Written on the side of a bottle of Earth Water is a big and bold declaration: "THE EARTH GROUP IS COMMITTED TO FIGHTING GLOBAL HUNGER." The proclamation goes on to say how the company fights global hunger: "In partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), each year we provide a minimum of 400,000 school meals to children around the world. BY DRINKING EARTH WATER, YOU ARE SAVING LIVES."
So if you were wondering why sips of Earth Water taste a little better and quench thirst a little bit more than sips from other bottled waters, it might be because you're hydrating your charitable spirit and supporting a company that makes children smile. Also, if you're in Edmonton, maybe you feel good about supporting a local, eco-friendly company. As Matt Moreau, co-founders of The Earth Group, points out, "Earth Water is bottled here in Edmonton. We source the caps, labels, bottles, everything ... we actually blow the bottles in-house here in Edmonton, which means that we aren't trucking them in from the States or anything like that. It cuts down our carbon footprint. We also add an enzyme into it that makes it biodegradable, so within two and a half years that bottle will be thirty-two per cent reduced and within ten years it'll be completely gone after sitting in a landfill."
"We exist entirely to feed and educate children around the world. We do so in partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme."
They also sell Earth Tea—which is farmed just outside of Edmonton and is one of the only Canadian-grown teas on the market—and Earth Coffee—sourced from strictly fair trade, certified organic, rainforest certified alliance growers and farms, meaning "the people who farm Earth Coffee are working in safe conditions, and are being paid fair, equitable wages."
When asked to describe the company, Matt says, "We're a social enterprise based here in Edmonton. We exist entirely to feed and educate children around the world, and we do so in partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme." Matt sits, surrounded by bottles of Earth Water, in a POÄNG armchair, in the corner of a warehouse that's been converted into an oasis. He has kind eyes, an inviting smile, and a proclivity for being barefoot. He buries his feet into the shag rug on the floor and says, "We're actually the only products in the world ever to bear a UN logo. It's a very very unique contract that we have with them that sees us giving one hundred per cent of our profits to them to feed and educate children around the world.”
According to Matt, The Earth Group started as a bottled water company, but they've never really considered themselves a beverage company. They view the products they sell as vehicles to raise funds for and awareness of "the incredible work that the WFP is doing around the world. And ultimately to send as many kids as possible to school where they receive free food and free water."
The co-founders, Matt Moreau and Kori Chilibeck, were born and raised in Edmonton. They grew up playing hockey and going on ski trips. They also got to travel aboard; the experiences they had on these trips catalysed their desire to start a social conscious company that creates positive change in the world. Matt went with his parents on one of their yearly medical missions to South America. "They let me come down for the first time when I was nineteen," Matt recalls. "My eyes were just truly opened to seeing how people lived out there. Kids that were walking around the streets barefoot, that weren't in school, that were hungry, and I knew there was something that I wanted to do to find a way to give back."
"There's so many things that one could tackle in the world, and this is just something that we truly believe in."
Kori had a similar eye-opening experience—he was doing a base camp trek up to Mount Everest, just another North American tourist, wearing North Face gear. A sixteen-year-old Sherpa porter walked closely behind him, carrying his bag. At around 17,000 feet, they passed a old man on the trail. It was cold, like -20°C cold, and this man was barefoot, wearing a tore jacket, no tuque, no gloves, and had an enormous pack strapped to his back. Kori, with the help of an interpreter, stopped to chat with the man. Then they took a look inside the man's bag to see what important and heavy gear he was hauling up to climbers. Peering into the bag, they saw only cans. The bag was full of unopened cans of pop. In that moment, Kori thought, "These massive, multinational corporations are literally making money off the backs of some of the world's poorest people. So why couldn't a company operate on a global scale and have a good culture and have a good product and pay their employees well but at the end of the day give" back and help people around the world.
"We were both lucky to do some travel at a younger age," Matt explains, "and once you get outside of Edmonton, the bubble that is Edmonton, then you realize that a huge proportion of the population in the world does not live like we do."
In the early days of the company, their warehouse was Kori's garage and they would cruise around town in Kori's grandpa's van, dropping off two cases of water here, three cases there "and walked up and down Whyte Ave and Jasper Ave with a backpack full of water, just knocking on cafe and restaurant doors saying, 'Hey, this is our story. Do you want to give us a chance rather than the Coke or Pepsi product that you have?' And it quickly kind of grew from there beyond Edmonton into Calgary and across Western Canada and onwards."
Today, that old van is parked outside of their warehouse/office space, their products are sold in over six hundred locations, and The Earth Group has provided food, water, and education to 1.9 million children around the world.
"I think that at the end of the day, the world's problems are so vast that if we try to tackle everything and fix everything, we're not going to make any difference in the world, we're not going to move that needle in any direction ... We've been lucky enough to go overseas and see firsthand the benefits from these programmes the WFP is funding, and it's incredibly inspiring and motivating for us to get over there and go to a village in the middle of nowhere and find these parents who are hugging us, in tears, saying, 'Thank you, thank you.' They have no idea who we are, but they just know that we're the reason their kids are getting an education and they have an opportunity to lift that generation out of poverty. Again, there's so many things that one could tackle in the world, and this is just something that we truly believe in."