I attend a lot of conferences.
The two most recent ones I was at were both run by SAP. The first was the International SAP for Utilities conference in Munich, the second was the SAP TechEd conference in Vienna. Both events were very interesting for a variety of reasons but both conferences left a nasty (dry) taste in my mouth because the only water available to drink was bottled water!
What is the big deal about using bottled water, you ask?
Well, according to Food and Water Watch:
Bottled water wastes fossil fuels and water in production and transport, and when the water is drunk the bottles become a major source of waste. It takes more than 47 million gallons of oil to produce plastic water bottles for Americans every year. Eliminating those bottles would be like taking 100,000 cars off the road and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Each one of those bottles required nearly five times its volume in water to manufacture the plastic and may have caused the release of nickel, ethylene oxide, and benzene. Then, rather than being recycled, 86 percent of them are thrown away. Breaking down these plastics can take thousands of years, while their components seep into our water supplies.
And don’t just take their word for it, check out the NRDC’s page on bottled water. See also Lighterfootstep.com’s 5 Reasons not to drink Bottled Water and even Wikipedia’s entry on bottled water vs tap water, which tells us amongst other things that:
In the United States, bottled water costs between $0.25 and $2 per bottle while tap water costs less than US$0.01. In 1999, according to a NRDC study, U.S. consumers paid between 240 and 10,000 times more per unit volume for bottled water than for tap water. According to Bottledwaterblues.com, about 90% of manufacturer’s costs is from making the bottle, label, and cap.
What’s worse, a significant proportion of bottled water is simply tap water which has been bottled! No, really. Both Aquafina from PepsiCo and Dasani from The Coca-Cola Company originate from municipal water systems, for example!
Despite all that, an estimated 50 billion bottles of water are consumed per annum in the US and around 200 billion bottles globally.
Come on SAP. You are working hard on improving your sustainability message. And by and large are doing a good job at it but really, bottled water? In 2009?
Here’s my challenge to SAP (and all conference organisers) – make commitment that you will never again run a conference at a venue that can’t provide water dispensing machines, instead of bottled water.
Seriously, if you are negotiating with a venue about holding your event and you mention that that is a dealbreaker, they’ll provide the machines.
2 thoughts on “Never run a conference at a venue that can’t provide water dispensing machines, instead of bottled water”
nice viewpoint and definitively worth the discussion. Nevertheless, the situation in Europe is very different from the one in the US. In Germany for example, you pay a deposit for each bottle which in most cases is higher then the cost of the water inside the bottle. So a huge portion is recycled. The bottle in the picture is an example, you can see this from the little logo above the PET. Still, the bottles need to be produced, transported, shreddered, transported again, etc.
There are also PET bottles that are cleaned and refilled….but those are typically not used at conferences.
What I really liked is the comment about bottled vs. tab water. In germany tab water is the best controlled food there is. The quality in some cases is better then that of bottled water. So you are correct, you could go and place water dispensers and just use a cup (paper of course). Actually SAP has placed water dispensers in all SAP Buildings in Germany.
…and this is 100% rue and I wopuld bet it will work: “…, if you are negotiating with a venue about holding your event and you mention that that is a dealbreaker, they’ll provide the machines.”
I understand that you placed your challenge to all conference organisers, but it seems as if this article is a shot to SAP. I wonder what other events you attended that had dispensers. I do agree there are more sustainable ways to hydrate guests and I agree with your challenge, but I have been to a few conferences myself and most offer bottled water.
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