Kudos to Guelph for kicking its Coke habit

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

April 10, 2007 Ed Cartoon

By voting in favour of an alternative to Coca-Cola products on campus, students at the University of Guelph are pointing the administration in the right direction.

The students’ cry for an alternative choice is noble. It’s important for universities to provide students with socially and environmentally responsible purchase options.

Also, the existence of alternative products could make more students aware of their choices’ effect on the world. As an academic institution, Guelph should seize this opportunity to inform and accommodate its student body.

It’s becoming less and less acceptable for corporations to exist without considering human rights and environmental implications along with their “bottom line.” Increasingly, people are calling for corporations to be held accountable not only for violations in their country of origin, but for their activities abroad.

Corporations will never consider these issues relevant to their operations until things like sustainability and human rights are tied to their bottom line. Therefore, the only way to encourage sustainable and socially responsible behaviour is through dollar votes, which are only possible when given a viable alternative to the perpetrating company’s product.

As for different discussions and debates about ethical business issues, universities are the perfect places to experiment with sustainable consumer choices. Some may argue students shouldn’t have to pay extra money to provide these choices, but they don’t necessarily have to. From a business perspective, universities have much to gain from a positive, socially responsible reputation. If a university can establish itself as a leader in this area, increased admissions should help cover the small price difference.

However, offering a choice between Coca-Cola and another product line is only one step toward establishing an ethical, sustainable campus. It’s unrealistic to ask universities to immediately sever all ties with ethically questionable companies, but we should certainly keep this end goal in sight.

In addition to making positive consumer choices, it’s important that publicly funded places like universities remain advocates for change to the system as a whole. We must explore every avenue available to force companies to adapt their ethics and sustainability standards.

As the recent reaction to Western’s questionable investments in Darfur shows, students care about these issues. Universities and corporations should take notice.

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