The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Christina Rossi, 617-447-2540 (Corporate Accountability International)
Casey Corr, 206-931-4783 (Seattle University)

Seattle University Goes Bottled Water Free

First university in Washington to buck the bottle


Today, Seattle University became the first college or university in the state of Washington to go bottled-water free. The university has removed bottled water from vending machines, concession stands, the campus bookstore, on-campus restaurants and catering.

The move was spurred by students concerned about the social and environmental impacts of bottled water. Seattle University students spent the last three years working in partnership with university administrators to eliminate bottled water campuswide.

Students worked with Corporate Accountability International's Think Outside the Bottle campaign, a national public education and action campaign challenging bottled water industry abuses and galvanizing support for strong public water systems. Bottled water is associated with excessive energy consumption and needless waste.

"As a Seattle University alum I'm proud of the steps students and staff have taken to pass this important resolution," said Kelle Louaillier, executive director of Boston-based Corporate Accountability International. "By going bottled water free on campus, the university is setting an example for the state of Washington and other institutions to take similar steps, particularly other Jesuit universities."

The bottled-water initiative follows a number of sustainability initiatives by the university, which in 2008 was recognized as Washington State's "greenest campus," and reflects steps also taken by the City of Seattle. The city passed a resolution in March 2008 to phase out city use of bottled water under the leadership of former Mayor Greg Nickels. The city's resolution paved the way for more than 100 cities across the country to take action and a similar resolution to be passed through the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Seattle University joins six other campuses nationally, including Brown and Tufts University, in taking action on bottled water campus wide. However, SU has been unique in its devotion to connecting the issue of bottled water to the broader global context; one in six people worldwide now go without safe drinking water.

The university has partnered with Corporate Accountability International to provide discounted reusable water bottles on campus. A portion of sales benefit the efforts of the university's chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) to provide clean tap water to the people of Haiti.

"We're a Jesuit institution and ecological justice is a continuing part of the Jesuit heritage and mission," said Tim Leary, executive vice president. "I'm pleased we could go forward with a great idea brought to us by students who embrace our mission and take another step in our commitment to sustainability."

The bottled-water initiative began in 2008 when students approached university leadership with the idea.

"As a student I'm proud to be part of a larger national movement that is moving us beyond deceptive marketing and on to long-term solutions to make sure all people continue to have access to clean, safe drinking water for generations to come," said SU student Spencer Black, co-founder of the Natural Leaders for Social Justice student club that helped launch the program.

The university lists the following as motivation for its actions:
* Inform the community about the misleading marketing the bottled water industry employs;
* Promote Seattle's high quality tap water;
* Ensure water is seen as a human right and not a commodity to be bought and sold for profit; and
* Reduce the university's greenhouse gas emissions.

Not only can bottled water extraction have a significant impact on watersheds, producing bottled water is energy intensive -- ounce for ounce, it takes 2,000 times as much energy to produce bottled water as tap water. Additionally, the energy used to produce and distribute bottled water requires the equivalent of as much as 54 million barrels of oil a year. Throw in the billions of disposable plastic bottles going into the waste stream, and you wind-up with an elephantine environmental footprint.

This is not to mention the impact of misleading marketing about public water systems. Though bottled water is less regulated than the tap and nearly half of the bottled water sold comes from the same source, the industry has long marketed it as somehow better while providing no evidence to support its claims. The effect over time has been diminishing public confidence in tap water (which is only now being promoted thanks to public education campaigns like Think Outside the Bottle). As public confidence has waned, so too has the political will to adequately support public water infrastructure, which now faces a $22 billion annual funding shortfall.

For more information about Seattle University's action to eliminate bottled water spending click here.

Learn about Seattle University's sustainability initiatives.