Macalester College

Social Responsibility Committee





Macalester College
Social Responsibility Committee

November 18, 2009 Meeting Notes

Present:               Susan Fox (chair), Terry Boychuk, Lloyd Cledwyn, Brian Lindeman, David Ranheim,
Joanne Rhodes, David Wheaton and Laurie Hamre

Guests:  Liz Larson, Sarah Levy, Jack Wickham, William Reedy, Henry Slocum and Micah Mumper

Note:     The next meeting is scheduled for December 16, 4:30-5:30pm in CC 205
  (We will meet if we have agenda items)


  1.  Bottled Water and Macalester – (Proposal included at end of minutes)

Liz Larson ’10 presented a proposal on the negative effects of purchasing/providing bottled water on campus. Liz has been working to raise awareness on the issue for several years.
She sees this as a social justice issue – mostly related to commoditization, environmental
and economic good.

Liz’s proposal provided a continuum of options for action …from an educational campaign to a campus policy for limited use to a campus ban on bottled water.

Action:  The Committee charged a small group to determine the possible barriers and solutions for minimizing bottled water on campus.

  1. Lloyd Cledwyn agreed (caved under pressure) to serve as chair next semester.  Susan has notified FPC that a faculty rep is needed and Laurie will ask MCSG to appoint new student representatives.

  2. David distributed the Procedures for inquiring about specific investment holdings document.  The procedures are intended to 1) allow for sharing information regarding the College’s endowment with SRC members and other interested community members and 2) to ensure that inquiries regarding the holdings are known to be the focus of a particular review so the IO staff can be assured they are responding to an active review rather than a random request for information.

  3. Student request for information on College investments

Five students brought came to the meeting with the following questions regarding transparency, investing in sustainable firms and quantities and, divestment strategies.  The students were given the Procedures for inquiring about specific investment holdings document. David W and David R provided information on how the college chooses investments, the hierarchy of responsibility for College investments, details about why the College does not use screens or allocate funds to specific issues and the difficulties with the idea of sustainability for investing.
The discussion was halted due to time constraints.
Submitted by Laurie Hamre


Liz Larson ‘10

I. Description of the issues
Water is a social justice issue.  The debate between views of water as a human right and as an economic good has been playing out the world over, and will only intensify as rainfall patterns change with the climate.  In the United States, the water debate rages most fiercely in the southwest, since the desert conditions make water allocation a matter of life and death.  However, even here in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, we take place in this debate.  The water debate cannot be removed from our everyday lives, as individuals and institutions can make an impact through their actions.  The action of buying and consuming bottled water.  The commoditization of water is nowhere more visible than within the bottled water industry, since it is literally being sold.  Some of this water comes from far away, from privatized rivers and wells owned by large corporations in 3rd world countries, selling the water to locals; and some of the water comes from our own back yard.  For example, the Aquafina that is sold in the Campus Center is Minneapolis tap water.  By buying bottled water, the purchaser is signaling that he or she implicitly supports the idea that water is an economic good, and not a basic human right.
Not only is water a social justice issue, bottled water is a source of pollution and an energy sink.  Many of the bottles sold every year are not recycled, and end up in landfills.  Even recycling the bottles takes a lot of energy, and every time something is recycled the quality of the material is broken down, so no bottle can be made from 100% recycled material.  The plastic in the bottles has also been found to be harmful to human health, especially if reused or stored in warm areas.  The shipping of bottled water across the country and across the globe contributes to greenhouse gases and air pollution. 

II. Relationship to Macalester
Bottled water affects Macalester because Macalester College consumes bottled water.  Improvements have been made over the past few years, but many departments still provide bottled water in department offices and at events.  By choosing to no longer purchase bottled water, Macalester could tacitly take a side in the economic good v. human right debate, and express our commitment to social justice through our purchasing power.  Not only that, but bottled water is much more expensive than tap water, and drinking tap water could save departments money in these hard economic times.

III. Both sides of the issue
a. Tap Water
Tap water is clean, safe, and less expensive than bottled water.  In many cases it is of the same or better quality, since there is more monitoring infrastructure in place for tap water.  Tap water also contains fluoride, which protects tooth enamel and prevents cavities. 
b. Bottled Water
Bottled water is more convenient that tap water, since it comes in portable bottles which are easily distributed and carried.  It is a healthier alternative to other drinks that can be provided in bottles, such as soft drinks.  It may also be difficult to promote the use of tap water over bottled water and enforce any policy that bans bottled water, as all departments purchase individually.

IV. Proposed Action
Several course of action could be taken.  There could be an educational campaign about the debate over water, and how bottled water is involved, done with the hope that once departments and individuals are aware of the effects of their actions they will choose tap water.  There could also be a policy that discourages the purchasing and use of bottled water at campus events and in department offices.  This policy would be on the honor system, with no monitoring infrastructure.  The third course of action would be a binding policy banning bottled water from departments and events. 
It would be ideal to simply ban bottled water, however the more realistic course of action would probably be a policy discouraging its use.  The first tactic was tried in the 2007-2008 school year with the Think Outside the Bottle campaign, and had some mild success.  Grassroots organizing is a good tactic, but it takes sustained efforts to accomplish a total ban based entirely on conscience, so the combination of water education and administrative action could be effective.  A policy discouraging the use of bottled water in departments and at events along with an explanation of why its use is discouraged would be a solid first step towards steering Macalester in the direction of social justice through water purchasing.  

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