It began as a normal dinner at the new BLT Steakhouse in Los Angeles when a fidgety waiter with spiky hair and smart spectacles addressed the table with that signature question, "Still or sparkling?" For almost a generation, bottled water has been the nouveau-champagne of the high-end dining circuit. At the most fashionable dinner parties and restaurants, a well-placed bottle of Fiji or San Pellegrino wasn't just a drinking choice but the embodiment of a healthy and sophisticated lifestyle. And then the end came.
A crowd dotted with Prius-driving movie people and hemp-wearing writers began specifying "tap water" with an air of pride that had evolved from embarrassed whimpers at the beginning of the antibottled water movement. Requests for tap water usually were greeted with a blank stare from staff well aware that frequently poured bottled water can add almost 15% to the average dinner check and tip. But this particular time there was no roll of the eyes. A few seconds later on the table arrived a selection of stylish, chunky water bottles -- the sort of fancy Italian kind that usually costs $10 and requires two hands to pass around.
Those at the table stared in silence. Guests were left speechless as they pondered the enormous carbon footprint of transporting such heavy bottles across the ocean atop double-tailored diesel trucks with heavy-footed drivers and into the basement of this L.A. restaurant. When the waiter was asked about the mistake, he informed the table that it was
, an in-house water filtration system that provides bottled water from an on-site tap. Essentially, it was filtered, carbonated water from the tap, but really delicious and served in trendy re-usable water bottles. The table drank, and then drank some more, quietly loving its bottled water all over again while marveling at what could be the greenest innovation ever to hit the water world.
Natura Water was invented by Italians and engineered in America. It's the only on-site water purification system currently on the market offering chilled sparkling and still water. Previous carbonated systems tended to lack a good design, looking more like explosive helium canisters that could get one placed on the government's No Fly List.
The Natura Water system is sleek and chic, and offers a variety of stainless-steel water filtration models that look like a hybrid espresso machine with three minimalist pull-down dispensers. The models are offered on a rental or purchase basis, depending on the size and needs of the business or residence.
The inner filtration system of Natura Water is supplied from the everyday water line rerouted into the machine and its two high-grade carbon filters that remove dirt, rust, sediments, chlorine and contaminants like lead or mercury. From there, the freshly filtered water flows through an ultraviolet disinfection chamber that kills 99.99% of all microorganisms and germs. The final step of the filtration system takes place in the refrigeration and carbonation chamber, a device made entirely of stainless steel that allows the machine to maintain a constant temperature and carbonation before being poured into a glass.
Every Natura Water system comes with a selection of glass bottles in sizes up to 1 liter. These iconic bottles are available in thick frosted or translucent glass with embossed logo and chrome-colored cap with a red stripe. Not only stylish, these all-glass bottles are ideal for re-use and not prone to the deterioration and hazards involved in re-using disposable plastic bottles.
Certain restaurants -- such as Alice Waters' Chez Panisse -- prefer to use their own glassware. The Berkeley, Calif., eatery was one of the first to remove all bottled water from its menu, serving instead its in-house filtered water in engraved crystal pitchers.
Several cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Salt Lake City have banned the purchase of bottled water at all city offices and are proactively trying to ban or tax the sale of all bottled water within city limits. Behind this campaign is the enormous carbon footprint involved in transporting bottles like Perrier, Evian and San Pellegrino from places as far away as Italy and France.
"The transportation, the pollution, the recycling costs -- there is nothing wrong with drinking water where it is made," says Natura co-founder Marco de Plano, "but it is wrong to transport it and subsidize it all."
Of the 30 million bottles of water consumed every year, about four-fifths of those plastic bottles end up in local trash containers that are then picked up by gas-guzzling garbage trucks and deposited in the country's overflowing landfills, according to a report from ABC News.
Getting the Natura Water system in the hands of residential clients is the next step. Right now, the cost and installation of the machine makes it practical only for households drinking lots of water. A recent quote in the Los Angeles area for an entry-level residential water system was $4,800 with an additional $300 for installation. If a family of four is drinking three liters of water a day, it would take a bit more than a year for the family to recoup the cost of the machine (based on an average of 99 cents per bottle of water). But taking into account the amount of shopping time and gas spent to and from the grocery store, the savings could be greater.
Installing the Natura Water system in restaurants makes for a strong argument. It saves on delivery charges and space rental while delivering an environmental message to patrons one glass of water at a time. Perhaps that's why restaurants such as Le Bernardin, Le Cirque, the Palace Hotel and Chicago's Peninsula Hotel all have joined this water revolution.
Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.