CLAIRE HIPPS, JACOB SMITH
Many years ago, Alma College students worked together to ban Nestle products from our campus. Today, many products produced by Nestle and the companies they own, such as Ice Mountain water and Kitkats, are sold on campus.
Nestle, the multi-billion dollar food conglomerate, has participated in more than its fair share of controversy. According to the Guardian, the Associated Press and Mighty Earth, Nestle has greenwashed, participated in forced labor in impoverished countries and contributed to deforestation in Ghana
and the Ivory Coast. Their former CEO, Peter BrabeckLetmathe, expressed in a 2013 interview that water is not a universal human right and should therefore be privatized (Nestle now claims that this quote is frequently taken out of context).
A controversy that hits particularly close to home regards Michigan’s abundant freshwater supply and how Nestle has been able to cheaply mine water in Michigan, which has destabilized wetland ecology in Evart, MI.
“As a result of [the company’s belief that water is not a human right], Nestle is taking extremely good quality groundwater in west/ southwest Michigan and bottling it. They are doing this at an excessive rate – many people feel it is a rate that cannot be replenished within a reasonable amount of time,” said Murray Borello, professor of environmental science. “The data I have seen supports this conclusion.”
Nestle’s consistent ethical controversies encouraged Alma students in the early 2000’s to enact a ban on all Nestle products, including Ice Mountain water, through the Student Congress.
“The process began on campus in 2001 or 2002, shortly after we learned that Nestle was going to start production [of Ice Mountain Water] in Michigan.” said Edward Lorenz, an emeritus professor of history and political science.
The ban on Nestle products coincided with another initiative to ban bottled water in the name of sustainability on Alma’s campus.
“President Abernathy – and now Provost Dougherty have been very adamant about not allowing bottled water on campus. That made it pretty easy to ban Ice Mountain, ” said Borrelo.
This ban, however, did not withstand the test of time.
“After the group of students from [early 2000s ban] graduated, the college
reintroduced bottled water in vending machines and used the reasoning that we got a ‘deal’ as a ‘Pepsi Campus,’” said Lorenz in reference to the 2012 Pepsi deal.
The aforementioned Pepsi deal details that our campus will be provided with Pepsi-brand products, amongst other things.
“The agreement provides equipment and general support for the college and provides recycling support provided by Pepsi. The agreement does not mandate which specific beverages are sold,” said President Jeff Abernathy, who, after his 2020 inauguration as President of Alma College, oversaw the Pepsi deal.
Along with the general support provided by the deal, Alma’s administration is considering sustainability when making decisions about the allocation of Alma’s resources.
“Our strategic plan focuses on the college’s impact on the environment and on working to ensure that we are lowering our carbon footprint. We have for the past ten years prioritized renovation rather than new building projects for this reason,” said Abernathy.
Implementing a complete ban on water bottles (and perhaps Nestle products by extension) is complicated, and the 2019 COVID-19 outbreak has added nuances.
“We have not yet achieved a ban on water bottles— the pandemic makes that difficult since we cannot serve water to the public in other ways—but I remain committed to moving in that direction,” said Abernathy.
Although the pandemic has complicated day to day lives, the Alma College mission statement calls on its students to “live responsibly as stewards of the world they bequeath to future generations.” As students, consumers and citizens of the world, there is all individual power.