University of Vermont

CDAE Students Shape UVM’s Water Bottle Ban

According to the University of Vermont community, smartwater is still water. 

This fall, students in a Community Development and Applied Economics research methods class (CDAE 250) surveyed the student body to determine their beverage preferences in an effort to help inform the University’s soon to come water bottle ban, effective January 1, 2013.

CDAE 250, taught by professor David Conner, had students conduct field research, literature reviews, interviews and surveys as part of their work with service-learning partner, UVM’s Office of Sustainability.

This Office was interested in clarifying UVM students’ perspectives on the water bottle ban — specifically defined as the elimination of all “plain, flat, unflavored bottled water” sales on campus. While this was a significant step towards UVM becoming more environmentally responsible, drafting this policy was not an easy process.

In the original policy of the water bottle ban, smartwater was not included because it had minerals removed and then added back in with electrolytes, putting it into a different category from plain water.

Through qualitative and quantitative research done by the CDAE 250 students that gauged over 900 UVM students’ preferences, results showed that UVM students opposed the exclusion of smartwater from the ban.

Gioia Thompson, head of the Office of Sustainability and the students’ main contact, listened to these results and advocated for smartwater to be included in the ban.

“In the drafting of this policy, we had heard a lot of different ideas going around about how to best implement this ban,” said Thompson. “Being able to take part in this service-learning experience, where the students themselves became experts in the field helped to clearly and confidently express through research what needed to be done.”

“Because this was an issue that students had a personal stake in, they were genuinely very interested in the research, which led to students actually owning the project,” Conner explained. “Students saw Gioia’s commitment as our service-learning partner, who came in for several meetings with the class throughout the semester.” 

On November 30, Richard Cate, Vice President for Finance and Administration at UVM, declared that “smartwater is the same as bottled water,” according to an email from the Office of Sustainability.

The intention was always that all unflavored water be taken out of the system, Cate said in an interview. 

"The bottom line is smartwater will not be for sale on campus and for me that was not a difficult decision to make," he said.

“Seeing our results already making a difference by adding smartwater to the ban is very satisfying. Through this relationship we formed with Gioia at the Office of Sustainability, we had a real input into this policy,” Ajla Afizi, CDAE senior, said. “That is what made this service-learning class so mutually beneficial.”

The Office of Sustainability is hosting a water bottle retirement party this Wednesday, December 5th from noon to 2 pm in the Davis Center Atrium. The party will feature speakers, games, taste tests, discounted water bottles and additional information about the ban of bottled water sales on campus.


Additional reporting contributed by Danielle Bilotta. Updated 12/10/12.