Why UC Berkeley needs to reevaluate its pouring rights contract with PepsiCo

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If we truly care about the health of our campus community and care to uphold UC Berkeley’s reputation as a leader in sustainability, it’s time to start thinking about why a PepsiCo sponsorship does not meet our vision of fostering a sustainable, healthy campus for all. 

At UC Berkeley, students are the target market for one of the world’s largest beverage corporations, PepsiCo. The drawstring bag or lanyard you received at Calapalooza? You’ve guessed it: prime real estate for PepsiCo marketing. Ultimately, you’re a walking advertisement for a corporation whose products are notoriously unhealthy and unsustainable.

The Bay Area is a national leader in paving the future for sustainability and health within the food systems. The city of Berkeley alone has a history of ongoing initiatives: one of the first national curbside recycling programs, the first city to pass a citywide sugar-sweetened beverage tax, and most recently, a reusable cup program to be implemented in September. Despite these efforts, UC Berkeley falls short in its sustainability in part because of its ties with PepsiCo.

As UC Berkeley approaches year nine of a 10-year pouring rights contract with PepsiCo, let’s reconsider whether we should pursue a renewal with the corporation or other similar corporations based on UC Berkeley’s principles of community.

Three major soda companies — PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Dr Pepper Snapple — contribute to negative environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions from the production of billions of bottles and cans annually, use of non-recycled packaging and unsustainable agricultural practices for snack and beverage ingredients such as sugar and corn.

Not only is PepsiCo responsible for large negative health and sustainability impacts at the global scale, but it is also notorious for resisting government efforts to address its products’ health effects. The beverage industry spends billions of dollars on marketing sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) every year, specifically targeting low-income people and people of color, who bear a disproportionate burden of diet-related disease. SSBs are the single largest source of added sugar in the American diet, and their consequences are no small matter of health equity.

SSBs increase the risk of life-threatening diet-related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that just 1-2 servings per day of SSBs increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 26 percent. How can we support a company whose prerogative is not health or sustainability, but profit at the cost of already disadvantaged communities?

PepsiCo SSBs can be found in virtually every corner of the campus. From eateries to vending machines in academic halls, you’re surrounded by PepsiCo products and marketing. Did you know that PepsiCo even owns common brands such as KeVita and Sabra? And the list goes on.

Even if you aren’t buying a soda, you are most likely purchasing a PepsiCo product, such as Gatorade or Muscle Milk, as a result of its pouring rights contract with UC Berkeley. A pouring rights contract ensures that the beverage corporation has the exclusive right to promote, market, advertise, merchandise and sponsor its beverages throughout campus. Even in the ASUC Student Union, where La Cocina restaurants such as Pinky and Red’s reside to uplift minority business owners, you’ll find PepsiCo drinks to be the most affordable beverages. ASUC Student Union restaurants should promote student well-being and represent the sustainability objectives of the campus, not provide a marketing platform for PepsiCo products.

As undergraduate students who have worked on the Coalition for Healthy Campus Food and Beverages, we recognize the stark gap between our UC Berkeley values and that of our corporate beverage partner, PepsiCo, from a health equity, environmental justice and food environment standpoint. Inspired by our work through the coalition with support from the Berkeley Food Institute, we have expanded to form a student-led advocacy campaign to increase necessary voices in the conversation on corporate sponsorship, and specifically to take a stance against the renewal of the PepsiCo contract.

PepsiCo is trying to sell us an image of sustainability, but we’re not buying it. You can’t greenwash big soda. As students, our vision of sustainability should go beyond green water bottle caps and boxed coconut water. We demand that students, staff and faculty experts on equity, health and sustainability be involved in the process of deciding who our campus will conduct business with, especially with PepsiCo’s contract renewal on the horizon. San Francisco State University was successful in preventing a campus beverage contract with Coca-Cola. Why can’t we take the same action? It’s our responsibility to respond to and be a part of the decision-making process that may lock UC Berkeley in another decade with PepsiCo.

Daniela Solis is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design. Selena Melgoza is a rising junior studying society and the environment and co-heading Sylvia Targ’s Office of Unsustainable Partnerships. Contact them at [email protected].