On April 19, 2012, 86 percent of participating St. Olaf students voted in favor of a referendum that read, “We, as a student body, support eliminating the sale and distribution of bottled water at St. Olaf College with certain exceptions deemed necessary by the administration to accommodate special circumstances.”
It has been more than a year since the referendum passed, but on April 25, 2013, Vice President Greg Kneser emailed St. Olaf students to announce the changes that will be implemented over the summer as a result of the Take Back the Tap TBTT initiative.
According to Kneser’s email, the changes that will be implemented include the removal of bottled water from vending machines, the Cage and the bag lunch line, the use of water stations in place of bottled water at large events like commencement and the installation of water dispensers in bathrooms around campus. Bottled water will remain available for purchase in the St. Olaf Bookstore, and it will be available at some catered events already planned or in the event of extreme heat.
“We’re starting with the big things first,” said Will Lutterman ’15, a TBTT leader.
“I’m thrilled that it happened,” fellow leader Sonja Helgeson ’15 said.
After the referendum overwhelmingly passed last April, the TBTT leaders brought their proposals to President David Anderson, who they described as receptive but not entirely sold on their ideas. Anderson delegated the initiative to Kneser, with whom TBTT leaders have been working ever since, according to TBTT leader Cassie Paulsen ’15.
“It takes continual pushing,” Lutterman said, about getting the initiative passed. The TBTT leaders were up to the task.
“They wouldn’t have done anythingwithout proven student support, and they needed us to keep reminding them,” Paulsen said.
Getting to this point has taken a lot of work, according to Lutterman. TBTT started in September 2011 under the leadership of Christina Herron-Sweet ’12, meaning it has been two years since real progess has been made.
Lutterman, Paulsen and Helgeson expressed enthusiasm over the changes but said that there is still more work to do.
“We’re not going to mount any big campaign, but we’re going to be negotiating and working with admissions and athletics,” Lutterman said.
TBTT hopes to get bottled water out of concession stands at athletic events and out of admissions events for prospective students. The TBTT leaders see a disconnect between presenting prospective students with environmental achievements like the windmill and LEED-certified Regents Hall and giving them bottled water.
According to Lutterman, student feedback surrounding the changes has been 90 to 95 percent positive. They have even heard from alumni wondering how they can help and community members looking for advice on how to implement similar changes elsewhere.
There has been some negative feedback, but “we welcomed [the negative feedback] as part of our education campaign,” Paulsen said. According to Paulsen, the referendum never would have passed as overwhelmingly as it did without TBTT’s efforts to educate the student body about the issue.
Expect to come back to a campus with fewer plastic bottles of water being toted around this September. If you don’t have one already, it looks like a good time to invest in a reusable water bottle. For more information about the TBTT initiative, check out the group’s facebook page at www.facebook.com/olestakebackthetap.