Lame Green Poland Spring

In Monday’s post, Carolynn explained that term “lame green” describes companies whose businesses practices have a moderate negative environmental impact but are actually making weak claims about how their product improves the Earth.

Well, bottled water companies are one of the worst offenders of this type of claim. One of the most egregious corporate offenders is Nestlé, which launched its new Poland Spring single-use eco-shape water bottle. It claims that the bottle uses 30 percent less plastic and 30 percent less paper for the label than the average half-lifter bottle and Nesté uses it as an example of the company “doing its part” to make a difference for the sake of the environment. But just how accurate are those claims?

I investigated three areas where I think Poland Spring has shown the company's true colors: energy consumption, environmental impact and false advertising.

Enormous amounts of energy go into creating and transporting these water bottles. In 2007, Poland Springs alone burned 928,226 gallons of diesel fuel. That energy used is wasteful and most of these recyclable bottles don’t even end up in landfills (which really negates the fact that the new bottle is touted for being 100% recyclable and “easier to crush for recycling”).

And what about the company's environmental impact? It's proven that taking water draws down on local water resources. With the market for bottled water continuing to grow, sources of freshwater are becoming more precious. Not to mention the impact of environmental harm that comes from groundwater pumping. According to the Sierra Club, Nestlé's bottling operations in the Unitd States have already degraded lakes, harmed wetlands, and lowered water tables, and its pumping continues to posea threat to residential and agricultraul water supplies. So much for the company whose slogan is "What it means to be from Maine."

And lastly this is a company that has a history of false advertising! In 2003, Poland Springs was sued for false advertising in a class action lawsuit charging that their water, which supposedly comes from springs, is in fact heavily treated common ground water. Although the company didn’t admit to the allegations, they agreed to pay $10 million in charity donations. This was chump change of course, for a company whose profits in 2006 neared $7.64 billion.

I’m not denying that the bottle is more eco-friendly than some of the company’s other products. And maybe I’m too cynical for thinking that this type of cutesy marketing could actually turn away consumers. But given the company’s history, I just don’t trust them. I think for them, this bottle is an opportunity to pay lip service to a trend in green advertising, even thought it’s clear they are far from green.

So I’m sticking to good old tap water. Don’t worry, it’s safe to drink.