Going Beyond Carbon Neutrality

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There is a lot of controversy surrounding the idea of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. But, if for just one second we see that some offsets can be done well—and that the world is better off having these projects, as opposed to not having them—we can begin to look at things in a different light.

One thing I could never understand was why it was all the rage to simply go carbon neutral (i.e. offsetting the exact amount of carbon you were responsible for emitting in the first place). This approach seemed, well, neutral. Neutral is not exactly all that exciting; especially when we look at all the damage we’ve been causing for so long. Not only have we been doing nasty things for a long time, but each molecule of carbon that goes into the atmosphere sits there for a century trapping more heat. Clearly, we need to do a lot more than remain neutral in our current and future activity.

I had been planning on writing a piece for a long time to say just this. However, beyond stating the obvious I never could find a real example of how to do things differently to provide some inspiration. I am happy, sort of, to say that this example has finally arrived. I say, sort of, as it has come in a most unlikely place—a bottled water company, the FIJI Water Company.

Now, lets just for a moment put aside our feelings about bottled water. While we’re at it, lets also put aside our feelings about shipping drinking water from Fiji for consumption in North America. I mean, as FIJI Water says, by selling you a bottle of their water they have “saved you a trip to Fiji.” Just think of all the avoided trips. Now that we have placed these concerns aside we can really get at something I have been looking for, for a long time—a company committing to a carbon negative process. This is a bit like putting the carbon genie back in the bottle, no pun intended.

The company puts forth a variety of methods by which they are going to achieve their goal of avoiding and offsetting more carbon than they emit in total:

By 2010 they aim to reduce carbon emissions “across the entire lifecycle of (their) products” by 25%. It is refreshing to see a company using a full lifecycle lens to assess their impact.

By 2010, their next goal is to have renewables make up 50% of their energy mix at their bottling facility and to use bio-diesel for transportation.

They plan to optimize their logistics and "to make greater use of low carbon shipping modalities (primarily ocean freight and rail).” The New York Times reports that FIJI Water "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."

They will invest in “forest carbon (e.g. reforestation and forest protection) and renewable energy projects.” The company plans to “develop a portfolio of verifiable and permanent forest carbon and renewable energy project investments that will exceed (their) product lifecycle CO2 emissions by at least 20%.” The 20% metric is phenomenal. However, there are some questions around stating “permanent forest carbon” storage. Trees unfortunately only have a set lifespan. As such, you can never have permanent carbon storage when it comes to forestry carbon capture and storage. The trees will eventually die and release the carbon stored in its fibers.

To ensure they are meeting their targets, FIJI Water will have ICF International independently review and verify their carbon footprint.

In July, Thomas Mooney was appointed as the company’s senior vice president for sustainable growth. Mr. Mooney has stated that “[they] are a small brand, but [that they] are raising the bar for the entire industry on how [it] should operate.” Quite frankly, they are raising the bar, but not just for the bottled water industry. In respect to going carbon negative, this is exactly how all industries should strive to operate.

Last month I was in my local supermarket in downtown Toronto, and happened to see a woman reading the side of a FIJI bottle of water that states “untouched by man until you drink it.” Needless to say she and I wound up having a very interesting discussion around bottled water. In the end, while she did not buy that bottle, I was certain to let her know that FIJI has finally given us a real example for how all of our companies need to operate in a new carbon constrained world.


Let us now stop putting aside our feelings for bottled, and Fiji, water, and never, ever, buy them again.

Posted by: Ruben on January 8, 2008 12:06 AM

Ruben, apparently you are not the only one that feels this way.

Adria Vasil on Fiji Water:

Posted by: Jordy on January 14, 2008 2:32 PM