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College-Bound Student Rejects Scholarship From Nestlé's Bottled Water Company

College-Bound Student Rejects Scholarship From Nestlé's Bottled Water Company

Major kudos to Hannah Rousey. The college-bound student from Lovell, Maine has turned down a $1,000 scholarship money from Nestlé subsidiary Poland Spring‬ due to her objections to bottled water and the company's environmentally destructive practices.

Hannah Rousey has turned down a $1,000 scholarship from water bottle company Poland Spring‬. Photo credit: GoFundMe

"I am grateful for the scholarship I have been awarded, but I cannot in good faith accept money from a company that does not exhibit sustainable and ethical practices," she wrote a letter to the bottling company on June 2, according to the Conway Daily Sun.

The 17 year old has been accepted to Sterling College in Vermont where she will pursue a degree in sustainable agriculture and environmental protection law and policy. She was one of five students who received a $1,000 Poland Spring Good Science scholarship at her high school graduation ceremony from Fryeburg Academy in Fryeburg, Maine, the Bridgton News reported.

Although tuition at the four-year private college will set her back $46,152 for the 2016-17 academic year, Rousey explained in her letter that it would be "hypocritical" of her to accept Poland Spring's money:

For me to accept your scholarship would be hypocritical. I am in hopes that more people of my generation will become aware of the dire need to protect our water and the earth’s other precious resources.

On average, Poland Spring is now allowed to take up to 603,000 gallons of water per day from Fryeburg's aquifer. Poland Spring also taps water sources in Poland, Hollis, Pierce Pond Township, Dallas Plantation, Kingfield and Denmark. This water is then trucked to the largest bottling facility in the world, located in Hollis, Maine. They offer monies to our towns, schools and organizations to distract us from the fact that they robbing us of our water.

Treehugger pointed out that this is blatant "bluewashing," which is a term for when companies or organizations falsely boost their green credentials to make good PR.

Poland Spring natural resource manager Mark Dubois provided a response to Rousey's letter. According to the Conway Daily Sun, he acknowledged that while Rousey's numbers are accurate, he countered that Poland Spring could safely take 800,000 gallons of water a day from Fryeburg's aquifer.

"If it were not sustainable, we would not be here," Dubois said. "We are operating well under sustainable limits."

But Rousey isn't just mad about Poland Springs siphoning massive quantities of water. She also highlighted the enormous environmental footprint of water bottle production as well as its resulting plastic waste, as she told the Conway Daily Sun:

The average time for a plastic bottle to completely degrade is at least 450 years. It can even take some bottles 1,000 years to biodegrade. Along with the potential to drain the surrounding aquifers, shipping out 135 million cases of plastic bottles annually, think about all the air pollution from the trucks that travel around the state of Maine. How does this fall in line with sustainable and ethical practices?

The new high school grad told Bridgton News that she was taught at a young age to carry a reusable water bottle with her so she would not have to buy bottles from a store. As she got older, she learned more about Fryeburg's water issues and was even invited to speak at her local library about the documentary Bottled Life, which explores the environmentally exploitative practices of the bottled water industry.

“I’ve grown up in a family where environmental stewardship is ingrained in our everyday life, to respect the planet and the rights of every living thing on it,” Rousey said. Photo credit: GoFundMe

“Being an educated and aware consumer is key to being able to enact change," Rousey said. "The almighty dollar speaks volumes. It is paramount that we support the people and companies that are operating using sustainable practices.”

While she admits she's appreciative of the scholarship money and could use the financial support to attend college in the fall, she said, "It’s important to lead by action, when push comes to shove doing what is right isn’t always what is easy.

"Accepting money from Poland Springs would go against everything I am going to school for, therefore, I politely declined their offer.”

Since word got out of the principled teen, Fryeburg Water Trustee Nickie Sekera has set up a GoFundMe scholarship fund to help raise $10,000 that will go toward's Rousey college tuition. More than $2,000 has already been raised since the crowdfunding campaign launched two days ago.

Joshua Turcotte, who contributed $200, wrote on the campaign page, "Really happy you took the stance that you did; I'm from the areas affected by their water exploitations, and have been fuming about it ... so this is a great change of pace. Focus hard on your studies and beyond."

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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