A Renewable Welcome
By Lisa Miller, Communications and Project Assistant
Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab
September 12, 2019
During the week of August 26th, MIT welcomed its class of 2023. Participating in the usual orientation activities, the freshman class learned about research opportunities, course options, and important resources to help them navigate MIT. Breaking for lunch each day, new MIT students poured into Kresge Oval where they could picnic under a large tent propped over the grass, providing much-needed shade on these hot August days. New to Kresge Oval this year was a mobile filling station full of cool, fresh, locally sourced water from Boston provided by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. Next to the filling station, free reusable water bottles were being given out to all MIT students.
These bottles were more than just swag. They were part of a collaborative effort of MIT’s Office of Sustainability (MITOS), the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS), the Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI), MIT Dining, the Office of the First Year, and the MIT Water Club to encourage sustainable water use practices across MIT’s campus and reduce waste by advocating for the regular use of reusable bottles and other serviceware throughout campus. Only students who took a pledge to use their bottle at least ten times were allowed to take one away.
The idea for the bottle giveaway was first raised by the Sustainability Leadership Steering Committee, co-chaired by Julie Newman, the Institute’s director of sustainability and David McGee, associate professor in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. When welcoming new students, they wanted to introduce them to MIT’s commitment to building a sustainable future and educate them about the benefits of choosing tap water over single-use plastic bottles. J-WAFS, ESI, MIT Dining, and the MIT Water Club joined the effort to help spread this message and expose incoming students to their sustainability work at MIT.
Students who wanted a bottle were asked to take a pledge to use it at least ten times. Why ten? MITOS, along with Greg Norris, director of the Sustainability & Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise at MIT, helped articulate that using the stainless steel bottle just ten times would provide a better environmental performance than a typical single-use bottled water, and the positive impact would continue to grow with future use. When one freshman was asked if he could commit to using the bottle ten times, he replied, “Oh, heck yeah!” With the water trailer right there, students could fill their bottles right away, bringing them one tenth of the way to fulfilling their pledge.
The bottles were branded with the reminder: “Reuse, refill, replenish.” They were designed by MIT architecture senior and MITOS Student Fellow Effie Jia to encourage students to incorporate reusable bottles use as well as other sustainable practices into their lives, such as using their own reusable silverware for takeout and using reusable bags instead of disposable plastic or paper. The bottles are insulated for hot and cold beverages to make them even more flexible. “The perfect size for tea and coffee,” remarked one freshman. Staff members from MITOS, ESI, and J-WAFS also distributed bookmarks with information about drinking fountains on campus, advice to ask if local cafés offer discounts for bringing refillable bottles, and a reminder to always wash out their reusables to keep them clean and safe.
To analyze the potential impact of the water bottle give-away, event organizers will be conducting a pair of follow-up surveys with the over 600 bottle recipients to test the persistence of the bottle use and potential changes in awareness. “We are experimenting to determine if we can statistically articulate some impacts associated with the give-away,” said MITOS director Julie Newman. “It is important with all our initiatives to try to measure success (or failure) so we can test our effectiveness.”
While the event was about arming MIT students with sustainable tools, it was also focused on educating them about local water. Andrew Bouma and Patricia Stathatou, this year’s co-presidents of the MIT Water Club, shared information about the quality of Cambridge water, giving even more reason to choose tap water over bottled. The Water Club has run similar education events in the past, and have demonstrated that the taste of tap water, recycled water, and bottled water is virtually indistinguishable in a blind taste test. Educating incoming students about the high quality of Cambridge tap water, and the energy, cost, and waste that is saved by choosing to reuse, they hoped to further support sustainable behavior change among the incoming class members.
Over the two days in which the water bottles were distributed, the turnout was remarkable. “We were thrilled with the outcome of the event,” said MITOS sustainability project manager Steven Lanou. “Not only did we get to engage directly with over 600 first year students to share information, we were also so encouraged by their enthusiasm and commitment to help MIT take this small step towards advancing sustainability on campus. ESI, J-WAFS, MIT Dining, MIT Water Club and Office of the First Year couldn’t have been better partners in this activity, and we look forward to many more collaborations in the future.”
Pictured Top: J-WAFS director John Lienhard picks up a reusable water bottle to show his support for the MITOS event. (Photo credit: Steve Lanou, MIT Office of Sustainability)
Pictured Below: MIT students sign the pledge to reuse their water bottles at least ten times to reduce the carbon footprint of their water consumption. (Photo credit: Lisa Miller, J-WAFS)
Pictured Right: The water bottles designed by Effie Jia encourage students to take up environmentally friendly habits. (Photo credit: Lisa Miller, J-WAFS)
Pictured Left: Andrew Bouma, co-president of the MIT Water Club, educates students about local tap water. (Photo credit: Lisa Miller, J-WAFS)