Americans spent $10.6 billion on bottled water in 2009, paying approximately 1,000 times the cost of tap water, although nearly half of all bottled water actually comes from municipal tap water sources.
Moreover, manufacturing bottled water in the United States used the energy equivalent of 32 and 54 million barrels of oil respectively to produce and transport plastic water bottles in 2007. Approximately 75 percent of the empty plastic bottles find their way to landfills, lakes, streams and oceans, where they may never fully decompose. Source
These are the kinds of issues Thomas Petrini pondered back in 2007 when he attended a sustainability conference during his MBA work at Duquesne University.
Petrini, a 2005 College of Business and Economics finance graduate, was troubled by these figures, but also saw in them a business opportunity, one he is bringing to the WVU campus on a pilot basis this spring.
Today Petrini is CEO of Evive Station LLC based in Pittsburgh, his home, and the inventor of a kiosk capable of cleaning and refilling reusable BPA-free water bottles on-the-go with highly filtered/chilled water in one minute. Evive Station currently employs 25 full-time employees and contractors. Blake Barnes, business development director of Evive, and Steve Jacobs, software engineer at Evive, are West Virginia University graduates as well. Jason Yablinsky, chief financial officer and Lacy Caric, advertising business development manager are also part of the Evive team.Evive stations should be installed on the WVU campus in April.
After pondering the problems associated with bottled water, Petrini began to think of ways to make water available and to appeal to consumers, especially college students, who are accustomed to having a water bottle of some kind tucked in their backpacks.
What if, he thought, he could provide a free water bottle that could be refilled at many convenient locations with highly filtered/chilled water and daily multivitamins? Customers would like that, surely. But how to make it profitable? Advertising, of course.
When a customer receives an Evive "Smart Bottle" he or she completes a demographic survey and lists his or her "likes." It's rather like Facebook . Evive Station maintains this information, and every time a customer fills the bottle, up pops a very targeted advertisement, not unlike Google ads on web sites, but in this case on a screen at the Evive Station. In fact, the Smart Bottle will be integrated into social media sites such as Facebook so that users can get coupons and share them with friends directly from an interactive touch panel at Evive Station.
The Evive Station team just signed a contract with WVU and four units will be operating on the WVU campus by April; two in the Mountainlair and two in the Recreation Center. Current WVU students can sign up to be among the first to receive a Smart Bottle and access to Evive Stations by visiting www.evivestation.com.
Petrini, 28, was working at H. J. Heinz Co. on technology management projects when this idea coalesced. "I understood the technology at that point and knew the vision could be engineered," he said. "After securing a multi-million dollar funding round, we partnered with Daedalus Product Development in Pittsburgh to design the stations. The whole thing has been in design for well over a year."
One of Evive's team goals is to educate the public and potential Evive Station users about how harmful bottled water is and why Evive Station makes being sustainable convenient. A daunting task, nevertheless, he thinks his idea has strong potential.
"When you have celebrities doing advertisements for bottled water, well, they convince a lot of people," he said. "So, we know the educational side is going to be very important. But even for the people who don't care about the environment, this is essentially a free service."
The experience of being an inventor who has filed a patent and who is using what he learned in the corporate world, undergraduate, and graduate school is exhilarating, Petrini said.
"Steve Jobs gave a great speech in which he said that if you find what you love to do, it won't feel like work," he said. "Well, doing what I'm doing now is difficult, but it's the most satisfying experience anyone can have on professional level—bringing an idea to reality. All the major brands, Kraft, Heinz, all those are people's names. They represent thousands of products. So, this is certainly very exciting for all of us at Evive. It has been an incredible experience."
Clement Solomon, director of WVU's Office of Sustainability, said he first began working with Petrini and his colleagues on the project a year ago. "I think this is the sort of innovation at WVU that we can all be proud of," he said. "This is encouraging sustainability through innovation." He said his office is always open to sustainability ideas from students, faculty, alumni and staff.
Solomon said that WVU is becoming an institution that is known for its efforts in recycling, green building and energy reduction, to name a few programs that are aimed at reducing negative environmental impacts. The Evive stations, he said, will have an immediate impact on reducing the number of plastic bottles used on campus, but will also have a more long-term effect. They will help circulate the notion that bottled water and its associated plastic waste should be avoided and "how our individual actions have an impact on our community and planet."
"The Evive stations will help change behaviors, plus they will help reduce plastic bottle use on the front end," he said. "This is better that recycling efforts after use. We won't have to deal with sorting, recycling, landfill costs and transporting of used plastic bottles. Over time, as the public adopts this idea into everyday lifestyles, we hope our campus will be plastic bottle free."