Colby College, ME Green Dining Initiatives

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Colby College, ME, US

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Type: Policy

Status: Ongoing

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Environmental Studies students, faculty, and staff have partnered with Colby’s Dining Services to enhance and expand sustainability efforts in Colby dining halls. The focus on Dining Services is part of a campus wide effort to integrate sustainability practices into the Colby culture. By making thoughtful green purchasing choices on produce, fish, and other goods that are served, Colby can obtain fresher and often healthier foods and have a positive impact on the regional economy especially local farmers and the fisheries industry by helping to create and expand a market for their products.

Our efforts to green the Dining Services include:.

  • Raising awareness about Colby food sources and the environmental impact of obtaining these foods.
  • Increasing local and organic food purchases.
  • Establishing a fish and seafood purchasing policy that that is eco-friendly and adheres to or exceeds the national Fish List guidelines.
  • Reducing pre- and post-consumer food waste and enhance ongoing composting efforts.
  • Reducing solid waste from food packaging and other sources.
  • Providing fresher and healthier meals through inventory control strategies and “just in time” cooking.
  • Securing the policy of paperless dining halls by launching an effort to retrieve reusable dishware from dorm rooms.

Accomplishments in Dining Services at Colby College
The greening projects undertaken by Colby’s Dining Services (managed by Sodexho) have been very successful. Moreover, Dining Services personnel have been enthusiastic partners in expanding these sustainable initiatives at Colby. Green Dining achievements and enhancements include the following.

Buying Local Food
Buying locally can impact the environment positively. Shorter transportation distances reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions. This may also help to reduce the packaging being used. Buying locally helps keep dollars in the local economy and provides fresher food for our students. Colby’s Dining Services and our major food supplier, North Center, work with over 100 local growers, processors, and manufacturers to bring students fresh produce and other goods from the State of Maine. Colby and North Center practice a “Maine First” policy and use out of state goods only when native ones are not available. This emphasis on buying locally has resulted in 20% of Colby’s total Dining Services budget being devoted to purchasing local products.

In April 2005, the Environmental Studies Program hosted an international conference with 100 attendees coming to Colby to discuss campus sustainability and climate change. Among the highlights of the event was a two-day menu that featured nearly 90% food from Maine. Dining Services proved that with some creativity buying locally can be environmentally friendly and tasty! Special functions like this one have been excellent opportunities to highlight greening efforts by Dining Services.

Organic Food
Organic food is food raised or grown without the use of pesticides, chemicals, hormones, or antibiotics. All three of Colby’s dining halls consistently serve some organic foods when available. The Foss dining hall is particularly notable because it specializes in vegan and vegetarian fare with over 20 organic items regularly available on the menu. Colby also purchases all of our milk from Oakhurst Dairy (from Maine, of course). Oakhurst works only with farmers who pledge not to use artificial growth hormones.

Since 2002, Colby has been separating food waste from the general waste stream as a first step in the process of composting. In 2004, 66.2 tons of food waste were collected and delivered to the Hawk Ridge Compost Facility in nearby Unity, Maine. This facility uses a unique tunnel composting system that produces compost for garden centers, nurseries, and landscapers throughout New England. As a practice of “closing the loop”, Colby buys back the compost to use on the campus grounds. Implementing this composting system allowed us to remove seven garbage disposals from the three dining halls, reducing water use considerably. Even after paying for a truck dedicated to the project, composting fees, and the additional staff time to run the composting program, there was a net savings of $11,941 in water and sewer costs just this year!

Biodegradable serving dishes and utensils in the Joseph Family Spa, including "Spudware" knives, forks, and spoons, are among many green-friendly initiatives in Dining Services. The disposable cutlery is made of potato starch. Cold drink cups are made of cornstarch. Properly composted, they disintegrate in 90 days.

Raising Awareness about Food Waste:
In 2004, Dining Services and the Environmental Advisory Group sponsored “Trayless Thursday” as an experiment to encourage students to reduce food waste by taking only the amount of food they would eat. This experiment worked. An average of 260 lbs of waste was saved per day! Dining Services wants to keep food waste at a minimum, even with the use of trays. Consequently, the Environmental Studies Program in partnership with Dining Services has launched an education campaign to share facts and information with students and to encourage thoughtful food selection. In an effort to assess the effectiveness of the education campaign, a survey regarding the sustainability practices of Colby's Dining Services was conducted. We learned that many students had read the articles in the campus newspaper and seen the committee’s email messages. The survey was an effective way to raise awareness.

Reducing Food and Solid Waste
Buying food in bulk to reduce packaging waste and buying locally have been successful strategies that have reduced solid waste volume. In addition, Dining Services has eliminated paper cups from all of the dining halls. This decision removed 154,000 cups/year from the waste stream. An unexpected consequence of this action was the disappearance of mugs and glasses from the dining halls. To promote the use of reusable dishware rather than return to disposable paper products, the Environmental Coalition and the Environmental Studies Program located collection boxes in each dorm to collect and facilitate the return of stray mugs and glasses that had been removed from the dining halls.

In recent years, two of the three dining halls have been redesigned to implement a “Just in Time” strategy that cooks food to order, reducing pre-consumer food waste by up to 80%! The food is prepared, but not cooked until needed, allowing it to be served at another time, if it isn’t used at that meal. This summer, the third dining hall will undergo extensive renovations. It will be designed to facilitate the “Just in Time” cooking strategy, hopefully reducing the pre-consumer food waste even more. Additionally, the demolition waste from that renovation project will be sent to Architectural Salvage in Portland for possible reuse rather than dumped in landfills. Any equipment or materials that the College can directly reuse will also be salvaged from the renovations.

Sustainable Seafood
“The Fish List” is a nationally recognized guideline for making eco-friendly and sustainable seafood purchasing choices. In response to concerns about overfishing and destructive fishing practices, Colby has established a purchasing policy for the Dining Services board plan that adheres to The Fish List. We have not stopped there. Following research and recommendations about additional fish populations at risk, Colby has gone beyond “The Fish List” to provide students with not only healthy, but also sustainable seafood.

Challenges and Responses
Colby is fortunate to have a core group of environmentally thoughtful students, faculty, and staff to help lead environmental initiatives. The members of the Colby community were excited about the prospect of serving more local foods in the dining halls and interested to learn about the sources of their food. We found that providing more local and organic options and a sustainable seafood policy were widely supported by Colby students. Moreover, we found that greening the Dining Services helped to raise environmental awareness on campus about the College’s sustainable practices in general.

Bigger challenges were the projects that relied on modifying individual behavior. Food waste is an issue on many college campuses. We are fortunate to have dining staff who are committed to running an efficient composting program. The downside is that there is still a significant amount of post consumer waste to compost. We plan to continue our education campaign aimed at helping the students realize the annual impact of several ounces of food left on their plate or tray. Helping students make the connections between their individual actions and the cumulative impact the campus has on the environment is a goal we will continue to emphasize.

We were encouraged by the interest in our Dining Services initiative shown by the administration. Colby President Bro Adams, Vice President for Administrative Affairs Arnold Yasinski and other members of the senior staff were very supportive. Also, Director of Colby Dining Services Varun Avasthi was a strong advocate for the sustainability initiatives. The Communications Office was helpful in promoting the projects on campus and with our Alumni/ae -- Colby was even featured as a campus sustainability leader in an issue of Organic Style magazine!


Leaders and Supporters
The establishment of a EAG subcommittee made up of students, faculty and staff has been a model that has worked well for a number of environmental initiatives on campus. Each student involved focused on a specific project. The distribution of student effort with support and guidance from the Environmental Studies Program gave the individual projects cohesion and brought them together into a series of successful greening enhancements.

Colby working with North Center has been instrumental on a regional basis in establishing and expanding markets for local foods. We also celebrate the new alliance with the organization Farm Fresh Connection that emerged from our collaboration. Farm Fresh Connection is a Maine program that is working to build relationships between Maine farmers, students, and other food buyers in local communities, helping to sustain Maine farms, boosting local economies, and nurturing community.

Visit the Colby Campus Dining Sustainability page

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