In December of 2016, the House of Representatives’ Education and Labor Committee published an article which explains Betsy DeVos’ direct connection to the convenience water company, Boxed Water is Better. However, this knowledge apparently did not go very far, as since 2016, the company has continued to grow, and its distribution sales more than doubled in 2013. This fall semester 2019, Boxed Water is Better had even made its way onto Duke’s campus at Saladelia locations.
DeVos is the chairwoman of the Windquest Group, an investment management firm which claims to “invest in people who care and aim to make our world a better place,” but is arguably just a for-profit organization using a greenwashing technique to make consumers think that they care about the environment.
Fortunately, Boxed Water is Better was only on campus for a few weeks, and will no longer be sold at Saladelia locations. Jared Jonsdotter, who works in Vondy, told me that they aren't selling boxed water anymore because they saw a 30% decrease in sales. We don't know exactly whether Saladelia stopped using boxed water only because of this drop in sales, or because Saladelia realized that Betsy Devos owns Boxed Water is Better. Perhaps sales decreased because Duke students opposed Boxed Water for ethical reasons, or maybe they simply did not like the taste. Either way, boxed water is out.
We need to continue to be aware of the brands that we give money to, to be conscious consumers. Don’t fall for the re-branding attempt to brainwash you. Boxed water isn't better, it is just rebranded water. Vaping isn't better than smoking, Juul just rebranded it.
Boxed Water is just one of the companies that is part of the Windquest Group, an investment group owned by Dick & Betsy DeVos. And there’s really no doubt that she is part of this company, since the image on Betsy DeVos’s Twitter banner contained product placement of Boxed Water, until it was eventually taken down due to conflict of interest issues.
The biggest irony of the DeVos Family owning Boxed Water is Better is that they are major contributors to Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan, and other state politicians who support policies which grant Nestle Corporation the right to continue stealing water from Michigan municipality sources for their Ice Mountain bottled water brand. This kind of action perpetuates water crises, such as the one seen in Flint, Michigan.
The cool, slim look of Boxed Water is Better’s packaging is a marketing scheme, and while its purported environmental agenda is something I can support, there is little evidence of Boxed Water’s commitment to these actions. The water does ship better, and cardboard is certainly more compostable than plastic, so using cardboard to store water may reduce waste, but the Devos family and their political constituents are clearly using profits from this water company in their agenda to privatize publicly-owned resources, such as fresh water, and downsize functions of local government. In Detroit, the Devos family gives political and monetary support to an Emergency Management System, which, since 2000, has continued to outsource the state’s water services to private companies, and effectively shut off water to thousands of homes in low-income communities.
In February 2016, Boxed Water is Better released a statement saying they were going to donate “11,520 units” to help the Flint water crisis, which is a tiny drop of water in the ocean needed to provide water for the city. This amount of aid, which Boxed Water did not even follow up on, did not seek to help the Flint water crisis; rather, it was another selfish marketing campaign; Boxed Water Is Better used the Flint water crisis to promote sales of their convenience water product.
Americans continue to drink bottled water for fear of what contaminants found in tap water. However, bottled water isn’t necessarily more pure than tap. Convenience water companies continue to make a profit, without even being legally required to disclose their water contamination reports, for a good that should be universally available. We need more water regulation, a move towards improving public water filtration systems, and away from giving money to these corporations which pull safe water from low-income communities, and advance a policy agenda which allows them to continue to do it.
What’s really better, and perhaps the only environmentally-conscious way to consume water, is to drink out of a reusable water bottle. Everyone should have one by now, and honestly if you need one, here's the secret: hit up any Duke lost and found, and you’ll find dozens of options. I found a Hydroflask in lost and found my sophomore year and have been using it ever since.
Soap, hot water and a bit of elbow grease later and you're one step closer to avoiding the convenience water market altogether. Now all you have to do is fill it up. As far as I can tell, everyone’s favorite water is the fruit-infused water in the Broadhead center we affectionately call “woooo water.” Next, those fancy water-fountains that you find in airports—they’re everywhere now.
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Municipal water should be better taken care of and should use these high-tech water filtration systems used by the convenience water companies, and thus, the market for convenience water should be erased. Everyone should have access to free, safe, potable tap water.
Sophie Laettner is a Trinity senior. Her column, “better laettner than never,” typically runs on alternate Fridays.