HSU Students Resist Pepsi Pouring Rights Contract

June, 2017


 Humboldt State students' organizational effort against the PepsiCo pouring rights contract heated up this spring, pushing the possibility of the contract not being renewed at HSU.

Pouring rights contracts—typically through Coca-cola or PepsiCo—offer a large chunk of money in exchange for the majority of retail shelf space on campus, as well as other benefits such as featured logos and company merchandise sales. As of 2015 in California, only San Francisco State, CSU Channel Islands, and the CSU Maritime Academy did not have active pouring rights contracts. Humboldt State could be the first university in the state to choose not renew an existing contract.

The Pepsi contract at HSU, which has been active for over 10 years, is up for renewal on June 30. Among other things, it requires that 80 percent of the shelf space used for drinks be reserved for Pepsi products and allows Pepsi’s logo to be displayed at sporting events. In return, the university receives about $58,000 towards athletic scholarships, help with scoreboard maintenance, and other benefits, which contributes to about three percent of HSU Athletic’s budget. This is notable, especially considering that HSU already pays some of the highest activity fees in the state—the majority of which goes to Athletics. 

With the contract in place, space for local products is drastically reduced. The possibility of ever eliminating plastic bottles from campus is impossible with the current contract, and ensures that the majority of Dining Services’ products will be shipped long distances with a large carbon footprint. Aside from the environmental implications, the contract also raised social questions, as many students are troubled by the idea of corporate control on a public educational institution. 

Meredith Garrett, student and former Take Back the Tap director at HSU, has long sought to to reduce the use of single-use bottles on campus.

“Any ideas about shifting to more zero waste sustainably-sourced beverages were shot down by HSU’s ties to PepsiCo,” she stated. “As a university that aims to take social and environmental responsibility, this contract is a huge barrier.” 

A Pepsi Task Force was formed earlier in the school year including representatives from Dining, the Office of Sustainability, Associated Students, Athletics, Contracts and Procurements, and Administrative Affairs to address the Pepsi contract. While various alternatives were offered, none were deemed acceptable. 

Tessa Lance, Associated Students representative and Compost Director at WRRAP (the Waste Reduction and Resource Awareness Program) was a regular student representative at the Pepsi Task Force. 

“Initially, it seemed that eliminating the contract would be easy. We were wrong,” she recalled. “I felt that HSU engaging in a contract with big soda for the sake of benefiting the athletics department was ironic to say the least.” 

Eventually, with the help of Lance and others, students and faculty became aware of the contract, and a resolution was passed in Associated Students (AS) stating the students’ wishes on not renewing. A similar resolution was soon passed by the University Senate. 

“Once word got out, students began organizing. We had late night meetings, and tried desperately to find other sources of funds for athletics,” Lance stated. 

Among other things, the AS resolution requested a town hall to address alternatives. These were the first public meetings ever held to address pouring rights at HSU. Attended by the Pepsi Task force and hosted by HSU Vice President Joyce Lopes, the first town hall had to be moved to a larger room due to high attendance, and be extended over 20 minutes for public comments. Topics such as health, social justice, the environment, and the HSU Graduation Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility were all raised. 

It is now up to administration and the office of the president to decide the future for pouring rights at Humboldt State, and with a looming renewal deadline they must decide soon. Choosing not to renew the contract would provide real hope that the university can begin to move towards zero waste and becoming a carbon neutral campus. 

“What we want is that our university live up to the graduation pledge that they ask students to take,” states Garrett. “We know that taking social and environmental responsibility is not easy and we realize that it is a difficult decision for administrators, but hopefully they know by now that they will have the support of the students, faculty, and community members if they choose to end this contract.”

“There is no room on our campus for corporate greed, and we hope to send a message with this campaign,” Lance says. “People, when we organize, are powerful.”