Revisting the Fiji Water Question With Sourcemap.org

Three years ago, Pablo Paster wrote a post on 3p which attempted to quantify the various environmental impacts embodied in a bottle of FIJI brand bottled water. The post was the stuff of legend, spawning several follow ups in other publications and might even have influenced FIJI’s thankfully defunct “Fiji Green” campaign.

Fast forward to this week’s “Next Generation Carbon Mapping” panel at Opportunity Green 2010.

When Sourcemap.org‘s Leo Bonanni introduced his powerful supply chain data platform, I was excited to hear that one of his original inspirations was none other than Pablo’s legendary Fiji post and the calculations that the ensuing discussion produced.

Sourcemap is a non profit, open source platform for mapping the carbon impact of supply chains down to minute geographic detail. The point – to give consumers and companies alike a much more literal view of their carbon footprint by letting them input as much data as they know about the the materials and locations used to produce a product. Since it’s open source, you can use other people’s data to build on areas you might not have good numbers on.

One of Leo’s stock examples is that of New Leaf Paper, a San Francisco company that is well known in sustainable business circles. Leo illustrated the various stages a box of post-consumer paper goes through, from collection in Detroit, to a pulp mill in Upper Michigan, to a paper mill in Wisconsin, and onward to sale at a San Francisco Office Depot.

Interestingly, the entire transportation chain, around the Midwest and all the way out to California accounts for only 4% of the paper’s carbon footprint – implying that efficiencies in other areas may be more important when considering a product’s impact.

That got me thinking about FIJI water again. So I decided to try it.

I took the best numbers I could find from the discussion on Pablo’s post and plugged them into Sourcemap’s system to see what I could come up with. (It turns out the map had already been made for me here). Since sourcemap (right now) only deals in CO2 footprints, the Fiji source map isn’t all that exciting:

It’s a simple path from China where (we assume) the PET bottles originate, with a negligible carbon footprint at the actual bottling plant. The bulk of the footprint comes during delivery of course, with an ultimate carbon footprint of something between 300 and 500 grams of CO2…

Since sourcemap is pretty basic at this point, it’s hard to expand on that data much beyond the carbon footprint. Pablo’s original post considered plastic, petroleum, and the actual dollar values associated with it all, among other things. I’ll leave it to readers to see if they can get better numbers – just as we did in Pablo’s original post.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has since grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He was instrumental in the creation of TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years as well as an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.