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Action 2: Promote healthier beverage choices


The UBC Drinks Tap Water campaign was launched at UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan to help fulfill one of the HBI primary actions:

Create an education and engagement campaign to encourage our community to make healthier beverages choices.

UBC Drinks Tap Water campaign, which was a collaborative effort between the Food and Nutrition Committee and Student Housing and Community Services on both campuses, aimed to support healthier beverage choices by touting the benefits of tap water—it's as safe as bottled water, good for your wallet, good for your health, and good for the planet.

Why Promote Tap Water? 

While tap water isn't necessarily good for business (it's free, after all), it is good for people and the planet—and that's a priority for UBC, identified in the Wellbeing Strategic Framework. By promoting tap water in lieu of sugar sweetened beverages (or even bottled water) we also support UBC's goals around sustainability by reducing the number of single-use plastics discarded daily, and encouraging our community members to take to the taps with their own reusable bottles. 

UBC's campuses are situated in Vancouver (traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people) and the Okanagan (territory of the Syilx Okanagan Nation), locations that are known for excellent-quality tap water, and we acknowledge that in many places, a campaign like this would not be possible due to tap water that is not potable.  In fact, much of our campaign messaging focused on celebrating the excellent-quality water on our campuses.




Campaign Findings
  • 85% of community members surveyed already drink tap water while 15% did not

  • 57% are now more likely to choose tap water more often, post-campaign

  • 53% who did not drink tap water before this campaign are now more likely to drink it, post-campaign 

Through in-person activations, we found that a number of community members were not aware that tap water in Vancouver and the Okanagan was safe to consume. This discovery spurred a number of student-led research projects through the SEEDS sustainability program. 

Campaign Tactics

  • Infused tap water stations in residences
    • Jazzing up water stations with flavours like strawberry mint, and lemon-lime proved to be a huge hit! This is now offered at many dining halls and campus events in lieu of sugar sweetened beverages, or plain water. 
  • Tap Water Bistro 
    • An in-person activation with a tap vs. bottled water taste test (most people couldn't tell the difference)
  • Social Media campaign
  • Floor and fountain decals to make it easier to quickly find water fountains and refil stations in buildings


UBC Drinks Tap Water Research Projects 

The Food and Nutrition Committee was very interested in some of the anecdotal evidence regarding why some people choose not to drink tap water. In some cases, it came down to taste—some people just felt that bottled water tasted better, while others grabbed sugary beverages and bottled water out of convenience. 

However, we were surprised by the number of people who told us that they just didn't realize that tap water on our campuses was safe to drink. Given that 53% of those who did not drink tap water before claimed that they were more likely to following the campaign, this presented a great opportunity to dig deeper into how we might convince those loyal bottled-beverage drinkers to take to the tap, especially if they weren't aware that this is a viable option. 

With this research question in mind, committee members went to the SEEDS Sustainability Program, which uses student-led research to take a "campus as a living lab" approach to creating societal impacts. Several groups of students have further explored ways UBC can better promote the safety of tap water to specific campus populations in the future. 

Promote Tap Water Usage Among UBC International Students. 

The research question of the study is what is the impact of a poster that highlights the safety of tap water on UBC international students’ likelihood of drinking tap water and their perceived safety of tap water? The hypothesis is a poster that shows the process of tap water filtration and testing will increase their likelihood of drinking tap water and the perceived safety of tap water. Based on two single-sample t-test analysis, UBC international students’ intention of drinking tap water and UBC international students’ subjective judgment on tap water safety have increased after reading the poster that educates on tap water safety. Another correlation analysis reviewed that  increasing subjective safety about tap water will increase UBC students’ likelihood of drinking tap water.

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Nudging the Tap Open 

The present study was a two phased investigation, inspecting the gap in literacy that leads to a preference for bottled water over tap water on the UBC Vancouver Campus. The second phase of this study explored the impact of choice architecture; particularly visual nudges, on diverting this preference. Our findings suggest that a visual nudge employing a pre-commitment strategy was the most effective in increasing self-reported use of tap water. This was followed by a visual nudge employing the ease and convenience technique, which pointed out the closest tap water facility. 

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Effectiveness of Posters to Increase Water Fountain Usage Among International Students 

Our study was intended to investigate how the design and content of a poster influence water fountain usage among international students. We first conducted a survey study amongst international students to get insights on what kind of poster is more preferable and to learn about their water drinking habits. We then planned to observe the frequency of water fountain usage in Vantage College before and after the presence of a poster. Unfortunately, our observation was interrupted due to the recent pandemic. With only survey results available, we analyzed the survey data to answer several exploratory questions. The result shows that 75.9% of the participants prefer a poster that follows certain design guidelines, implying that poster design is an important aspect to consider to increase water fountain use among international students. We also found that the time international students spent in Canada is positively correlated to their perception of tap water safety and campus water fountain usage. This suggests that there is a knowledge gap amongst international students who have only been in Canada for a short time, so future tap water campaigns should aim to address this issue.

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We all have a hand in shaping campus environments that support health, wellbeing, and sustainability. By championing wellbeing, we can build stronger and more inclusive communities at UBC and beyond.