Tools for Sustainability Leadership in Higher Education Dining Operations

Food service operators at colleges and universities are in a unique position when it comes to sustainability. The traditional higher education dining hall, with its educated and reoccurring guests are ripe to embrace ideas about sustainability. However, the modern college diner doesn’t always understand the amount of processes and financial commitment it takes to make change. Fresh Ideas Food Service Management has been tackling sustainability for years and proves there is a way to craft, and run an exceptional culinary business while balancing social responsibility. A closer look reveals there isn’t one solution, rather a variety of options that can be tailored to each operations size, scale and means. It includes opportunities for the dining guest to participate, education, and business practices.

Capitalize on repeat customers to reduce waste 

Fresh Ideas reusable to go container program is one way the food service operator focuses on sustainability.

For most diners, what and how they consume food is their interaction with food waste, and shapes their views on sustainability. Take the ubiquitous to go food container, the Styrofoam box. Its material doesn’t make environmental sense, and it’s thrown away after one use. Fresh Ideas wanted to offer dining guests an option to help reduce that waste. Now consider that a majority of dining hall guests are frequent and repeat visitors. So what solutions could be explored since the guest will return? The food service company decided to try and eliminate the disposal of the container altogether, with a sustainable program that provides students with a reusable to go container, called Green & Go. Guests can fill the eco-friendly clamshell at meal time, and take it with them. Dirty containers are brought back to the dining hall in exchange for a clean one, or a token to be used for a clean container later. Faculty and staff members also like this option as they can come into the dining hall and grab lunch to bring back to their office. Interest and adoption of the Green & Go program continues to grow, with implementation at over half of Fresh Ideas accounts.

Ongoing education helps increase sustainability literacy

Fresh Ideas program called Be Green, Be Healthy, Be Bold is an ongoing award-winning communications campaign that encourages students to feed their minds and fuel their bodies with an integrated approach to wellness. Each cycle of the educational program explores one of the three parts of the name, such as efforts and ideas to ‘Be Healthy.’ They encourage students to be mindful eaters, try eating what’s in season, and become sustainability advocates.

Campus Sustainability Month falls in October, and Fresh Ideas is celebrating it in the ‘Be Green’ portion of the educational series. Through print and digital marketing, students in all of their partner dining halls will be able to learn more about the food company’s participation in the Greener Fields Together program. Greener Fields Together is one way the food service company is able to serve up sustainability year-round. The program ensures they are able to source food from an environmentally-conscious network of farming partners who share their same values about sustainably.

Growing greens on campus: A business best practice 

With an eye towards sustainability, Fresh Ideas Food Service Management deployed a hydroponic farm in a freight container at Maryville University.

Hyper-local sourcing efforts such as a Freight Farm, tower gardens, and campus garden partnerships make it possible to grow food on site, helping reduce the carbon footprint of the dining operation. Guests in Fresh Ideas dining halls regularly experience a farm-to-table way of eating, often without even knowing it. In 2017 Fresh Ideas, in partnership with Maryville University installed a Freight Farm on the campus, making it the first one at a college in the state of Missouri. Also known as the Leafy Green Machine, it is a 40-foot shipping container converted in to a hydroponic farm that enables them to grow the same amount of leafy greens, year-round, of a traditional two-acre farm. Fresh Ideas has also been steadily deploying vertical, aeroponic growing systems at many of their partner schools, commonly known as Tower Gardens. The Tower Gardens can grow most herbs and leafy greens from seed to harvest in just five weeks, and are often in plain view of the dining guests. The company is also supportive of campus gardening partnerships. One school is utilizing a previously dormant rooftop greenhouse, while another is devoting a small plot of their campus grounds. Now chefs across many of Fresh Ideas accounts are able to harvest greens steps from the salad bar for guests to enjoy later that day.

Fruits of labor

The food service company which uses the commissary as a classroom for sustainable dining was recognized for their work. In 2013 Fresh Ideas Maryville University dining center earned a 4-star Green Dining Alliance (GDA) certification. The GDA certifies restaurants in sustainable practices. Maryville was the very first campus dining facility to become certified by the GDA. Affirmation that addressing sustainability through a spectrum of options, including the guest experience to vendor partnerships, that financially sensible solutions can be implemented.

Receiving recognition for their efforts, and spreading the word are both rewarding parts of working on food sustainability. If you would like to learn more about how Fresh Ideas can make an impact at your dining facilities, they encourage you to reach out and introduce yourself today. You can also follow their journey on Instagram, and learn more about their sustainable practices.

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