On my commute to work, while I was digging up information for my previous post on the oil we’re burning to make bottled water, I saw this ad for Fiji water, the #2 selling premium water in the U.S. Fiji seems to be the poster child for ridiculous when it comes to bottled water and the environment. The plastic bottles are made in China, the water comes from Fiji, and I get to buy one at Balducci’s in Manhattan for $2 a bottle.
According to Pablo Päster at Triple Pundit, it takes 7 times the amount of water in the Fiji water bottle to bring you the bottle, along with .9 liters of petroleum. Yet Fiji’s advertising is asking you to go to www.fijigreen.com to learn how environmentally conscious they are. Hmmm.
(If you’re interested in hearing Fiji’s side of the story, here’s an interview in U.S. news & World Report with Fiji’s Thomas Mooney, Sr Vice President for Sustainable Growth. His arguments about water replacing soda and their positive impact on the Fijian economy are both interesting, but a little beside the point on the environmental questions).
When I switched from the train to the subway, I found myself face-to-face with an Allstate ad that boasted about an Allstate employee who volunteers in schools. It just so happens that I’m an Allstate customer in the midst of filing a claim for a small flood in my kitchen, and what I care about is how and whether they will pay my claim; the fact that I have to dial “1″ four times and then dial an extension to speak to a human being; and the fact that the person who cheerfully sold me my claim and wants to keep me as a customer has no formal role in deciding how I’m being treated. The point is that the Allstate employees’ volunteerism is irrelevant to me as a customer, and presumably irrelevant to someone choosing an insurance provider.
Yet this kind of “greenwashing” and publicizing a company’s good deeds is amazingly prevalent. I used to work in corporate citizenship at two Fortune 100 companies and got to interact with lots of other companies, and my experience is that some progress is being made but that the messaging is really getting ahead of changes in practices.
What amazes me most is that someone at Allstate (or Fiji) convinced someone to run these ads (I’m sure it had something to do with ‘brand attributes’). I guess any story will capture the imagination of a few customers, but when the story you’re telling is either opposed to (Fiji) or unrelated to (Allstate) what you do, it’s hard to imagine that this story is going to have much of an impact on anybody.