The campus-wide discussion about the Clean Energy Revolving Fund referendum brought to light a variety of student opinions regarding environmental policy and sustainability on campus. While the electoral victor was ultimately clear, it was also evident from the responses on the issue that the presence of passionate feelings existed in students both for and against. Preliminary signs suggest that some university group’s consideration of eradicating bottled water use on campus — as opposed to their reasonable efforts to reduce its use — may provoke a similarly polarizing response.
Proponents of the proposal argue that eliminating the use of bottled water will benefit the environment by reducing post-product waste, oil consumption (it takes petroleum to produce plastic bottles) and energy usage. These are admirable goals, and it’s hard to find anyone reasonable who doesn’t respect the desire to preserve the planet for posterity. While each of these arguments is valid on some scale, and there are assuredly more sustainable alternatives, there remain compelling reasons to resist bottled water bans on campus.
The first is that students, as members of an economically free society, should be able to purchase any product they so choose within the bounds of the law. It’s not right to restrict students’ consumption choices in this way, especially when there’s nothing being said regarding the removal of less healthy substitutes. Why isn’t EcoSense arguing for the removal of Coke, Red Bull, Gatorade or anything else that comes in a bottle or a can? The answer is because such a limitation of students’ choices within a free market and a free society are inherently misguided, regardless of the motivation.
If the argument is that bottled water isn’t priced appropriately to minimize harmful environmental externalities, that’s another issue. Should EcoSense attack this inefficiency of the sale of bottled water, its actions would be appropriate.
Instead of focusing its efforts on removing bottled water from the Eagle’s Nest and campus events, EcoSense should continue focusing on changing the cultural attitude on campus about sustainability. Promoting personal responsibility should naturally resolve the issue. If more students choose to use reusable bottles and buy fewer bottles of water, less water will be supplied and stocked. Similarly, if campus infrastructure adapts toward the promotion of this goal, community actions will change further. Consider the success of the Perch’s “bring your own mug” model or the success of the Dav’s “bring your own mug” discount. These initiatives are influential, but at the same time preserve student’s economic rights.
If EcoSense wants to effectively promote environmental sustainability and reduce bottled water consumption, perhaps it should consider the sale of reusable bottles to benefit the CERF program. Protecting the environment is a personal responsibility and should be treated as such.