Ethos Water, a Starbucks subsidiary, is a brand of bottled water with a social mission of "helping children get clean water." Ethos began in 2001 when Peter Thum had the idea after working in communities in South Africa that lacked access to clean water. Thum, who was working as consultant for McKinsey & Company at the time, realized the potential to create a bottled water brand to raise awareness and funding for safe water programs. The idea became an obsession for Thum, and he wrote the business plan for Ethos, left McKinsey, and moved to New York in early 2002 to start the venture.
Thum recruited his business school classmate Jonathan Greenblatt to join Ethos in late 2002. They launched operations as a bottled water company in August 2003, and also formed an organization called Ethos International to invest funds from the business in safe water programs.
Since only $0.05-0.10 of the retail price ($1.80) goes to charity, the Ethos brand is primarily commercial and therefore a for-profit organization. Nevertheless, as of at least 2009, Ethos, through the Starbucks Foundation, had granted more than $6 million, according to the company, to help support water, sanitation and hygiene education programs. Unlike previous socially responsible brands, Ethos pioneered linking cause to consumption, a model later replicated by brands such as Toms Shoes and Warby Parker.
In 2005 Starbucks purchased the company for $8 million.
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