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Be Wary of Greenwashing

Those of us who are diligently trying to make lifestyle and consumer choices that have a more positive impact on the environment and its inhabitants are, of course, always on the lookout for products that help us accomplish this goal.  But advertising is advertising, and the ad agencies that design campaigns to convince us that Gatorade goes along with a healthy lifestyle and BP is all about sunflowers, are the same agencies that design campaigns to convince us that various products and companies are “green.”

Mother Nature Network just published a report about how Fiji Water is threatening to leave Fiji.  The Fijian government wants to raise the taxes they charge Fiji Water to extract this pristine natural resource from their country and ship it all over the world, and Fiji Water doesn’t want to pay.  This is interesting, and fairly unremarkable, but what I found in the article that was remarkable, was the extent to which Fiji has greenwashed consumers, even to the point of being invited into a place like the Ecco Ultra Lounge, an eco-conscious nightclub in LA which will offers complimentary valet parking to Priuses.

The MNN piece quotes a Mother Jones cover story dedicated to Fiji Waters’ greenwashing campaign –

Nowhere in Fiji Water’s glossy marketing materials will you find reference to the typhoid outbreaks that plague Fijians because of the island’s faulty water supplies; the corporate entities that Fiji Water has — despite the owners’ talk of financial transparency — set up in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg; or the fact that its signature bottle is made from Chinese plastic in a diesel-fueled plant and hauled thousands of miles to its eco-conscious consumers. And, of course, you won’t find mention of the military junta for which Fiji Water is a major source of global recognition and legitimacy.

– a well as some of a 2007 article in Fast Company:

The label on a bottle of Fiji Water says “from the islands of Fiji.” Journey to the source of that water, and you realize just how extraordinary that promise is. From New York, for instance, it is an 18-hour plane ride west and south (via Los Angeles) almost to Australia, and then a four-hour drive along Fiji’s two-lane King’s Highway.

Every bottle of Fiji Water goes on its own version of this trip, in reverse, although by truck and ship. In fact, since the plastic for the bottles is shipped to Fiji first, the bottles’ journey is even longer. Half the wholesale cost of Fiji Water is transportation — which is to say, it costs as much to ship Fiji Water across the oceans and truck it to warehouses in the United States than it does to extract the water and bottle it.

That is not the only environmental cost embedded in each bottle of Fiji Water. The Fiji Water plant is a state-of-the-art facility that runs 24 hours a day. That means it requires an uninterrupted supply of electricity — something the local utility structure cannot support. So the factory supplies its own electricity, with three big generators running on diesel fuel. The water may come from “one of the last pristine ecosystems on earth,” as some of the labels say, but out back of the bottling plant is a less pristine ecosystem veiled with a diesel haze.

So the point of all this?  Of course, I hope you’ve ditched the bottled water habit.  Need more reasons?  Read our Bottled Water and the Damage Done article.

But most of all: be wary of greenwashing.  Happy sunflower logos, the word “green,” the use of “eco-” and other such intended tree-hugger triggers are, in many cases, just like “a good source of calcium” written on a box of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs: smoke and mirrors, designed to entice you to fork over your cash to feed their bottom line.  Read the labels, read the fine print, read the blogs, read the news and whatever else you can get your hands on that will tell you the truth.  Then vote with your wallet and shellack them into corporate oblivion.

Power to the tree-huggers,

Red Pill Mama

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Anastasia December 6, 2010 at 11:19 pm

This is such a great blog! I don’t comment often because I rarely have time to get into discussions on the internet, but I also don’t have too much to say–because these last two posts specifically are right on target to what I have been thinking/researching about. They are extremely relevant to me, and I am grateful that there is someone out there who counts as important the same issues I do!

Anastasia December 6, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Oh, and BTW… I am happy to say that we are now tap water drinkers. :)

Red Pill Mama December 9, 2010 at 10:58 am

Oh, Anastasia: where can I find 99,999 more of you? :-)

Yay on the tap water!

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