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Fiji water throws TerraPass office into confused hysteria

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Well, not really. But this is an interesting curveball. Fiji Water has announced a raft of sustainability initiatives, including a pledge to become not just carbon neutral but carbon negative through direct investments in renewable energy and the purchase of carbon offsets:

Specifically, the company says it will install a windmill in 2009 to provide energy to its bottling plant in Fiji in the South Pacific; it will ship bottles of water intended for sale on the East Coast to the Port of Philadelphia, rather than truck them east from Los Angeles, as it does now; it will use biodiesel and other alternative fuels in its trucks and as a backup at its plant when the winds are calm; and it will reduce the amount of plastic and paper it uses for bottles and cartons.

Understand that the carbon community holds Fiji Water in roughly the same regard they do Hummers. That is, with a disdain that borders on the irrational. (“You mean to tell me you’re taking a product that can be produced locally and is available for free virtually everywhere on the planet, and replacing it with an expensive version that is packaged in tiny plastic bottles before being shipped 10,000 miles on emissions-spewing cargo boats and trucks? Kill me now.”)

So here’s the question: if people are going to be drinking bottled water anyway, is Fiji now an ecologically responsible choice?

The article includes the usual dueling talking points from Connie Conciliatory and Sammy Shrill, the two environmentalists who are always trotted out to react to such announcements. My quick polling of the TerraPass office shows sentiment to be running pretty heavily against Fiji.

Personally, I plan to continue avoiding bottled water, and recommend that others do so as well. If you must drink it, look for something bottled locally. But I admit that the economic development angle of this story does give me some pause. The Pacific islands are isolated and poor. And if climate change is all we care about, a case can be made that these countries just shouldn’t participate in the global economy in any significant way, which is not a conclusion I’m particularly comfortable with.

Big-picture point: the sooner we put a price on carbon, the sooner these environmental considerations will be priced into the products themselves, and we can all fret a little less when making daily purchase decisions.

Photo available under Creative Commons license from Flickr user Brian Vo.

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