I first came across the sleek VOSS bottle in an airport lounge and have always associated it with a product for premium consumers for the same reason. I’m not the kind of person who can tell the difference between how different water tastes like, because everything just tastes like plain old “water” to me, but something about the fact that this artesian water was directly sourced from Norway seemed highly appealing when I first purchased an 800 mL bottle for $2.74. However, what intrigued me the most was the fully-glass packaging, something so rare and so luxurious for bottled water – I truly thought this was the sustainable alternative to unethically sourced plastic bottles. Overall, VOSS’s genius marketing and notions of premium high-quality cannot hide the fact that there is still room for improvement in becoming completely sustainable - especially in regard to their glass packaging and transportation costs. However, VOSS is making efforts towards more sustainable initiatives which also must be acknowledged. While the best mindset to adopt will always be anti-bottled water and pro-locally-sourced water and reusable water bottles whenever possible, if you do end up buying a VOSS bottle, the main thing is that you reuse and recycle it.
VOSS comes in two types of bottles: glass or plastic PET bottles. The product I reviewed is the VOSS glass bottle. Their initiative of bringing glass bottles to the market is arguably one of the first in the industry according to them. However, there seems to be no information on how the glass bottle is actually produced. A quick Google search only leads you to their FAQ page and a short 2-min video of a VOSS factory in the making. It would be beneficial to understand what exactly goes on behind the production chain as there is relatively limited information. However, compared to bottled water’s other packaging counterparts, glass is definitely a better option. Unlike plastic, glass is recyclable and part of a closed-loop cycle with unlimited life. VOSS’s glass bottles also tend to be more robust, so they last longer and can be reused for several purposes. There are plenty of ways VOSS bottles have been DIY-ed, including arts and crafts, creating lava lamps, and even for kitchen organization. There is no denying that many consumers are likely to keep their glass bottles for future use, especially due to its sleek and aesthetically pleasing packaging.
VOSS’s main selling point is similar to most overseas bottled water brands, with most of their branding being linked to their place of origin – for VOSS, this is “pure water like no other” from the pristine natural environments of Southern Norway. According to a video on their homepage, the water is sourced from an underground aquifer. Here’s how it works: the aquifer is found underground beneath the surface, shielded between layers of ice and rocks. The water is naturally filtered out in the process, without exposure to pollutants or air. There have been several claims made by documentaries on the true source of the water, including some claims that VOSS water is sourced from local municipality tap water. However as there are no credible sources available to verify these claims, it is hard to confirm this.
After the water is sourced and sent to the production factory, the glass bottles are produced. There are several criticisms regarding the creation of glass bottles, especially the production process which is extremely taxing on the environment because of the carbon emissions emitted from sourcing raw materials to manufacture glass. What is most interesting however is the transport costs behind shipping these glass bottles worldwide. Whether glass or plastic, all bottled water takes a large-scale amount of back-end work and logistics before it ends up in your grocery store. Each VOSS water bottle would need to travel over 4,500+ miles from Hordaland County in Southern Norway before ending up in my local supermarket for purchase and consumption. The environmental impact of transporting VOSS water across the globe is highly significant, especially if we focus on glass bottles in particular which are heavier than plastic and can break during shipping. This means that more raw materials are needed in production and even more fuel for transportation - which is not sustainable.
VOSS bottles are Norwegian-based and headquartered in NYC. VOSS’s first strategy when entering the bottled water market was to become only associated with the best brands and people, which led to its distribution and audience becoming highly limited to premium consumers only. However, this strategy didn’t end up progressing well, which led to a shift towards retail with aims to fit into trends of sustainable consumerism with a growing demand for premium products. There is no denying that the focus on retail is still inherently causing a divide between privileged consumers who are able to afford drinking VOSS water regularly versus those who cannot. This question is undoubtedly important in the case of the world today, where there continues to be a global water crisis for clean drinking water. Nonetheless, VOSS is clear that they are committed to pursuing sustainability and have taken several steps to address their carbon footprint, including shifts to local suppliers to reduce CO2 emissions, launching a train from the source of their water to the local production factory as a replacement to trucks (with a reduction of 170 tons of CO2 emissions) and annual purchases of carbon offsets. The VOSS foundation is also dedicated to creating a ripple effect and encouraging access to clean drinking water in areas that need that, such as projects dedicated to creating wells for local communities, multi-access water points, and water conservation training. Overall, they seem to be pretty clear on what actions need to be done, but there are still a few areas that lack clear information on what is being done to achieve a fully sustainable glass VOSS bottle - including their non-transparency on what is exactly contributing to their carbon footprint.