Democratically passed motion vetoed by Presidents due to financial worries. UWESU services for students would have been “severely affected”.
Controversially, a motion has been unilaterally overturned by the current Students’ Union presidents without the consultation of students.
Last year several students managed to get a motion passed in the activities council to ban the sale of bottled water on campus and install free drinking fountains. This motion was then upheld at subsequent Activities Council meetings.
“The reasons to do this in the first place come from an understanding that bottled water is unethical and unsustainable, which few people will argue against. Also, it’s expensive and there should be water fountains made readily available”, said former UWE student, Liza Tozer, who was president of the People and Planet Society and headed up the group of students who worked on the original passing of the motion.
“A lot of time, energy and goodwill went into making this happen. We carefully planned the policy, spoke with the SU to find a good compromise that would make this work without being too unrealistic and even after the policy was passed, attended several meetings where we had to fight tooth and nail just to get them to agree to trial banning of only some bottled water brands” added Ms. Tozer, who is now working in Austria on Higher Education sustainability projects.
Many universities in North America have completely banned bottled water, such as the University of Ottawa in Canada. Ottawa brought in the ban on September of this year. “It just to put into perspective that we truly were asking for minimal action in the grand scheme of things” said Ms. Tozer when discussing the ban.
Student Representative Council Vice President Gail Wilson replied on the subject, “I believe as a Union we have come a long way in the last few years with regards to ethical and environmental issues and we will continue to work to improve our status to the best of our ability…I understand the frustration in trying to implement change and how it can seem like going round in circles”.
When asked on how the original motion was passed, Ms. Tozer told the WesternEye, “We had a meeting with Gail, and the procurement manager where we only got them to agree to a trial when the procurement manager said her hands were tied unless we could pass a policy which allowed her to do this. At this point we reminded her that we already had and so she agreed to the trial… The whole point in agreeing to a trial was that they would just see if they lost any money from this. It is sad that despite student involvement, hard work and support, that they still felt that this could not be done.”
Activities President Terry Atkinson explained, “Part of our responsibility is to safeguard the future of this organisation. If we as a SU stopped the selling of non-ethically sourced bottled water we would lose £23000 in income revenue, which is too much in the present climate. Decisions like this are hard to make, but this amount of income loss would have severely affected the services we can offer our members”.
The figure of £23000 comes from last year’s takings in the SU shop involving bottled water sales. This includes the water option on the meal, which cannot be replaced with ethically sourced water without permission from NUS Services Limited, the company who negotiate the prices for the meal deals.
Terry continued: “Elements of the motion are being undertaken, we as Presidents are lobbying the university to install drinking fountains around the campuses…I myself have implemented the change in the bottle water display within shops, giving the ethically sourced water a more prominent place in the display… It’s up to students themselves to choose through their own ideological beliefs in what to buy or not. To force them or restrict their choice is not democracy…Of course, it is a real shame that it had to be overturned. However, we did it with a clear conscience knowing that the student experience will not be affected in a drastic way due to the current financial constraints.”
The motion was discussed at the Finance and General Purposes Committee meeting on the 19-10-10. The minutes are available on the union website. If you would like to find out more please visit: www.uwesu.org