Last spring, the Augustana Student Association passed a resolution to purchase 10,000 aluminum water bottles for $18,000 in a partnership with a recyclable water bottle company, Pathway, to promote sustainability on campus.
This year’s senate is struggling with poor communication with the company and uncertainty over the water bottles’ distribution.
Resolution 1024 was introduced to the senate by former ASA Vice President Mekhi Moore. Moore said he originally intended for the water bottles to be given to alumni, athletes, visitors to Augustana’s campus, Viking Days committees and recognized student organizations.
Moore also planned to sell the water bottles during sports games and to have the revenue generated to be put into a sustainability fund students and student organizations could apply for.
“The biggest goal was to generate revenue, create a sustainability pocket and use that sustainability pocket for students and for student organizations,” Moore said.
The resolution passed during ASA’s May 8 meeting with 68% approval and 32% disapproval.
Several senators said the vote on Resolution 1024 was rushed and poorly decided.
“During the May meeting, I’ve been told there were concerns that people needed to leave early, causing fears that the Senate would lose quorum, and meaning nothing can be officially voted on,” Henry Van Bemmel, a senior at-large senator, said. “This led to the discussion being rushed, and the amendment unfortunately passed.”
Junior senator and Curriculum Committee chair Slater Dixon said he did not support the water bottle purchase. Dixon said he believes the resolution passed because of a lack of conversation during the senate meeting and because of the perceived credibility of the former vice president.
Dixon also said he did not believe that Resolution 1024 actually promoted sustainability.
“I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to manufacture a bunch of water bottles for sustainability,” Dixon said. “When it comes to being green, it’s always better to use something you have than to buy a new thing, and it seems to me like most people have a water bottle. It’s not like people use plastic water bottles because they just don’t have a water bottle. On top of that, it was a lot of money.”
Other senators supported the water bottle purchase and believed they would contribute to making Augustana a more sustainable campus, even if planning for their distribution has been difficult.
“I think the water bottles are a grand proposal to hopefully make a meaningful difference for sustainability on campus, but they have been a bit of a headache logistically, especially with the news that their arrival has been delayed another couple months,” Connor Hansen, a senior senator, said.
The distribution plan for the water bottles is still changing, but ASA President Sara Alhasnawi said the current plan is to sell the water bottles to alumni and at sports concessions.
Alhasnawi also wants to freely distribute water bottles to admissions and to recognized student organizations.
The ASA Housing and Dining Committee has been charged with distributing the water bottles. Housing and Dining Committee chair Annie Johnston said distribution plans are still being worked out, but they intend to distribute water bottles to all campus stakeholders, including Sodexo, the admissions office and the Elmen Center.
According to ASA treasurer Cal Irvine, the current estimated price point for each water bottle is $5, although this price could still change.
Alhasnawi said the revenue generated from water bottle sales will still go towards student sustainability initiatives. Instead of creating a separate sustainability fund, Alhasnawi plans to convert the ASA’s current mini-grant into a sustainability fund that students and student organizations can apply for to fund sustainability initiatives.
According to Alhasnawi, ASA also hopes to put some of the revenue towards putting solar panels on campus.
“I would hope that we could at least funnel the money that we’ve been spending on [water bottles] towards sustainability again,” Alhasnawi said. “I guess it would be that $18,000 eventually gets spent back in students’ hands.”
Logistics regarding arrival time and distribution plans have been stalled by miscommunication with Pathway. According to Alhasnawi, Pathway put incorrect designs on the bottles and incorrectly addressed the contract to Augustana College in Illinois. There has also been confusion on what phase of production the water bottles are in and when they will be shipped.
Originally, the water bottles were meant to arrive on campus in October. Now the earliest date of arrival is January or early spring semester, according to Hansen.
While Moore said he attempted to purchase a lower number of water bottles than 10,000, that amount was the lowest purchase option available with Pathway.
Pathway also has not yet billed ASA for the water bottles. The $18,000 has been set aside by the senate but has not yet been spent. According to dean of students Mark Blackburn, who serves as the ASA staff adviser, no deposit has been made.
According to Irvine, if the payment goes through, the $18,000 cost of the water bottles will come out of the ASA general fund, which is made up of student activities fees.
Because of the communication issues with Pathway, Blackburn is reevaluating the contract with the company. The only contract Blackburn has signed so far is one that confirmed the logo on the water bottles. Pathway sent Blackburn another contract, but it was incorrectly addressed to Augustana College in Illinois. After addressing the error with Pathway, Blackburn has yet to receive another contract.
Blackburn is negotiating the signing of another contract because Pathway failed to meet the October water bottle delivery deadline and because the company has been unclear about what phase of production the water bottles are in.
“I’m not satisfied with the deadlines and dates,” Blackburn said. “I’ve been pushed and pulled in different ways, so I just don’t know what’s the right deadline, when they are coming or when they are going to be manufactured. I need clear expectations of when things are happening before I move forward.”
Blackburn said he was unsure if he would cancel the transaction with Pathway entirely. If the transaction with Pathway does not go through, the $18,000 cost of the water bottles will be returned to ASA’s budget for senators to decide how to spend.
In response to the $18,000 water bottle purchase, Irvine introduced a new resolution to the senate at ASA’s October 30 meeting that requires all expenditures over $2,500 to pass with a two-thirds margin rather than a simple majority vote. The amendment passed with 86% approval and 5% disapproval, while 9% abstained.
Dixon said he hopes the water bottle purchase will be a learning experience for future senates.
“People are working really hard to make sure we make the best of the situation, but I think overall it’s just a cautionary tale in doing your due diligence as a representative of the student body,” Dixon said.