By Jen Phillips of Mother Jones
Despite selling, you know, water, Fiji Water is not the most transparent corporation. The company, the subject of a groundbreaking investigative feature we ran in 2009, is now the target of a lawsuit for deceptively marketing itself as “carbon-negative.” A US District Court class-action suit filed by a Newport, California, firm on behalf of a Santa Ana woman named Desiree Worthington accuses Fiji Water of using a practice known as “forward crediting”: essentially, giving yourself credit for carbon reductions that haven’t happened yet.
In the lawsuit, Worthington argues that she paid more for Fiji Water specifically because it advertised itself as a carbon-negative product. She says she expected that the “carbon-negative” label meant that Fiji was currently taking more carbon out of the environment than it was producing. This is consistent with the company’s view: Fiji Water claims on its website to have been “a carbon-negative brand” since 2008, “under which we will continue to offset 120% of our emissions” (emphasis mine). However, under the forward crediting model, the offsets do not need to be currently occurring, they can simply be anticipated actions. Indeed, Fiji Water has said in a press release that the offsets necessary to make it “carbon-negative” will not be realized until 2037.
Scott J. Ferrell, lead counsel for the class-action suit, told me that “We want Fiji Water to stop distorting its environmental record to push sales of overpriced bottled water. It is unconscionable for Fiji Water to charge double the price of its competitors by convincing consumers that drinking Fiji Water helps the environment, when in reality the opposite is true.”
Fiji Water is indeed a rather egregious example of greenwashing. The water is taken from a Fijian aquifier, bottled in a diesel-fueled factory in plastic shipped from China, and then shipped over the ocean to countries around the world. Although shipping by ocean is a relatively environmentally friendly way to transport things, Fiji’s unique location means it has to travel farther to US consumers than water from, say, Shasta, California.
Image: Courtesy of Flickr/Magpie372