Brian O'Neill

Pelican Water Sustainability Scholarship: 1st Place Winner — Brian O’Neill

Pelican Water received plenty of intriguing and inspiring submissions for our bi-annual College Scholarship Contest. Among the numerous excellent entries, the impassioned and relatable action plan detailed by Brian O’Neill in his essay Creativity for Change earned a well-deserved 1st place prize. By emphasizing creativity and the natural human response to emotional messaging, Brian succinctly issued a call-to-action to replace bottled water that goes well beyond numbers on a spreadsheet. We are proud to announce Brian O’Neill as our scholarship contest winner.

Brian O’Neill earned an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Biology Secondary Education, graduating from Western Michigan University in 2013. He went on to pursue his graduate degree in Differentiated Instruction at Concordia University. Brian loves education, and focuses on the past experiences of his students to help them grow. Brian will utilize the $1500 prize from Pelican Water to pursue further education at DePaul University in Music Education.

Q: What are some ways to increase awareness about the negative environmental and social impacts of single use bottled water and how would you convince people to filter their own water at home?

Creativity For Change

What is mutual to successful companies such as Marlboro, Aquafina, and De Beers?

Underlying commonalities are that through their big business models they have secretly

promoted unethical practices at the expense of the consumer. It is staggering to uncover De

Beers’ involvement with conflict diamonds, or that Marlboro would continue to support the

habit of smoking, a primary health concern. How did these companies become giants if they

endorse such atrocity? Behind every prosperous company lurks a successful advertisement

campaign. Who is unfamiliar with the handsome features of the Marlboro man? Do not almost

all water companies picture fresh waterfalls or springs on their label? Who could forget the

Water companies have done an amazing job convincing the consumer that bottled water is

the answer. These companies personify tap water as a villain in a plot of scare tactics. They

make water in a bottle seem like the safe alternative. In addition, elegantly shaped bottles and

pictures of fresh water mountains entice a consumer. Giant bottled water companies have the

power of advertisement because they make the money to fund this feat. Money to fund

advertisement is not the only means of spreading a message. In order to increase awareness of

the negativity that bottled water creates in our world, we must use creativity to beat the water

companies at their advertisement game.

One creative suggestion for advertising the negative effects of bottled water is to utilize

technology. YouTube is a remarkable resource, one at which individuals literally become

famous overnight. Often times, there are billboards on the subway or highway for young

YouTube stars such as Bethany Mota or Rosanna Pansino. These stars become online

personalities and promote activities related to cooking, makeup tutorials, and music. In

addition, their fan base is quite large; each video easily reaches millions of views. Water is

more than likely a part of what these personalities deal with or talk about. For example,

Pansino uses water in her short cooking shows. Additionally, the boys of the “Superfruit”

channel sometime drink coffee or water whilst talking in their videos. Furthermore, other

YouTube stars such as Tyler Oakley, are entertaining in their reactions. YouTube stars could

easily advertise the negative impacts of bottled water through their application or product

placements pertaining to water. Another creative suggestion for advertising is to spread a

YouTube challenge. Many young people are doing challenges on YouTube that are followed by

the “nomination” of someone else who then accepts and performs the challenge. In the

summer of 2014, the “Ice Bucket Challenge” spread like wild fire to support the awareness of

Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Something similar could be started in order to steer people away from

using bottled water. For example, the challenge could be a tap water test taste: the taster must

choose between the cup filled with tap water and another cup filled with bottled water.

Following the test taste, the taster nominates someone to try the challenge next.

Another creative suggestion for advertising is to utilize our school systems. Every day

students attend private and public schools. Many of them begrudgingly complete their

assignments while they simultaneously state the famous line, “when will this ever apply to

me!”. Teachers, students, and water bottle ban enthusiasts can all benefit through the

development of water bottle impact lesson plans and assignments. The negative effects of one-

use water bottles definitely apply to every student. These projects could further be used to

enact change at a local level. An idea to spread awareness would be to develop a lesson plan

for each subject area. These lesson plans would connect to a set of appropriate education

standards while at the same time teach students about the harmful effects of bottled water

through project-based discovery learning. For example, a government class or writing class

could write a persuasive letter to their state or city representatives on the topic of the harmful

effects of water bottles. Letters could also be written in regards to changing local laws on the

sale of plastic water bottles. This is very plausible as a recent ruling in Chicago banned the

ability of chain stores to use plastic bags for groceries. An art class might be prompted to

create satire health or social cartoons on the absurdity of the water bottle industry. These

cartoons might be used for a larger scale advertisement project in their city. The cartoons may

also be featured in the local newspaper. Additionally, a science class could be prompted to

perform experiments and report on the quality of their school water. The lesson plan and

project ideas are endless. Furthermore, the application outside of the school community has

Convincing people that bottled water is hurting our environment and society is only part of

the issue. Thus far, bottled water companies have been viewed as pure criminal; yet their

utopia view of providing pure water to people is the antithesis of scandal. Clean water is

essential to life and necessary for human health. Additionally, asking to change one’s habits

never works without replacing the action with an alternative solution. If tap water is the

solution, people need to first be informed about harmful additives in the water such as fluoride,

chlorine, and arsenic. The most impactful way to make one choose an alternative is to expose

them to stories. Humans are very emotional beings. Often, people do not change their actions

until the situation hits close to home. To convince people to choose filtered tap water,

personal stories must be shared and easily accessible. For example, Dr. Oz aired a segment in

his show called, “Is Your Water Safe?”. In this segment, he highlighted a young family whose

water supply was compromised by additives. The impacts were very emotional. Another

example is the recent happenings in Flint, Michigan. There are countless stories of individuals

whose lives were ruined because of unfiltered and unregulated tap water. The more exposure

these stories receive, the more people will be convinced that they need to take the power of

regulation into their own hands by using a filter.

On a less serious note, one must make filtering water a fun event! In a world where

everything seems derivative of the next, people are looking for a spark. Water, though

essential to life, seems extremely bland. What if it was an event to filter one’s water? The

spark in filtered water could be to offer a flavored filter option. The idea of a four-color

ballpoint retractable pen could be applied to a clip-on filter for tap water. One could choose

four different flavors of filtered water to pour into their glass with a normal flow as an option.

Large companies only exist at the hand of the consumer; if there is no demand, there is no

supply. Ultimately, consumers need to be informed about the impact of their purchase

decisions. A lot of money and a little bit of creativity was recipe for the success of large

company decisions that ultimately hurt our society. Conversely, a small amount of money and

substantive amount of creativity is necessary to combat the attractiveness of the Marlboro

man, lush springs of water, and diamonds as our best friend.