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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 21, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 31
Thinking Out Loud

William R. Brody

By William R. Brody

Battle of the Bottle

With all the emphasis on energy conservation and reduction of carbon emissions, there are some simple things we can all do to help, like turning out the lights when we leave a room, lowering the thermostats in the winter and raising them in the summer and so forth.

Another simple change that will not in the least impact our daily lives is simply to stop buying drinking water in plastic bottles. First of all, there is no evidence that bottled water is safer or better for you than tap water. In fact, the converse may be true. Some bottled water lacks the fluoride that is added to drinking water to reduce cavities, so you and your children might find yourselves frequenting your dentist more often simply because you switched to Evian or an off brand from Pittsburgh. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to learn of bottlers taking tap water from Baltimore, giving it a fancy-sounding name and reselling it in Pittsburgh and vice versa. Moreover, if we don't depend on our local tap water, we might eventually lack the diligence to assure that our local supply is safe as well as plentiful.

The ecological issues are equally important. Bottled water unnecessarily consumes plastic — causing a needless source of litter and landfill while consuming an estimated 17 million barrels of oil a year to produce — and adds the energy costs of transporting the bottle from where it is packaged to where you and I consume it. Finally, you are paying through the nose for an inferior product.

The Johns Hopkins President's Office is guilty as charged, but effective immediately, we are discontinuing bottled drinking water, eliminating disposable plastic cups, plates and tableware, and wherever possible going back to using reusable supplies to serve snacks and drinks.

OK, it's not going to solve the oil crisis or eliminate global warming, but it's a step.

I'm reminded of the story of the CEO of a very large Fortune 100 company that had a shortfall in its revenues, so the CEO initiated a series of cost-saving measures. The first one: He eliminated the use of expensive ballpoint pens, ordering instead the cheapest models. One of his employees came up to him and said, "But the cost of pens is minuscule. It won't make any difference in our bottom line." "Yes, I know," replied the CEO, "but this way, all of our employees, including those in my office, will know we are serious about saving money."

Please join me in generating a global movement to eliminate the unnecessary use of plastic in bottled water when tap water more than suffices. Let's show the world we are serious.


William R. Brody is president of The Johns Hopkins University.


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