The above photos of a beautifully polished but rather irksome new product arrived via a friend in New York (none other than David Gillespie - thanks DG). 

So is this an interesting new eco angle on bottled water? Maybe. But I have a stronger feeling it's some of the worst greenwash we've seen in a while.

Boxed Water's packaging and website 'Boxed Water is Better' tells us loud and clear that this product from a 'sustainable water company' is 'better for the environment'. 

But the question is really: can there be such thing as a 'sustainable water company'? At the end of the day, it's packaged water. 

Packaged. 

Water. 

The very idea of bottled water (and by inference, packaged water) is tackled beautifully in Annie Leonard's Story of Bottled Water - check it out below if you haven't already.

IMHO water should be a free-range, free-flowing and FREE right for every human and thing on earth. Any attempt to package and sell it to us (bottled or boxed) should be considered outrageous. The environmental impact of harnessing, packaging and selling something that is a vital part of every single ecological system is never going to be a good thing for the environment.  

For me, it brings to mind an even bigger question: is 'better than bottled' good enough if it's still bad?

It's a question that arises as many companies engage in sweeping efforts toward sustainability. These efforts are in danger of being completely token ones unless they are willing to consider how to be net positive (something Wildwon has set out to be, granted, it's a whole lot easier to do as a service-based start-up than as an FMCG giant).

Net positive describes the state of a company - 'going beyond zero impact to create positive change'. In other words - almost all efforts in terms of sustainability are about companies striving to minimise or eliminate their negative impact. Most struggle to do this, especially as they grow indefinitely.

Net positive is about going beyond this and ensuring that the company has a NET positive impact on the world when all negative as well as positive impacts are taken into account. 

A great example to help get your head around 'net positive' is the Coca-Cola Company. Despite all their (commendable) efforts to tackle issues around water in India, obesity caused by their drinks, damaging farming practises, the fact remains: they make their money selling sugar water. To this end, Coke drive 'Happiness Trucks' into growth markets (aka developing countries). They fight container deposit legislation in Australia. Once again, Coke's core business and primary contribution to the world is selling ever-more sugar water which the company knows is a disaster for public health in plastic bottles which the company knows are a disaster for the environment. 

I wish I could say otherwise, but they haven't yet reached the point where they are adding something of value to the planet. And they're nowhere near adding the kind of positive value that would outweigh the negative impact they have had and continue to have by selling their products. We'd all be better off if they shut up shop.

This in itself is a great measure of whether a company is 'net positive'. A company simply needs to ask itself: if we closed our doors tomorrow.. so what? What would be worse off? Better off? When David Suzuki was invited to speak about sustainability at PepsiCo he bravely told the company that the world would be better off if they didn't exist. This is a sure sign they are nowhere near being net positive.

So, can companies be a truly positive impact on the world, instead of doing 'less bad'? There are only a few companies who can claim to be attempting this. Kingfisher is giving it a mighty fine shot, Interface is too. So is Patagonia. So are we. B Corps (corporations legally accountable for their real-world-problem-solving capability as well as their bottom line) are cropping up everywhere, even in Australia.

Back to Boxed Water , here's what they have to say in response to this debate: 

While I commend any effort to reduce a product's environmental footprint, it must be done in a way that is not a distraction from the root issue - in this case the market in so-called 'portable water' - which Boxed Water is bolstering. This is why we'll continue to treat Boxed Water, and band-aid products* like it, with scepticism. Make up your own mind and let us know what you think in the comments below..

 

 * 'band-aid products' is used here to refer to products targeting the conscious or ethical consumer that represent 'band-aid solution' ie. something that seems to be a solution but has no real effect. Examples include 'I am Not a Plastic Bag' and critiques of the campaign, Bono's (RED) products, etc. See also 'Brand-Aid' in particular reference to products endorsed by bands or celebrities.

3 Comments