Bottled water is anathema to many hardcore environmentalists. Taking water from the land and sky, putting it into containers made from oil, and shipping it around the world defies core eco-friendly values in many ways. Yet premium bottled water producer FIJI Water is aggressively marketing itself as green. You may have seen ads with the slogan “Our Promise, Our Progress” or “Every drop is green” and images of a bottle of FIJI Water next to a big green earth. On the bottle itself, the iconic hibiscus flower is now joined by a prominent green water droplet, and the back of the bottle invites you to visit FIJIGreen.com to find out more about the environmental impact of the water you’re drinking.
FIJI Water became the first bottled water company to publish its carbon footprint in 2007. Since then, the company has emphasized its commitment to the environment and transparency.
FIJI Water says its product is actually carbon negative, claiming the production of a single one-liter bottle equals results in the reduction of 115 grams of CO2 equivalent units (eq). The company plans to reduce its CO2 emissions by 25% over the next three years, convert to 50% renewable energy by 2010, and is pursuing recycling and reforestation programs on the island of Fiji.
But is a bottle of FIJI Water truly green? I grilled FIJI Water’s senior manager of sustainable growth, Barbara Chung, who had some interesting answers. Read the interview with FIJI Water below…
INTERVIEW WITH FIJI SUSTAINABILITY MANAGER BARBARA CHUNG
FIJI was included in a negative article about bottled water that appeared in Fast Company in July of 2007. A few months later, FIJI announced its sustainable growth initiative. Was the article a catalyst for FIJI’s green efforts?
Environmental stewardship has always been a core value for FIJI Water. The breadth and depth of our sustainable growth program cannot be thrown together in the course of a few months in response to a magazine article. You can’t save the largest rainforest in Fiji overnight – not if you want to do it right!
Our commitment to environmental stewardship is why the company decided over a decade ago to make the bottle square instead of round – to be able to pack more product into a shipping container. The square bottles result in 10% fewer shipping containers than would otherwise be required.
This is also why we make our own preforms and blow our own bottles on site rather than purchase preforms or bottles from elsewhere. By doing this, we have eliminated the need for over 10,000 containers of raw materials shipments into Fiji in 2007 alone, and we have significantly reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants caused by transportation.
Give me a summary of the main thrusts of FIJI’s green initiative and some of the benchmarks you are aiming for.
To make FIJI Water a carbon negative product:
- We are reducing CO2 emissions across our products’ entire life cycle by 25% over the next three years.
- By 2010, 50% of our energy will come from renewable sources like wind to power our bottling facility in Fiji and biodiesel for transportation.
- We are reducing product packaging by at least 20% by 2010.
- We are investing in reforestation and renewable energy projects that will reduce CO2 in the atmosphere by at least 120% of the remaining life cycle emissions.
Every FIJI Water bottle helps remove carbon from the atmosphere. For example, our one-liter bottle results in removal of about 115 grams of CO2 (the same effect as shutting down a laptop overnight instead of leaving it on). All together, everyone who drinks FIJI Water in 2008 will help remove more than 20,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, which is equivalent to planting over 500,000 trees. We have also become the first privately held company to join the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Supply Chain Leadership Collaboration.
“We consider our goals, whether they are 50% renewable energy or 20% reduction in packaging, as the minimum we ought to achieve, not the maximum.”
To guarantee that our offset projects generate the desired benefits, we are developing a reforestation project with Conservation International this year. We are planting native species in degraded areas that will not only sequester carbon, but also create biodiversity refuges and protect watersheds.
What will FIJI do to keep going green after those benchmarks are attained? For example, will FIJI be satisfied after converting to using renewable sources for 50% of its energy, will the company pursue a higher standard after the initial benchmark is achieved?
Sustainability is a journey rather than a destination, and there is always room for improvement in how any company does business. We are aiming to achieve the goals to which you refer by 2010. We will evaluate – not only in 2010, but today and on an ongoing basis – how we can continue to improve in environmental stewardship. Our carbon negative commitment will continue beyond 2010.
As for our conservation work, again, we are working to save the Sovi Basin in perpetuity. But we continue to look for other opportunities to do similar work. The technology for incorporating recycled materials in packaging will continue to improve beyond 2010, and as it does we’ll be able to increase our usage of recycled materials. We consider our goals, whether they are 50% renewable energy or 20% reduction in packaging, as the minimum we ought to achieve, not the maximum.
FIJI has one of the thickest, heaviest bottles among bottled water brands. After the 20% reduction in packaging, how will the bottle’s heft compare to other brands like Nestle and Poland Spring?
FIJI declined to answer this question.
If it’s still heavier, is it because FIJI feels that having a heftier bottle is an essential part of the product?
We are in the process of determining how much we can continue to lightweight the bottles, but we will go with the lightest weight possible that still maintains the integrity and quality of our product.
How could a lighter weight bottle compromise the integrity and quality of the product, which is water? Is Fiji is keeping the bottle heftier than other brands for marketing reasons, for example because it sends a subconscious signal of quality to the consumer, or for whatever reason?
FIJI declined to answer this question.
As technology progresses, it’s becoming easier to go green and new alternatives to traditionally unsustainable practices are becoming available. Is FIJI looking into new technology that will allow new plastic bottles to be made from recycled PET?
Yes, we have already run tests at the plant looking to incorporate recycled PET into our bottles. Further performance tests are required to determine the level of rPET that is feasible for us to implement in the near term.
REDUCE > REUSE > RECYCLE
Of the three Rs, recycling is considered the least impactful. What is FIJI doing to reduce and reuse?
One of the most exciting things we’ve learned through assessing our carbon footprint is that recycling is the single most impactful thing anyone can do to reduce the carbon footprint of any packaged beverage, not just FIJI Water. For example, a consumer can reduce the carbon footprint of a one-liter bottle of FIJI Water by 30% through the simple act of recycling the packaging.
This is why we consider our advocacy for recycling programs and policies some of the most important work we do. Only half of the U.S. population is covered by curbside recycling programs, a number that has not changed over the past decade despite the increase in usage of most types of packaging. Rather than tell people to stop buying packaged products, don’t you think it’s more effective to press for expansion of recycling programs?
“Sustainability is a journey rather than a destination, and there is always room for improvement in how any company does business.”
As mentioned in a previous question, we have committed to reducing our packaging by at least 20% by 2010 and incorporating more recycled materials. Our cartons already use about 55% recycled content. Because we make our own preforms and bottles, we have avoided over 10,000 containers of raw materials shipments into Fiji in 2007 alone. We will reduce our manufacturing waste by at least 33% by 2010.
In addition to this, we have set up a recycling infrastructure at our bottling facility that not only helps us recycle what we cannot reclaim, but also provides a recycling facility for the local villages that previously had no such recourse.
GETTING IT AROUND THE WORLD
Fast Company reported that half the wholesale cost of FIJI Water is transportation. Has FIJI considered a reduction of sales or stopping shipments to areas that are especially far away or difficult to access by container ship?
The million local Fijians who live there deserve the benefits of economic development, and the way they’re going to achieve that is through trade with the rest of the world. FIJI Water makes up 3% of Fiji’s GDP, 20% of its exports and several hundred of its best-paid manufacturing jobs.
Is all FIJI water always shipped by container ship?
It travels by container ship from Fiji to destination ports around the world. Once on land, it usually travels by rail or truck.
HEALTHIER = GREENER?
The bottled water business has an innately negative impact on the environment and this impact is worsened when the water comes from as far away as Fiji. How do you justify to your critics shipping water to places like New York City, which has the best-tasting tap water in the United States?
It’s a misconception that bottled water is a substitute for tap water. Bottled water actually replaces other packaged beverages — the increase in bottled water volume over the past few years has mirrored the decline in carbonated soft drinks and sugary fruit drinks. There has actually been no material change in the consumption of tap water during this period of time.
In this 24/7, on-the-go society, we have few healthy eating habits in this country, and bottled water is one of them. Consumption of bottled water has helped eliminated nearly one trillion calories from our diets during each of the past two years – a triumph for health and good nutrition.
Bottled water, with the exception of purified water, is a natural product that requires no added ingredients or processing, while sodas and fruit-flavored beverages require farming and production of other raw materials that emit carbon, generate waste and require large amounts of water. As bottled water becomes a larger proportion of the beverage industry, it actually contributes to the overall greening of that industry.