With a chancellor like Maude Barlow, the former chairperson of the Council of Canadians and an international advocate for water rights, it might seem only natural that Brescia University College has turned its attention to water advocacy. On March 21, the London-based institution announced its certification as the first campus in Ontario to be designated as a Blue Community and only the second, after McGill University, in the country.
The Blue Communities Project was created in 2009 by the Council of Canadians and its partners to get cities, schools and groups, such as faith-based organizations, to adopt principles that treat water as a common good shared by all. Since 2009, the movement has grown to include cities like Paris, Bern, Montreal and London, Ontario.
The catalyst for Brescia’s efforts to become a Blue Community came from a lunch students had with Ms. Barlow on International Women’s Day last year. “She was talking a little bit about her work in [water advocacy] … and about how water is a basic human right,” said Rhea Johnson, Brescia’s acting vice-president, students. She added that students, particularly Brescia’s student council environmental commissioner, Clara Prentice, got inspired and drove the initiative forward.
As a result, Brescia is banning the sale of plastic water bottles on campus, which is one of the principles of being a Blue Community, along with recognizing water as a human right and supporting publicly owned water. According to a press release, the institution’s community consumes and recycles approximately 200,000 plastic water bottles in an average academic year, and each bottle takes 400 years to break down.
Before Brescia made its announcement, Ms. Johnson, along with Cheryl Jensen, the university’s interim principal, contacted colleagues at Western University, King’s University College and Huron University College. “We encouraged them to join us,” Ms. Jensen said, adding that she’s confident some of them will in the future.
She said that banning single-use water bottles is one thing, but “the fact that we are stating that we believe that clean water is a human right – and that we are a university where we can take those teachings into our programs, our classrooms [and] involve our students – is where the real message starts getting into the community, to the world.”
Indeed, one of Brescia’s history professors, George Warecki, is already including Blue Community perspectives into an environmental history class.