One evening last week, while Namshin Kim of Everett was trying on clothes at Nordstrom, a salesperson offered her a bottle of water with...

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One evening last week, while Namshin Kim of Everett was trying on clothes at Nordstrom, a salesperson offered her a bottle of water with the store’s label.

Pleased with the freebie, she took it with her as she left.

“I’m happy,” she said, nursing the 8-ounce bottle at a table just outside the store. “I like it.”

Nordstrom buys bottled water from Kirkland-based Bottle Your Brand and is one of the company’s largest clients.

Test-drive a Lexus and you may be offered a free bottle of water, complete with the Lexus logo.

Dentists, doctors, chiropractors, salons, convention centers — all offer their own house water.

By finding their niche in the $10-billion-per-year bottled-water industry, cousins Scott and Adam Springer parlayed a $10,000 small-business loan into a $2 million revenue stream in 2007.

The two launched their business in 2004, after Scott Springer, now 31, noticed that the bottled-water section of the grocery store was as big as the beer section.

At first, they worked out of Scott Springer’s grandmother’s basement in Edmonds. Now they have a 4,500-square-foot office in Kirkland and last year sold more than 2 million bottles.

Scott Springer believes bottled water is a cut above other marketing tools because the product is at once a luxury and a necessity.

“It’s a unique item,” he said.

Any H{-2}0 could quench a customer’s thirst, but if the bottle bears the name of a business, it keeps a brand in front of a consumer longer, thus helping to sell it, said Mark Forehand, associate professor of marketing at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.

But even as marketers are quenching customers’ thirst with free branded plastic bottles, environmentalists are urging us to kick the bottled-water habit.

Plastic bottles clog landfills, create greenhouse gases and take excess energy to produce, and the industry undermines faith in municipal water systems, they say.

Around the nation and throughout the state, cities are cutting their bottled-water contracts and going back to the tap.

Gulp!

Americans today swill more than twice as much bottled water as they did a decade ago, averaging 27.6 gallons per person per year.

Sales of bottled water jumped 10 percent between 2006 and 2007, according to the International Bottled Water Association, a trade group.

The Springer cousins cut overhead by selling their product through the company’s Web site, www.bottleyourbrand.com.

Customers order their logos or design their own. The company puts them on cases of purified spring water bottled in Oregon and ships them around the country.

Scott Springer said Bottle Your Brand expects revenues of more than $5 million in revenue this year.

The demand for the product is so strong that criticism from environmentalists won’t have much of an impact, he said. Nor should it, he added, because plastic bottles can be recycled. Cindy Springer, Scott’s aunt and partner in the company, said the bottles the company uses are made in part from recycled plastic.

Environmental concerns

Bottle Your Brand has just a tiny sliver of the bottled-water market, but the product is one that has come to concern environmentalists.

“People buy bottled water as a convenience, to make life easy,” said Ruth Kaplan, chairwoman of Sierra Club’s water privatization task force.

“When they’re in that frame of mind, it’s easier to toss them out.”

Nine out of 10 plastic water bottles end up as garbage or litter, the Sierra Club says. That adds up to 30 million plastic bottles discarded each day, more than 10 billion a year.

Every liter of bottled water sold takes roughly 3 liters of water to produce, according to research by the Pacific Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

It also takes oil. More than 17 million barrels of oil were used to produce the plastic water bottles used by Americans in 2006, a process that also created more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide, the institute says.

Messages like these have started to reach local governments.

Last summer, Vancouver, Wash., replaced the bottled water City Council members sip at Monday meetings with a pitcher of water and glasses.

City officials have since asked employees not to serve bottled water at city functions and to drink from the tap using reusable cups while on the job.

Until it opted to phase out the city’s purchase of single-serving bottles, the city of San Francisco had been spending nearly $500,000 a year on bottled water.

Seattle, too, will soon require that tap water, not bottled water, be served in city departments and at city-sponsored events, said Marty McOmber, spokesman for Mayor Greg Nickels.

The move is in keeping with the mayor’s work on climate change, but it also makes economic sense, McOmber said.

Bottled water costs about $8 per gallon, but when sourced from the city’s municipal water system — among the nation’s purest — it costs about one-third of one cent per gallon.

No plans to stop

Word that bottled water might be on the way out has already trickled down to Michele Fox, co-owner of the Redmond store Olive.

In January, after she received an e-mail tip sheet of fashion trends that trashed plastic bottles as outdated and bad for the environment, Fox began to have second thoughts about giving them out at the store she co-owns with partner Kerrielynn Wilton.

Switching to glass isn’t really an option because it costs too much, she said.

Since the store doesn’t give away many bottles anyway, however, Fox said she has no plans to stop.

“Our customers like water, and it’s just a healthy thing to give out,” she said.

Amy Roe: 206-464-3347 or aroe@seattletimes.com