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For Fiji Water, a Big List of Green Goals

By Claudia H. Deutsch (The New York Times) - November 7, 2007

Fiji Water, with annual sales of about $150 million, is but a drop in the bucket of the $15 billion domestic bottled-water industry. But little Fiji could make a big splash on the sustainability front.

Let other companies talk about going carbon neutral. Today, Fiji will announce a plan to be carbon negative — that is, to more than make up for the greenhouse gases released in the creation, transportation and sales of its product. It will also announce goals for using renewable energy, preserving forests and conserving water — and it will specify how it will attain them.

“Our existence has been a strong net positive for the economy of Fiji, and we don’t want to be any less than that on climate change,” said Thomas Mooney, who in July was named Fiji Water’s first senior vice president for sustainable growth.

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.

The Fiji Water Foundation, led by Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Fiji’s owners, has also pledged money to protect the Yaqara Valley watershed, the main source of Fiji Water, and to preserve the Sovi Basin, a vast lowland rainforest owned by native Fijians that is home to many plant and animal species.

“The Yaqara is important to Fiji Water, but the Sovi Basin is important to all of Fiji,” said Glenn T. Prickett, a senior vice president of Conservation International, a nonprofit group that has been helping Fiji Water devise and carry out its programs. “The Fijians are poor people, and without this money, logging would be their only economic alternative.”

Although both projects may reduce greenhouse gases, Mr. Mooney said they were not included in the company’s carbon emissions calculations or remediation plans. Fiji Water has promised to buy verified carbon offsets, mainly related to reforestation and renewable energy projects, to cover 120 percent of emissions it cannot eliminate.

The announcement comes after a summer in which numerous environmental groups attacked the bottled-water industry for selling an unnecessary product at great environmental cost. Mr. Mooney insists Fiji’s plans were in the works long before that, but he conceded that the summer’s “media environment” prompted Fiji to “rethink the value” of publicizing its efforts.

“We are a small brand, but we are raising the bar for the entire industry on how we should operate,” Mr. Mooney said. “If we’d announced this six months ago, we’d be solving a problem no one in our industry thought existed.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fiji’s competitors take umbrage with that. Many are selling either purified tap water, which is bottled close to the point of sale, or use many springs as sources, thus reducing transportation miles. Fiji is one of the few that transports its product thousands of miles.

Indeed, many say that when it comes to setting sustainability goals, Fiji is more of a latecomer than a trendsetter.

Nestlé Waters, a unit of Nestlé that sells Perrier, Poland Spring and other spring waters, has already reduced package weight and instituted energy efficiencies and land conservation projects, said Kim E. Jeffery, its chief executive.

Coca-Cola, which makes Dasani purified water, has increased recycling and reduced the weight of plastic bottles, instituted numerous energy-efficiency projects and is working with the World Wildlife Fund on projects to conserve seven freshwater river basins. The company has decreased its water use by 6 percent since 2002, said Lisa Manley, director of environmental communications for Coca-Cola, and has pledged to replenish the water it draws in communities in which it operates.

“We have committed to grow our business without growing our carbon footprint, and to become truly water neutral,” said Ms. Manley, who said Coca-Cola would lay out a timetable for meeting its goals next year.

Such moves are not winning over all environmentalists, though.

“Bottled water is a business that is fundamentally, inherently and inalterably unconscionable,” said Michael J. Brune, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network. “No side deals to protect forests or combat global warming can offset that reality.”

Mr. Prickett, however, insists that is an unrealistic view.

“Maybe it would be morally preferable to carry a bottle I filled at the tap, but bottled water is a consumer reality,” he said. “So rather than operate in a moralistic framework, we’ll use the economy as it exists to make a difference.”