I just ordered a home seltzer-making system from Soda Club. Why? To change the world.

I drink of a lot of seltzer. I generally go through about five or six liters a week. I usually order a case of a dozen one-liter bottles from FreshDirect, once or twice a month. (My usage of FreshDirect is something I have to ponder once I have a chance to re-read this.)

I’m abashed to admit that I don’t know if I ever thought about the environmental impact of my seltzer consumption. Thankfully Bobby Ziade, one of my co-partners at Arc90, ordered a Soda Club system for the office, and mentioned to me that one reason was because of the environmental impact. Duh, I said, of course! Or rather – Doh! I wish I had realized that!

Once Bobby clued me in, it was obvious: buying seltzer water which is produced in a plant, bottled in disposable bottles, and then shipped to a distributer, then to me, is incredibly wasteful – and unnecessary! What’s the product? It’s essentially filtered tap water + CO2.

If I can make that at home, cheaply and easily, in reusable bottles, then I’ll be saving plenty of money, and reducing energy used during the production and shipping of the product and the collection, shipping, and recycling of the bottles. And reducing energy usage reduces the production of the greenhouse gases which are probably causing global warming.

To be a little quantitative: in 2007 I probably consumed around 310 one-liter bottles of seltzer. I believe I recycled just about all of the empties. (It would have been even better to redeem them, but that’s a bit of a pain. For more on the broken bottle redemption system, see the excellent The Unintended Consequences of Hyperhydration.)

Each one of those 310 bottles represents a chain of energy usage: the water is filtered, carbonated, and bottled by the beverage company, using bottles which were manufactured from hydrocarbons and then shipped to the beverage company. The cases of full bottles are then loaded onto diesel-powered trucks and shipped to distributors around the country, then to supermarkets, and finally usually driven to a purchaser’s home. And what is it that’s being shipped around? Water – heavy, dense, and readily available just about everywhere in the USA. (Notwithstanding a drought.)

By bottling my own seltzer at home I believe I’ll be eliminating 310 bottles worth of that chain. (I’ll also be saving money, but that’s not my focus here.)

One might ask: what about the beverage company? Their livelihood depends on selling this product – and now I’m saying that their product is ethically problematic? What are they supposed to do?

It’s a tough question. The answer’s pretty tough as well: they’re supposed to shift their product base to one that is less environmentally problematic. That’s tough for a beverage company. I don’t know what to tell you: times change, and sometimes great business models become obsolete; that’s life.

So why am I writing this post? Am I just telling this to the world so I can bask in my moral superiority, display my obvious goodness, and wait to be showered with kudos? No, that’s not the point. In fact, what this is really about is how I wasn’t doing the right thing, but thankfully someone clued me in, and I changed. I’m trying to be a responsible citizen by making responsible choices, and thinking about the impact of my choices and my lifestyle on the world. I’m sure I still make plenty of mistakes, and I’m not a model citizen by any stretch. But I am a regular person who can be a little thoughtful about my lifestyle, and be on the lookout for minor changes which can have a significant impact on the world.

I’ve always hated the term “consumer”. The world view that it engenders is so binary, one where every entity in the world is either a producer or a consumer. It’s false, corrosive, and wrong. Thinking of oneself as a “consumer” narrows one’s perspective on their role in the world, and limits personal responsibility. What does a “consumer” do? It consumes! It doesn’t create, preserve, protect, defend, enjoy, laugh, love, pray, fear, or suffer. It just consumes, blindly, regardless of the consequences.

I’ve tried to think of a better term to use, and I’m not sure if it’s right, but the best one I’ve thought of so far is “citizen”. I think its connotations are far broader and more nuanced than “consumer”. Think about it – if I’m a “citizen”, what does that mean? It means that I live in a place, that I benefit from that place, and that I have responsibilities to that place. It’s a more well-rounded role than that of “consumer”. Sure, citizens consume, but only as part of their lives, not the center.

I’m a citizen of the United States of America, and that affords me many benefits, and some responsibilities. But I’m also a citizen of Earth. And it’s that citizenship which behooves me to be thoughtful about my environmental impact, to try to limit the negative impact that I have on Earth and my fellow citizens.

One step at a time!