos water came from using consumer behavior to tackle a social issue. The brand was developed to fund the cause and to communicate its goal of providing clean drinking water to places that need it most. It turned out to be a big hit among consumers, and, of course, it earned the attention of Starbucks. 

Companies should experiment and strive to produce socially-conscious products, says Thum. Neither Ethos or the Toyota Prius, for instance, are perfect solutions to a problem. But they do move the technology in the right direction. Social and environmental factors play into people's decisions to buy these products and therefore create a new market. The result is competition and improvements on an imperfect technology.

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