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Brita, Leading The Water Revolution

The German maker of water filters finds it crazy that we are still shipping bottled water all around the world. And both its message and its adaptation to different markets are paying off.

A water 'alternative'...
A water 'alternative'...
Valérie Leboucq

TAUNUSSTEIN — The water revolution has already begun. One in five French households uses Brita's water filter pitchers. In Germany, where people usually prefer fizz, the company has recently released a filter that turns tap water in sparkling water. Even First Lady Michelle Obama has equipped the White House with a Brita "Vivreau," a water dispenser that allows you to fill up retro-looking glass bottles with still or sparkling water.

The key to the German company's success is its clever adaptation to different markets. "We adapt our products to our clients' tastes by improving the quality of the water they consume, whatever their choice," explains Markus Hankammer, who has been leading the company his father created in 1970 for 15 years.

And for one of its latest targets, China, Brita decided to market a machine that dispenses hot water. "The quality of water is not an issue in big cities, but everybody there still boils their water by force of habit," Hankammer says.

Though the product is only available in Shanghai and Beijing, Brita’s sales figures jumped by $19 million in a single year, putting the company's turnover above $440 million, 80% of which is made outside of Germany.

"We really are benefitting from the success of Mercedes, BMW and Audi, which has done a lot for the reputation of "Made in Germany,"" Hankammer says.

Warm or fresh, sparkling or still, to drink at home, at the office or in restaurants, Brita's recipe to "optimize" the taste of water is always the same and is based on activated carbon filters that are sold with its pitchers and dispensers. These filters eliminate most of the limescale and chlorine, as well as microorganisms that, although they’re not dangerous for our health, can give tap water a bad taste.

Half of the filter production is done in Taunusstein, a small west German town where the company, which employs 650 people in Germany, is headquartered. To hold costs down, the whole process is automated. The same is true in Britain, where Brita owns a site of the same size, and in its smaller branches in Switzerland and Italy. But the next production unit will certainly be located in China, where Hankammer is targeting a $130 million sales figure by 2020.

Apart from China, the company's sustained growth offers development perspectives that are also important. And pollution is as much a sales argument as a concern for the company, which has been recycling its own cartridges since 1992. The carbon footprint of filtered water is 27 times less than bottled water, he says.

"It's absurd to continue transporting bottled water across the world."

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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