August 31, 2007

A Better Bottle of Water?

Bottled water is the new Hummer. Environmentalists are focusing in on the industry, Alice Waters and others are banning it from their restaurants, and the biggest brands are owned by Pepsi Co. and other multi-national corporations. But is the industry all bad? I consider myself an environmentally conscience individual; I recycle and compost (when my bin has not gone missing – but that’s a story for another blog post), buy organic/sustainable foods + products whenever possible and generally try to minimize my footprint on this earth.

An article in last months Fast Company by Charles Fishman explored the dilemma faced by first world consumers in a global economy. Every story has two sides and Fishman did an excellent job presenting the two positions with bottle water. I was left intrigued and slightly more open to the industry after reading the article. In particular Fiji Water and a new wave of ethical bottle water has made me consider that if done correctly bottled water may have something to contribute outside of corporate profits.

Fiji Water

The latest darling of the bottle water industry is a fascinating story of marketing and cheap transportation. At first glance it appears Fiji Water is the poster child for what’s wrong in the industry. A single quote in Fishman’s article highlights the tragic irony:

Fiji Water produces more than a million bottles a day, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have reliable drinking water.

Beyond the obvious environmental and social issues; an increased carbon footprint due to shipping water half way across the globe and a local population lacking their own fresh water; lays the other half of the story. Fiji Water is actually bringing jobs and economic development by hiring local labor. They are beginning to create an infrastructure to provide water to those in need. And the reality of the water that flows out the Fijian springs is that it would slide into the ocean if it was not bottled up at the source.

Ethical Bottled Water?

Let’s face it bottled water is easy and convenient, most of us don’t think twice about buying a bottle at the local 7-11. So, what can we do to make this product more environmentally friendly? A few people already have an answer. Bottled water where the profits go to help humanitarian or environmental causes. It’s a similar concept to carbon credits you can buy to offset a plane trip. New York Magazine recently profiled these new ethical bottles of water. Is it possible to use this luxury item to create a positive difference for environmental and social issues? It makes you think if it could work with bottle water could similar solutions be applied to other products and industries?

Where does this leave us?

I’m not sure where I fall on this issue. I would like to see companies like Fiji embrace the idea of ethical business practices. Imagine if Fiji Water began buying carbon credits to offset the shipping impact their product creates. In addition, they could contribute a portion of their profits to eliminating the drinking water problems within Fiji. After all Fiji Water is marketing a dream of crystal clean water sourced in a tropical paradise the least they could do is work towards making that a reality. What about you? Where do you fall on this issue? I just got the comments up and running so I’d love to hear you’re opinions.

Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski for Water bottles