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Sirene Water wants to hand out free bottled water… as a way to promote corporate social responsibility? Hip to the times or dripping in hypocrisy?


Should we applaud a young inspired bunch that wants to hand out free bottled water to Australians?

Sirene Water was born with the belief – “because water should be free” – and with the practical acceptance that bottled water, rather than tap water, is the future, no matter what die-hard environmentalists might say. But the rub in accepting bottled water as the standard is its soaring cost – up to $8.33 per litre, over 5 times the price of petrol, according to Sirene.

So the Melbourne startup has set out to find sponsors who would bear the cost of bottled water in exchange for an advertising message on the bottle, and also found ways to minimize environmental harm and carbon footprint.

Demonstrating corporate social responsibility

“We aim to provide this same healthy alternative to the consumer without the ridiculous price tag and do it in a way that is more proactively eco-friendly than most existing bottled water brands,” Hwi So, the startup’s marketing director and co-founder, told Anthill. “As a young startup we hope to lead by example in demonstrating corporate social responsibility.”

Sirene Water – co-founded by the foursome of 26-year-old Alex Chen, 24 year-old Caleb Ha, 24-year-old Hwi So and 26-year-old William Yau – has the ambitious goal of nationwide or even international distribution of its water over a period of time.

Sirene Water is sourcing its water from the natural springs of Queensland’s MacPherson Ranges. The water will be packaged into certified oxo-biodegradable bottles – whose material breaks down 100 times faster than regular PET plastic bottles. Initially, it plans to establish several distribution channels in Melbourne and then replicate them in Sydney by middle of 2014 before looking at further goals.

“Our long-term objective is to establish ourselves as a household brand of free bottled water both nationally and internationally, starting with the Oceanica market,” says Hwi So.

All four Sirene founders have strong entrepreneurial credentials, starting from a young age.

Yau started his own business at the age of 16, wholesaling seafood products, before becoming a licensed pilot. Chen started his own advertising agency after graduating from an advance diploma of business advertising at RMIT. Ha, who earned a bachelor of business (Entrepreneurship) at RMIT University, runs his own education charity in Cambodia; and So started his first promotions business at age 17. He went on to study bachelors degree courses in Social Science (Legal and Dispute studies) and Business (Entrepreneurship). He sold his previous business to Sydney media giant, Urban Agent.

“Simultaneously, our objective is to raise the issue of social awareness to the youth and generation of today. Through our water, we want to send a positive message to encourage people to make a positive impact,” said So.

Breaking the shackles of commercial bottled water

So stoutly defends Sirene Water’s goal of spreading bottled water use.

“While we are aware of the numerous campaigns attempting to steer Australians towards tap water, the reality is that the Australian bottled water industry is only going to grow,” he told Anthill. “We’re being realistic to the market trends and adapting to it rather than being wishful thinkers, to think that the industry will magically go away.”

Given consumers’ strong preference for bottled water, the critical thing is this: People are simply not going to turn back to tap water and if they are denied bottled water, they would simply choose other unhealthy bottled options such as sugared drinks, asserts So.

“Bottled water competes with other beverages sitting on a supermarket shelf or in a fridge, and not with water from the tap. If bottled water were to be removed as a beverage option, consumers are likely to resort to sugary soft drinks or other unhealthy alternatives (In 2011–12, around 60% of Australian adults were classified as overweight or obese, and more than 25% of these fell into the obese category).

Sirene Water’s next handout campaign is set for 26 July at Melbourne Central.