Misdirected sustainability


It’s recently come to light that University Dining Services department director/contract administrator is on the University of Minnesota’s Regional Sustainability Committee. At first glance, having a Coca-Cola representative on the University’s Regional Sustainability Committee to help understand the needs of the University’s community might appear to make sense — key personnel focusing on sustainability sounds like good practice. However, upon further review, it also raises major ethical concerns.

UDS is run by Aramark, which has long-standing corporate partnerships with Coca-Cola. This UDS and Coca-Cola partnership raises a broad range of concerns. First of all, could an Aramark employee objectively consider environmentally sustainable practices that would call for the Coca-Cola contract to be renegotiated? Could the contract administrator of Aramark question the Coca-Cola contract without fearing for their job security? How is environmental sustainability negotiated when a million-dollar contract coveting environmentally degrading products is sitting at the table too?

More troubling, the sustainability committee does not have a mission statement. While there are some sustainability experts on the committee, by and large the committee is compromised of staff members from various offices and departments around the University. Maybe the mission of the committee is not environmental sustainability but corporate sustainability instead.

The sustainability committee seems active when it comes to energy efficiency. Would they be as concerned with energy efficiency if they had coal industry representatives on the committee?

These are the questions we must ask ourselves. We need to ignite larger conversations around what environmentally sustainable issues are allowed to be addressed.

The power of corporate giants such as Aramark and Coca-Cola should not be allowed to redirect where we place our environmental sustainability concerns at the University. Unfortunately, while the UDS contract administrator is part of the sustainability committee, that is exactly what is happening.

As students, we must not accept the status quo. Instead, we need to challenge ourselves and the University. We need to take back the power.