Travis Daub finds a Pablo
Producing and shipping one bottle of Fiji bottled water around the globe
consumes nearly 27 liters of water, nearly a kilogram of fossil fuels, and
generates more than a pound of carbon dioxide emissions. No wonder that stuff
is so overpriced.
I find the Fiji water phenomenon fascinating. The whole marketing
schtick is that you’re drinking water from a tropical paradise. And it’s
working, says Päster:
Fiji is now # 2 in premium bottled water, behind Evian where we have the
same transportation issue. An environmental absurdity!
Now, it’s worth pointing out that "premium bottled water", here,
pretty much means "imported bottled water". Water is like
vodka: a commodity which can be distinguished only by means of clever marketing
which is nearly always based on some exotic country of origin.
The thing which fascinates me is that people are so hyperaware of the fact
that they’re being marketed to that they manage to de-guilt themselves from
the fact that they’re drinking an environmental absurdity. They think of Fiji
as a brand, not a country – and thereby gloss over the fact that
they’re drinking water which has been shipped over in containers from the other
side of the planet.
Incidentally, my cousin Tillmann,
a microbiologist, tells me that if you store water in non-reusable plastic containers
like Fiji water bottles, the amount of microflora in that water will rise much
more quickly than if you store it in glass or in a proper hardened-plastic water
bottle. So while Fiji water might indeed be very pure at source, it doesn’t
necessarily stay that way.
If consumers acted remotely rationally, there would be a kind of marketing
arbitrage here. If Fiji is a triumph of marketing over substance, then someone
else should be able to do an equally good marketing job on American water, undersell
Fiji, and drive Fiji out of the market. The problem, of course, is that Fiji’s
exorbitant price (I’ve seen tiny bottles sold for $4.50 in New York delis) is
part of its attraction.
So Fiji’s owners will continue to make a fortune, and, in doing so, cause a
huge amount of entirely unneccesary environmental damage. It’s the kind of thing
to drive Amory Lovins up the wall.
This is a very interesting case. On one hand you have successful Fijian businesses and the other tragic annihilation of mother earth.
Where do we go from here?
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