Following the recent floods in the UK, bottled water companies provided emergency supplies when mains water services broke down. Their largely unsung actions gave the companies a chance to demonstrate their social responsibility, writes Annette Farr, at a time when the erratic weather patterns have focused public attention on environmental concerns and climate change.

Given the political and ethical issues related to bottled water, the chance for water companies to demonstrate a social conscience and socially responsible outlook never goes amiss.

Bottled water producers played a significant role in the relief effort following Hurricane Katrina in US in 2005 and, on a smaller scale, UK water bottlers were able to provide much needed emergency supplies during the recent floods in the UK.

Immediately after safe mains water dried up for the residents of some parts of Gloucestershire and they were forced to rely on bottled water, Danone Waters UK (whose Evian brand is the market leader in the UK) donated and despatched 500,000 litres to the county, further arranging a supply of 1m litres on a daily basis until the crisis was over.

Nestlé Waters UK worked with local organisations to provide clean drinking water for those affected, donating 1,248 POWWOW large water bottles, each containing 18.5 litres, to the Flood Relief Centre in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire.

The company also liaised with Severn Trent to support them in meeting the demand for clean drinking water in the area. "Our logistical capabilities have enabled us to respond quickly and effectively. We were pleased to be able to offer practical support for those affected," a company spokesperson said.

Coca-Cola Enterprises, too, coordinated its free contribution with Severn Trent delivering 250,000 500ml bottles of its Malvern Water brand to Tewkesbury Council for distribution to the local community.

Meanwhile, Britvic Soft Drinks donated 200,000 litres when the crisis first broke and Abbey Well followed up an initial donation of 220,000 litres by supplying 100,000 litres on a daily basis.

Aqua Direct despatched water in tankers and in bottles, including bottled water earmarked for customers (with customers' permission, of course). Princes Gate Spring Water provided free tankered water to the contingency ground force team and a "trunker" service at cost.

With its staff working around the clock, newcomer to the UK bottled water market Saka natural mineral water made available over 4m litres of bottled natural mineral water. Sales and marketing director Nevid Ahmed said: "We could not just stand by and see those poor people with flooded homes denied pure, fresh drinking water too."

And in the aftermath of the floods, smoothie producer innocent sent 75,000 kids smoothies to the Red Cross depot in Bristol where they were put into food packs and distributed to families and children in the flooded areas.

None of this, nor the other support offered by the soft drinks industry, has attracted media attention. Neither have the companies sought publicity for their benevolence, which puts their response in an even better light.

The pressure on bottled water as a product from campaigners often focuses on the "what's wrong with tap-water" idea and the considerable environmental cost of all the packaging, processing and distributing of bottled water. Of course, at times like these when mains supplies break down, the presence of a packaged water infrastructure becomes much more than an enterprise opportunity for drinks manufacturers.

Although the floods provided an opportunity for water bottlers to demonstrate their social conscience, the generally wet summer weather effectively put paid to their hopes of a good summer's trading.

Weather is a significant factor in soft drink performance. Britvic points out in its The Changing Face of Soft Drinks 2007 report that 2006 saw the hottest summer since records began 234 years ago. This was a key contributor to the impressive 12% growth in soft drinks sales from the summer of 2005.

But while 2007 began on an optimistic note with an exceptionally warm spring, meteorologists forecasting a heatwave for the summer, and the Bottled Water Information Service issuing advice on the importance of hydration during hot summer weather, the heatwave has failed to materialise.

It is too early to gauge the overall effect the poor British summer has had on soft drinks sales, but it's worth remembering the all-important 'degree accelerator'. In last summer's heatwave the British Soft Drinks Association was quoted as saying that "for every degree the temperature rises above 14°C, sales of water increase by 5.2%".

For international companies, the story may be a little better. While the UK has been inundated, mainland Europe has been experiencing extreme heat and drought. Of course, the erratic weather patterns focus attention on the issue of climate change, and with it the environmental policies of major businesses, including drinks companies. So perhaps it is no bad thing that water companies have had a chance to demonstrate their social responsibility in a practical and vital way.