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Can sustainability and bottled water really coexist?

Water — and figuring out how to manage it — has long been the cause of both consternation and innovation in the Golden State. After all, without wise water management, there'd be no California as we know it today. So there's little question that sustainability of the state's water resources and the environment as a whole will always be a vital concern here.

For more than 120 years, Arrowhead® Brand Mountain Spring Water has sourced and bottled water from springs in the mountains of Southern California. Today the brand provides water from springs throughout California, as well as Colorado and British Columbia. Sources at Arrowhead say sustainability is a cornerstone of corporate operations, citing zero-waste bottling procedures, scientific monitoring of spring sources, and an active interest in conservation efforts.

California companies like Arrowhead are increasingly investing in sustainability in the face of statewide calls for water conservation and consumer demand for everything green. It's worth asking: What does it look like when a company actually puts the notion of sustainability into practice — and it's a company that produces bottled water?

A lean and green operation


Gary Rice is factory manager of the Cabazon facility, Arrowhead's largest plant in California. He spoke about the plant's extensive sustainability measures, from windmills to graywater tanks and beyond, all meant to minimize waste and negative environmental impact.

"Our facility is LEED Silver-certified," Rice said, referring to the plant's designation by nonprofit sustainability organization the U.S. Green Building Council. "We have two wind turbines that produce up to 35% of our electricity usage, and we have proposals in place to put in six more wind turbines so we can have 0% of our energy coming from the grid."

Rice pointed to a water catchment system built into the floor beneath the bottle assembly line that captures spilled water, pipes it into giant tanks at the rear of the facility for storage, and reuses it as graywater in the plant's plumbing system. Outside, the Cabazon facility's perimeter is xeriscaped with desert-friendly plants and ground cover to dramatically cut down on irrigation.

Recent sustainability-driven investments such as these in several of Arrowhead's California facilities are projected to save about 55 million gallons of water annually beginning in 2016, according to company data.

Recycling toward a zero-waste future

Rice explained that plastic recycling is key to the Cabazon facility's bottling operation and a primary concern of the company.

Arrowhead works with Riverside-based recycling facility CarbonLite to obtain pellets of rPET, or recycled polyethylene terephthalate, the raw reclaimed plastic that Arrowhead combines with new PET pellets to fabricate most of its bottles. PET is the primary ingredient in most of today's plastic beverage bottles, and when it's recycled into rPET, it can be melted down, reshaped and reused over and over again.

It seems sensible for Arrowhead to utilize as much rPET as possible in a state with the nation's highest beverage bottle recycling rate, which sits at 82%, according to a 2015 report by the California Legislative Analyst's Office. As of this year, 9 out of 10 Arrowhead bottles made in California contain 50% rPET, according to company data.

Arrowhead's ultimate goal is to make bottles from 100% rPET, Rice said, necessitating no new PET. It's a zero-waste "closed-loop" recycling-and-manufacturing model that the company is currently exploring through its partnership with CarbonLite.

Rice and his staff are so committed to recycling that they even collect and compress stray bottles that bounce off the assembly line and send them back to recycling centers. "A big part of what we want to do is make sure we're a zero-waste facility overall," Rice said, "meaning nothing we touch will go to a landfill, and everything will be reused, repurposed or recycled."

Stewards at the source

The keystone of Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water is, of course, the water itself. The company employs a team of field experts who consistently monitor and measure its water sources in order to understand how the water cycle is affecting them.

On the banks of an Arrowhead spring source a short drive north of the Cabazon facility, Tam Pham squinted at a water gauge and nodded. Pham, Arrowhead's regional natural resource supervisor, said one of Arrowhead's overarching goals is to carefully select and monitor its springs to help them remain sustainable sources of high-quality water now and for future generations.

"Here in Cabazon, part of my job is to take weekly samples at our spring site to make sure the water is clean and safe," Pham said. "I also conduct water level monitoring every month to make sure levels are sustainable."

Simple but effective actions such as these help give the Arrowhead natural resource team a clear understanding of the nature of the water sources, as well as the health of the local aquifer and its continued viability. It's all about being good stewards of the water, Pham said.

Helping protect public lands and waterways

Arrowhead's sense of corporate responsibility extends beyond its internal efforts to minimize waste and pollution and protect its water sources, Rice said. The company works with conservation groups in the local community and elsewhere in the state to help maintain and preserve the broader watershed and surrounding areas that make California so unique.

"We're a big part of that here in Cabazon," Rice said, citing collaborative projects with Riverside-based nonprofit conservationists Inland Empire Waterkeeper and the American River Headwaters campaign in the Northern Sierra.

For more than 20 years, Arrowhead has also supported the Southern California Mountains Foundation, to which the company recently donated 90 acres of woodland adjacent to the San Bernardino National Forest. The foundation uses the land to train members of the Urban Conservation Corps, a workforce development program.

For Arrowhead, sustainability isn't a buzzword. It's a corporate way of life.

—Travis Marshall for Arrowhead® Brand Mountain Spring Water