Washington ranked as one of the least honest cities in the country in a very informal, non-scientific social experiment done by the Bethesda-based Honest Tea company after someone allegedly stole money from a box that offered tea on an honor system.
The Honest Tea firm, which makes organic iced tea, set up a stand offering bottles of its tea at 27 cities throughout the country, including D.C., and used the honor system by asking people to leave $1 in a box when they took a tea.
But in the District’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, someone stole money from the box. Executives at Honest Tea wouldn’t say exactly how much was in the box but said it ranged between $5 to $20. The theft happened in the early morning, officials believe, and they did not report it to police.
It was the first time in the six years that the company has been doing its experiment that someone has actually stolen money from the collection box, officials with Honest Tea said.
“We’ve had people pretend to steal the money box in years past but no one has actually lifted the lid and taken money out,” said Dan Forman, director of public relations at Honest Tea. “This is the first time ever, no matter the city, where that has happened.”
As part of its social experiment, the company said it has a team of workers who sit on benches or watch from nearby spots inconspicuously to watch and see just how honest – or not – people are after they take a tea from the stand. They track who paid or stole their drinks in what the company calls a “light-hearted experiment.”
“It’s always refreshing to see that Americans are more honest than most people assume,” said Seth Goldman, a co-founder of the company, which started in the late 1990s and was later bought by the Coca-Cola Company. “During these election cycles we are reminded that we have different views across the country, but that doesn’t mean people are dishonest.”
Of the 27 cities where Honest Tea did its experiment this year, it found that overall, 94 percent of people were honest. That’s down slightly from last year’s rate of 95 percent.
The most honest cities in this year’s ranking were Atlanta (100 percent), Indianapolis (99 percent) and San Diego (97 percent).
The least honest cities included Tampa (85 percent), Boston (85 percent) and Providence (83 percent).
Other highlights from its findings: Women are typically more honest than men, people with brown hair appeared to be the most honest (at 96 percent) and bald people came in at 91 percent.
In general, Honest Tea said it sees a range of behavior in its experiment. At times, parents use the boxes with tea as a teaching lesson for their kids about the honor system. In other cases, executives said they sometimes have seen people put in $1 and take a few bottles instead of just one.
The company said it plans to donate the money it collected in its social experiment – about $5,000 – to FoodCorps, which is a group that helps promote better nutrition for kids.