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Fiji Water Targeted in ‘Greenwashing’ Class Action Suit

Fiji Water Company has been named in a class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Calif. that alleges the company has profited by greenwashing claims that it’s water products are carbon negative—which means that the production, packaging and shipment of the water removes more carbon pollution from the atmosphere than it releases into it.

The lawsuit was brought by the Newport Beach, Calif.-based Newport Trial Group on behalf of Desiree Worthington and other similarly situated individuals to seek restitution for “the false claims from which [Fiji Water Company has] richly profited.”

According to the complaint, Fiji Water Company has gained significant market share from its carbon negative claim:

“This case is very simple: Defendants convince consumers to buy their “FIJI” brand of bottled water – and to pay more for FIJI than for competing brands –by advertising and labeling FIJI as “The World’s Only CARBON NEGATIVE bottled water”. In other words, Defendants claim that they remove more carbon pollution from our atmosphere than they release into it. In reality, however, FIJI water is not “Carbon Negative.” Instead, Defendants justify this claim by employing a discredited carbon accounting method known as “forward crediting.” Thus, Defendants do not remove more carbon pollution than they create; they simply claim credit for carbon removal that may or may not take place – up to several decades in the future.”

Fiji Water received a slew of unfavorable green press in 2007 after being featured in a TriplePundit article and a Fast Company article.

Following that, the company said it would account for the carbon footprint throughout the entire lifecycle of its products and then, through a combination of reductions, “carbon-reducing land use” and renewable energy projects, would make the production and sale of each bottle of Fiji Water result in a net reduction of carbon in the atmosphere of 20 percent.

But the complaint alleges that the carbon negative claim does not apply to Fiji Water’s current operations, but instead to offsets for future carbon emissions.  It alleges:

“To reduce their carbon footprint, corporations purchase carbon “offset credits,” which is a generic term for any tradable certificate or permit representing the right of the purchaser to emit one ton of carbon dioxide. “Standard offset credits” represent carbon reductions that have already taken place. By contrast, “forward offset credits” represent carbon reductions that may or may not take place up to several decades in the future.”

Fiji has previously said that offsets generated over 30 years will be used to meet Fiji’s “carbon negative in 2008? commitment.

Fiji Water which recently faced a standoff with the military government of the island nation that provides their water and their name, has not commented on the suit. Last month, the company threatened to leave Fiji and take hundreds of jobs with it, if the Fijian government didn’t repeal an increase in its “extraction tax” from .33 cents to 15 cents per bottle of water.  The government stood firm, and the company decided to stay put and pay the tax.  It remains to be seen whether the company also stands pat on its carbon negative claim.

(read online version)

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