SUNY Cortland encouraging sustainable water usage

The following is a republished press release from SUNY Cortland and not an article written by The Cortland submit a press release, community announcement or information about another upcoming event, email Editor Peter Blanchard at [email protected].

Being green just got easier at SUNY Cortland.

This fall, on menu boards and message screens around campus, students, faculty and staff will be encouraged to buy a reusable water bottle and carabiner combo that potentially will prevent a small mountain of disposable paper and plastic empties from entering the local landfill.

SUNY Cortland and Auxiliary Services Corporation (ASC) also have installed water refill stations around campus so members of the campus community can further reduce their carbon footprint while drinking chilled, filtered local tap H2O.

ASC recently placed the three refill stations — that neatly accommodate a 16 oz. drinking receptacle — near The Bookmark in Memorial Library, Hilltop in Brockway Hall and Dragon’s Den in Old Main while the College has ones in Corey Union and the Student Life Center near The Bistro. The Corey Union refill station was donated to the College by ASC.

Along with the facilities upgrades the ASC hopes to sell 500 or more reusable 16 oz. containers with attached carabiners for $4.95 apiece as a replacement for expensive and wasteful paper and plastic throwaways.

ASC’s latest green initiative features a leafy “carrot,” which is the knowledge that $1 from each reusable bottle sale will support a SUNY Cortland alumna’s charity to ensure clean water in rural African communities.

The project called “Drilling for Hope” is the work of Karen Collier Flewelling ’64, a retired physical education teacher and field hockey coach who lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Her organization’s work, outlined in her book Drilling for Hope: One Woman’s Work to Provide Clean Water, has resulted in the drilling or repair of 40 community wells and the purchase of more than three dozen cisterns and filters. Named a SUNY Cortland Distinguished Alumna in 2014, Flewelling attended the 2016 Commencement ceremonies to be honored with a SUNY Doctor of Humane Letters.

So buying a reusable container and carabiner will put members of the campus community in very good company.

“For those who don’t have a water bottle, this will be a good incentive for them to buy one,” along with the availability of much better quality water for refills around campus, said Pierre Gagnon, ASC’s executive director.

The seed for this green initiative was planted not long ago when Gagnon noticed both the popularity of one single water refill station located next to The Bistro in the Student Life Center. Next he learned of the staggering volume of container waste occurring elsewhere. For example, in five years the ASC sold 80,000 single-use cups at The Bookmark alone.

“That was a lot of cups,” Gagnon said. “I learned of this by coincidence as I was filling in as dining services director. Until then I didn’t realize how many cups we were selling. I decided we should stop selling cups but should offer an alternative.”

Some campus community members already eschewed non-reusable liquid containers.

“I don’t have a solid number but I can tell just by watching them across campus that some students are pretty environmentally savvy and you can see a number of them carrying water with a carabiner across campus,” Gagnon said.

Others took a longer route to sustainability.

“I believe we were charging 90 cents for a cup of water,” Gagnon said. “We had set the price a little high to discourage getting water that way but it wasn’t necessarily effective. People were complaining, ‘What’s the 90 cents for?’ … We tried to discourage them with the price but it wasn’t working.”

Disposable drinking cups will no longer be sold.

“We thought finding a charity that does something to bring clean water to third-world countries would turn a negative into a positive,” Gagnon said.

ASC let Flewelling’s group know that quite a lot of college students might be buying her fundraising receptacles soon, Gagnon said.

“They’re excited about this,” he said.

Incoming first-year students participating in Orientation are being introduced to the new system with a short video clip. Aside from menu boards, information about the program and the short informational video will also be posted on the ASC website.

Cashiers at dining outlets also will be trained to steer students who ask where to purchase commercial packaged H2O to buy a reusable container instead.

“There’s no reason not to carry a water bottle and if there’s good, clean water available … It’s a perfect solution,” Gagnon said.

“People from two or three generations back would be scratching their heads and wondering why we buy bottled water if you can get it out of a faucet and it is just as good.”

On balance, when considering ASC’s loss of revenue from cups and also single use bottles, added to the future need to periodically replace the water refill station filters, Gagnon said the College won’t necessarily save money on the initiative. Instead, SUNY Cortland will reduce the overall trash volume and give back to charity at the same time.

“We’re not adding that waste to the landfill and that’s our goal,” he said. “It’s about being sustainable.”