For those of you who don’t know, this is an evive station. The basic idea is that you buy a re-usable water bottle from them, and they have a machine that you put your water bottle in to be cleaned and refilled with water. The evive company makes money by playing targeted advertisements at you during this cleaning and refilling process, and the station is being marketed as a sustainable alternative to buying bottled water. It’s been installed in several locations on WVU’s campus and now the company is attempting to expand to PITT as well. Sounds great huh? Well I’m pretty picky when it comes to things being marketed as “Sustainable,” so hold on a second.

I have a couple problems with the whole evive system, the first being that the addition of a large, wholly unnecessary, energy-intensive process to the water distribution system is clearly a bad idea from a sustainability perspective. I agree that using this evive machine is probably more sustainable than buying a bottled water every day, but thats not really the point. We already have the best potable water delivery system in the world, and we should be using and expanding it. Adding the evive water-perfectification system into the mix is silly because it attempts to fix the problem with another, potentially slightly smaller problem. I’m tempted to quote the old adage, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but that doesn’t quite fit, because I agree that the amount of bottled water being sold indicates that there is something “broken” in the system. However I think that the way to go about fixing this problem is through public action and education.

My other objections to the evive system are related to the social aspects of how it functions, which is critical to think about when you are talking about access to a basic resource like water. This machine, which according to the company delivers “clean, sanitized … UV-treated, and filtered water” reinforces the idea that tap water is unfit for consumption in the first place, which is ridiculous. Think about the fact that globally the leading cause of death is diarrhea caused by unclean drinking water. Do you know anyone who has died of diarrhea? No, you don’t, because we have an unbelievably effective water purification system already in place before the water comes out of your tap. So what exactly are we using more energy on purification for?

However beyond all of that I think the most important thing to recognize is that this scheme, like bottled water, is a privatization of water resources, meaning that public access to water is being mediated by a company that needs to make a profit. On this point I think a lot of people will call me an uptight marxist, to which I respond, “Yes.” Water is a textbook example of a resource that should remain outside of a market system. In this case we are “only” trading a minute of our time to be advertised to, but the principle is that some things, like water, should be public.

I’m going to step off the deep end here a little but bear with me. At the roots of the sustainability problem lies our society’s problem with consumptive behavior. Evive, which makes a profit by advertising (read: encouraging consumptive behavior), can therefore never be a sustainable company, even if they make a water bottle filling machine that has no environmental impacts and uses no energy. They will still not be a sustainable business because their business model is built on encouraging consumptive behavior, which is really the core of the whole sustainability problem in the first place.

If none of that stuff convinces you, my last point is one of usability. This machine is going to take at least 2-3 times as much time as a hydration station to use(the website says 30 seconds to fill the bottle on the page; 1 minute to wash). If these actually get used in any amount that is going to appreciably reduce the amount of bottled water sold, lines are going to form at them and I for one am not going to be happy about it.

Please comment! I appreciate feedback, especially criticism.