Some good old fashioned muckracking adventure journalism from the September/October 2009 Issue of Mother Jones: An excerpt from Anna Lenzer’s “Fiji Water: Spin the Bottle”
“… The bus dropped me off at a deserted intersection, where a weather-beaten sign warning off would-be trespassers in English, Fijian, and Hindi rattled in the tropical wind. Once I reached the plant, the bucolic quiet gave way to the hum of machinery spitting out some 50,000 square bottles (made on the spot with plastic imported from China) per hour. The production process spreads across two factory floors, blowing, filling, capping, labeling, and shrink-wrapping 24 hours a day, five days a week. The company won’t disclose its total sales; Fiji Water’s vice president of corporate communications told me the estimate of 180 million bottles sold in 2006, given in a legal declaration by his boss, was wrong, but declined to provide a more solid number.
From here, the bottles are shipped to the four corners of the globe; the company—which, unlike most of its competitors, offers detailed carbon-footprint estimates on its website—insists that they travel on ships that would be making the trip anyway, and that the Fiji payload only causes them to use 2 percent more fuel. In 2007, Fiji Water announced that it planned to go carbon negative by offsetting 120 percent of emissions via conservation and energy projects starting in 2008. It has also promised to reduce its pre-offset carbon footprint by 25 percent next year and to use 50 percent renewable energy, in part by installing a windmill at the plant.
The offsetting effort has been the centerpiece of Fiji Water’s $5 million “Fiji Green” marketing blitz, which brazenly urges consumers to drink imported water to fight climate change. The Fiji Green website claims that because of the 120-percent carbon offset, buying a big bottle of Fiji Water creates the same carbon reduction as walking five blocks instead of driving. Former Senior VP of Sustainable Growth Thomas Mooney noted in a 2007 Huffington Post blog post that “we’d be happy if anyone chose to drink nothing but Fiji Water as a means to keep the sea levels down.” (Metaphorically speaking, anyway: As the online trade journal ClimateBiz has reported, Fiji is using a “forward crediting” model under which it takes credit now for carbon reductions that will actually happen over a few decades.)
Fiji Water has also vowed to use at least 20 percent less packaging by 2010—which shouldn’t be too difficult, given its bottle’s above-average heft. (See “Territorial Waters.”) The company says the square shape makes Fiji Water more efficient in transport, and, hey, it looks great: Back in 2000, a top official told a trade magazine that “What Fiji Water’s done is go out there with a package that clearly looks like it’s worth more money, and we’ve gotten people to pay more for us.”
Selling long-distance water to green consumers may be a contradiction in terms. But that hasn’t stopped Fiji from positioning its product not just as an indulgence, but as an outright necessity for an elite that can appreciate its purity. As former Fiji Water CEO Doug Carlson once put it, “If you like Velveeta cheese, processed water is okay for you.” (“All waters are not created equal” is another long-standing Fiji Water slogan.) The company has gone aggressively after its main competitor—tap water—by calling it “not a real or viable alternative” that can contain “4,000 contaminants,” unlike Fiji’s “living water.” “You can no longer trust public or private water supplies,” co-owner Lynda Resnick wrote in her book, Rubies in the Orchard. …”
Keep reading at Mother Jones.