iceberg waterHuman beings can sometimes be class-A overachievers, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Exercising the drive necessary to reach for the stars has yielded some remarkable societal advances, but when it comes to hauling icebergs vast distances in order to tap them of their frozen hydration, it does seem more than a little lofty — maybe even a little bit loony. Nevertheless, we really have given it the old college try on numerous occasions.

For the uninitiated, I’m talking about tapping enormous mountains of glacial ice — spawned from the 40-million-year-old Antarctic ice sheet — that store approximately three-quarters of our global fresh water supply. The comparatively petite 100,000- to 200,000-ton slabs that fall off every year (roughly 15,000 of them) are especially ripe for the picking now that global warming has really made its presence known.

But to successfully engineer the transportation of calved icebergs from Greenland and Antarctica to other locations in need of water, such as Saudi Arabia, has proven to be quite challenging due to the enormous cost ($100 million) and significant melt rate (sometimes as much as 38%), which pretty much defeats the purpose to begin with. Then, there’s the sheer time and labor necessary to drag a hulking chunk o’ ice behind a fleet of tugboats — upwards of eight months, in the case of the Middle East.

That’s why tapping ’bergs in their natural habitat is far more sensible, as iceberg-derived water companies like Johnny Genuine Canadian Iceberg Water, Glace Rare Iceberg Water, 80 Degrees North Iceberg Water, Naeve Water and Berg Water have proven. It's is no joke, and consumers who embrace portable water are lapping it up, first and foremost because of the marketing.

Describing their product as “15,000-year-old water untouched by man’s contamination” that is as “exquisitely pure” as it is “velvety smooth,” liquefied iceberg-in-a-bottle sure sounds tempting enough, but then again, that’s what clever advertising copy is designed to do. When you get past the mystique, purported health benefits and sheer novelty of what you’re about to imbibe, you begin to think a bit more clearly.

OK, it probably is far more pristine than the municipal supplies that many of us drink on a regular basis, but just imagine the colossal carbon footprint of safely harvesting, transporting, melting and bottling this wonder tonic. Bergwater helpfully provides a description of the whole kit-n-caboodle on its website:

  • An expert is first enlisted to scout out optimum ice chunks for harvesting.
  • Targeted iceberg segments are then excised from their main ice mass, netted with mesh nylon and anchored to a speedboat.
  • Next, the chunks are crane lifted onto the deck of a boat.
  • Once on board, they’re rinsed with municipal water and/or high-pressure steam before being cut into smaller pieces.
  • Already melted ice is reserved in holding containers while solid pieces are held in 150-liter drums in order to melt naturally.
  • The liquid is then shipped off to a bottling facility, pumped once again into holding receptacles and finally packaged in PET plastic bottles (or in the case of Glace Rare Iceberg Water, in “a unique glass carafe”) before jet-setting to locales from the U.S. to Timbuktu.

Some might argue that it’s perhaps just as resource intensive to transform rock-hard icebergs into a drinkable form as tapping more traditional terrestrial sources, but 80 Degrees North claims that since relatively small amounts of icebergs are harvested by hand, the process is actually rather eco-friendly (despite what the assortment of photos capturing crazy-big iceberg harvesting equipment might suggest).

Unfortunately, none of the companies are talking about the environmental scourge of their packaging, or the fact that the line of work they’re in, which requires shipping their heavy final product all over the world, is responsible for adding to the global warming effect. What’s so bad about ice sheets falling off into the ocean when you’re in the bottled iceberg water biz, anyway? Seems like part of the “hard work” is already done for them. Bring on the heat!