Students take a stand

Vermont Students Toward Environmental Protection (VSTEP) aims to spread student awareness of environmental issues at UVM and to promote sustainable university policies, according to the VSTEP website. By banning bottled water from campus, UVM would be the first public university to discontinue the sale and distribution of bottled water, according to the SGA resolution in support of a sustainable beverage system. “Our ideals include trying to get student involvement in the process of selecting a new beverage contract and to hold the University accountable for sustainability values,” VSTEP Treasurer Julie Coffey said. VSTEP is working with the Students for a Sustainable Beverage Systems initiative, an effort on campus to educate students about the ecological, social and economic impacts of the current beverage system, according to the Office of Sustainability. “We are hoping that a phase-out toward bottled water on campus will begin next year after the Coca-Cola contract ends,” said Ilana Copel, Vice President-Elect of VSTEP. VSTEP wants the Coca-Cola contract to be replaced with more sustainable beverage options on campus and for the UVM administration to make future beverage contracts available for the public to view, according to the Office of Sustainability. Education campaigns are being conducted on campus in an effort to inform students about the negative environment impacts of selling bottled water on campus, Copel said. Surveys will be administered next fall in order to learn how much students know about environmental and sustainability issues, she said. “We want everyone on campus to get involved and so are trying to reach out to as many groups as possible for raising awareness,” Copel said. VSTEP hopes to provide environmental information to incoming first year orientation groups to spread awareness of sustainability efforts on campus, she said. “By educating students about reusable water bottles, refill water stations and water fountains on campus, students may be less inclined to buy bottled water either on or off campus,” she said. Eliminating the exclusive sponsoring agreement with Coca-Cola is a great start in the direction toward sustainability because Sodexo could order more local alternative products in addition to some Coke products, VSTEP Co-President Marlee Baron said. “The redefining of a beverage system on campus has been a struggle because of the importance of making people realize that any bottled beverage is essentially the same as bottled water,” Baron said. Coke has been accused of human rights violations in India and killings in Colombia, according to the social activist group Killer Coke, the Office of Sustainability newsletter states. These accusations have led many students to question the University’s buying decisions and how they represent the ethics of the UVM community, according to the Office of Sustainability newsletter. “VSTEP is laying the groundwork for changes to be made, but the other administrative components of the University need to step up toward fostering strong environmental ethics in the future by providing more sustainable food and beverage,” Baron said.