PET bottles

The story of FIJI Water – A green and fair product?

 

From a European perspective Fiji is the most distant place of the world. But we are related with this country by our globalized consumption: The water brand FIJI Water.

Green marketing of FIJI Water

Since 1996 Fiji Water exports bottled water from a Fijian aquifer to international consumers. It is today is one of the leading brands of bottled water worldwide. Selling bottled water from the other side of the world to green consumers seems to be a contradiction. FIJI Water overcomes this dilemma by effective green marketing: The key marketing message is a carbon negative commitment. Drinking a bottle of FIJI Water makes consumer feel like transforming the world to a better place. For this feeling people are ready to pay higher prices than for other bottled water brands.

Ecological footprint of FIJI Water

But FIJI Water is far from being a ‘green’ product. The ecological footprint of a bottle ‘FIJI water’ is disastrous: The local aquifer is exploited 24 hours a day with electricity from diesel generators (Fishman, 2007). Energy use for the transport of bottles with container ships is also high. It is estimated that the production and transport of one bottle FIJI Water releases 81 g of fossil fuels and uses up 720 g of water (Päster; 2007). The plastic bottles of FIJI Water are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). At the end of the life cycle they leave a disposal problem, because recycling rates for PET are low. PET bottles are unable to decompose for thousands of years. When PET bottles are burned toxic pollution is released to the atmosphere.

FIJI water tries to compensate this with a carbon offset policy. The company analysed the carbon footprint of the production and transport process and claims to overcompensate the carbon emissions by 120 % by investing in energy and conservation projects. (Bloxham, 2011; Lenzer, 2009). 1% of their sales are invested to rainforest conservation projects on Fiji in cooperation with the NGO Conservation International (FIJI Water, 2014). But carbon offset programs do not lead to an absolute cut in emissions. They are rather a ‘buy-out strategy’ which legitimize emissions for those who are able to pay for it.

Fair Trade of FIJI Water?

Is FIJI Water at least a ‘Fair Trade’ brand which takes Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) seriously? It is true that the company is socially engaged on Fiji Island. The ‘FIJI Water Foundation’ funds the construction of hygiene, sanitation and education facilities and clean water projects on the island. The company is also considered as good employer because wages are above local average wage (Goldberg, 2014). FIJI water works with local PET bottle suppliers to support local economy (Lynch at al., 2010).

20 % of the exports of Fiji are made by Fiji Water (Goldberg, 2014). Though the company earned hundreds of millions with product sales, Fiji did long time not profit from this strong business actor. Till 2010 the company enjoyed nearly a zero tax regime in Fiji. Today FIJI Water pays over $20 million taxes per year (Goldberg, 2014). But accounting practices of FIJI Water set up entities of the company in tax havens to avoid Fiji’s 28 percent corporate tax (Bridgman, 2013). Like other multinationals FIJI Water invested in mineral water companies of New Zealand to be able to threaten to move to another country at any time (Dornan, 2010).

Exploitation of water resources

An interesting question is also how FIJI Water acquired the right to the commercial use of the public good water. The aquifer on Fiji’s main island Viti Levu was discovered in the early 1990s. The government of Fiji had no financial means to tap into the aquifer for public use. With its good contacts to the ruling military regime, the Canadian investor David Gilmour acquired in 1996 a 99 year lease for an exclusive access to the aquifer (Lenzer, 2009).

FIJI Water claim that the aquifer on Viti Levu is self-sustaining. But yet, no research about the recharge ability of the aquifer exists. Rules for limiting commercial abstractions to a sustainable level are not fixed. Since the resource is not managed and climate change alter precipitation patterns, it could be exhausted someday. Remote Pacific islands have no plan B, when water resources are exhausted. Already today 110 small island of Fiji rely constantly on governmental water transport vessels (Kumar, 2010).

Self-declared green marketing claims are misleading: FIJI water is an unstainable product. It is easy to avoid imported bottled water: We can simply drink our healthy local tap water.

© 2014 Heike Huntebrinker. All rights reserved.

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