Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Water, Water, Everywhere.

It's not often that something a large corporation does gets me excited, at least not in a good way. But in the last three days I've had two experiences that make me think that there's hope for us to save the world, after all.

I had previously read an article in The Chronicle about how some universities were finding it challenging to implement certain green practices -- chiefly, trying to reduce the number of plastic water bottles thrown away on campuses everyday. Some schools were installing water bottle refilling stations, and decreasing the places where bottled water could be purchased on campus. One institution went so far as to distribute portable, reusable water bottles to all of their plant operations and facilities staff (eliminating the need for the $20k spent annually on bottled water for those employees alone!) Far out!!! I had little hope of seeing such stations on KSU's campus, however, because despite participating in a nationwide study of sustainability in higher education, KSU is a benchmark institution. (Read: KSU is signed up to participate, but doesn't actually have to take any initiatives, so that those schools who do can have their progress measured against our stagnancy.)

Being aware of this, I was so thrilled when I came across the following in the Social Sciences building earlier this week, that I had to snap a picture as proof that it was real!

One particularly nifty feature of this filling station is that it
has a counter to track the number of bottles it is keeping
from being thrown away. Clearly, it had only been recently installed, as the number was only at 9 when I took this picture. However, passing by a mere 1.5 hours later, that number was already up to 16. It had nearly doubled! Now, this is the only filling station I've seen on campus so far, but I really hope it's the beginning of a trend. I personally tend to refill my own water bottle about twice a day, on average. Just imagine, on a campus with nearly 25,000 students, faculty and staff, if only half of those people used this once a day instead of purchasing a bottle of water, how many hundreds of thousands of bottles we can eliminate from landfills, and even from the need for expensive and energy-draining recycling!!! (Ok, maybe I'm getting a little too excited about this, but is anybody with me??)

An interesting fact about that Chronicle article, though. Some of the schools who were trying to initiate measures such as these were coming up against some harsh obstacles -- in the name of corporations such as Coca-Cola who have very lucrative vending machine contracts with such institutions, and who do not want to see their profits diminish for the sake of a measly little thing like the environment. (*Ahem* Coca-Cola Crimes, part II, anyone?)

The second thing that happened this week that made me think there's hope for America is that I had the opportunity to participate in a survey for a large company (though I can't say who) that runs a major U.S. attraction and is trying to prioritize their environmental initiatives based on the feedback from their audience. Given the questions these guys were asking, they're not just talking about greenwashing, either. They're looking at some truly significant ways to make their operation more energy efficient, environmentally friendly and responsible, and to support sustainable sources and practices at every level of their operations. Some of the things they were inquiring about are really exciting. I only hope that other survey participants share my enthusiasm for what they are trying to do, and will express their support of these efforts. It just goes to show that companies will listen, if we the consumers will just speak up!

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