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Bottled water: can it ever be green?

Still have bottled water as a regular item on the grocery list? Or just pick up the occasional bottle when you’re out? It’s so convenient…

As you probably know, that convenience comes at an environmental and social price: documentaries such as FLOW and Thirst, organizations such as the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense Fund, and even a few of us lowly bloggers, have reported on the costs created by water’s transformation from a freely-available resource to a multi-billion dollar commodity. That bottle of water you buy now contributes to the world’s third-largest industry.

That industry has responded with new packaging designs, and some localities are now taxing, or even banning, bottled water. A new player on the scene, Nika Water, is trying to move a few steps further in greening its bottled water offering. Is it enough? Take a look at what they’re doing.

A green(er) bottled water?

In their press materials, Nika touts a number of “green” efforts, including

  • A bottle-for-bottle recycling plan: Nike has pledged that “for every bottle of water that we sell, we will ensure that another empty plastic bottle is recycled…” They plan to accomplish this goal by sponsoring recycling drives at schools in states without container deposit laws, and will pay the schools for each bottle it collects.

  • A reduced carbon footprint: The company plans to bottle water at a variety of locations around the country to cut transportation emissions, and also complete a lifecycle assessment of its product’s carbon emissions. It will purchase carbon credits from Carbonfund.org to offset emissions; carbon credit funds will go to a Nicaraguan reforestation project.

  • 100% of profits directed to water and sanitation needs in impoverished countries: Nika labels itself a social enterprise, and has organized both for-profit and non-profit arms that funnel the company’s profits to water projects in Kenya, Uganda, Sri Lanka, and Nicaragua

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  • A ton of information on the environmental effects of bottled water: Nika’s eco-policy pages provide in-depth slide shows on some of the more troubling environmental issues surrounding the bottled water industry. And they’ve also posted a page of media articles and resources, some of which are very critical of the industry.

You may have trouble calling any bottled water company green (I choke on the combination of those words myself), so rather than simply giving Nika a pat on the back for doing good things (all of these projects certainly seem positive), I ask for your judgment. Is this a sustainable direction for a (at the very least) problematic product? Is it simply a model that can only work if more companies follow Nika’s lead? Or, is it just another attempt to greenwash a unnecessary and costly consumer product? Let us know…

Image courtesy of Nika Water