POULTNEY — On August 15, Green Mountain College will ban the sale of bottled water on its Poultney campus. Like many campus sustainability initiatives, the ban comes largely as a result of a student-led project.
Andrea (Dre) Roebuck, class of 2014, consulted with the College’s sustainability coordinator Aaron Witham about the most effective way to go about banning the sale of bottled water. Roebuck’s concerns were economic (bottled water is more expensive than tap water) and environmental (only about 14 percent of plastic bottles make it into the recycling bin, and producing plastic bottles takes about 1.5 million barrels of oil per year, according to the Earth Policy Institute). According to Witham, Roebuck and other students were also concerned about the commodification of water, which is becoming an ever more precious resource.
“The more we buy and sell bottled water, the more we are engaging in a culture of treating water as a commodity, incentivizing businesses to extract it from the ground in one community and sell it to another community, with often little benefit to the people or ecosystem in the community from which the water was extracted,” he said.
Roebuck met with campus stakeholders such as Chartwells, the College’s food service provider, other outside vendors and the College administration. She planned an event in the College’s Withey Student Center last November to raise awareness about the negative impacts of bottled water. The event included a taste test featuring bottled water and tap water.
“We tried to see if students could tell the difference between tap water, filtered water or bottled water. We saw no discernible preference—in fact tap water was rated slightly higher. It seemed the best option was to encourage people to fill up at filtered water stations that are all over campus,” Robuck said.
Finally, she garnered 163 signatures from students, staff, and faculty in support of the ban. Over 25 percent of the residential student body signed the document.
Roebuck’s project fulfilled requirements for her Delicate Balance class. Delicate Balance is part of the College’s signature Environmental Liberal Arts core curriculum where students are challenged to develop a sustainability project that improves their community. Every year, dozens of these projects improve campus, including building prototypes for a new recycling system or creating signage for changing behavior to minimize energy use.
“Dre epitomizes what it means to be a Green Mountain College student,” said Witham. “She found something that could be improved in our existing system, and then built a strong coalition of support to tackle the project by working closely with key stakeholders while simultaneously engaging the broader community.”
Under Roebuck’s leadership, Chartwells agreed to stop selling bottled water in the dining hall. PepsiCo, which has an existing beverage contract with GMC, agreed to remove bottled water from all of its soda machines on campus and replace the product with healthier alternatives to regular soda, such as tea and seltzer water.
“With education as the primary focus of our business activity, Chartwells is committed to fostering and promoting sustainable business principles to the Green Mountain College community,” said Dave Ondria, director of dining at Green Mountain College. “Participating in the ban on bottled water is just one of the ways Chartwells has chosen to promote responsible and sustainable practices within our dining service. It was simply the right thing to do.”