On the Leading Edge of Sustainability

On the Leading Edge of Sustainability

Bates College has one of the country's greenest dining programs. Here's what they've done

At Bates College, located about two and a half hours north of Boston in Maine's bucolic underbelly, green couldn't be more in. The private liberal arts school with 1,750 students recently won a $5,000 grant from the Hobart Center for Foodservice Sustainability (HCFS) for its comprehensive approach to foodservice sustainability, and Dining Services Director Christine Schwartz was named a fellow of the HCFS.

Bates undertook a yearlong initiative in September 2008 to explore connections between the dining program, food and the educational mission of the college itself.

The initiative, called Nourishing Body and Mind: Bates Contemplates Food, produced a decrease in energy consumption and water use, a reduction in solid waste generated and the implementation of a major farm-to-fork program that greatly expanded the purchasing of local, sustainable foods.

And far from being a money loser, Bates actually realized an annual saving totaling more than $80,000 from its green initiatives.

Along the way, the dining program also became the first such institution to become a member of the Green Restaurant Association. The GRA's requirement that members implement three green initiatives a year has proved to be a useful spur to continued progress in sustainability, says Schwartz. “It helps keep us honest. We couldn't just pick the low hanging fruit in the first year and then think we're done.”

To save water, the dining department eliminated all seven of its garbage disposals, saving nearly 1.5 million gallons of water (and about $3,500 in electricity costs). “When we totaled it up, we figured that was enough water to fill 71 average-sized in-ground swimming pools,” Schwartz notes.

To conserve energy, the college uses strategies such as day lighting in the dining hall, occupancy sensors to control lighting, shade trees to reduce “heat island” effects, energy-efficient lighting, “vending misers” that put vending machines “to sleep” when no motion is detected and high-efficiency, Energy Star rated equipment. Natural ventilation strategies cut air conditioner use.

The school's new $22 million dining hall was designed with energy use requirements 20% under the standard required by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

The dining department diverts 82% of its solid waste from landfills to either a local pig farm (for post-consumer waste) or a farm-based composting program (for pre-consumer waste). An aggressive return program for single-use beverage containers has prompted a 93 percent return rate.

Unserved but viable food items are sent to two local food banks, a contribution of some 33,000 community meals annually.

Also, bulk and reusable packaging is emphasized in purchasing and the use of paper products contrained through strategies such as placing napkins directly on tables to encourage the use of only as many as needed.

The waste reduction effort also made Bates the first college to implement a “take-a-mug/leave-a-mug” program, in which students get reusable lidded coffee mugs instead of disposable cups for takeout beverages.

Local sourcing and farm-to-fork are emphasized. Partnerships with local suppliers have helped Bates double its local purchasing from 14 to 28 percent by last August.

To connect sustainability issues with the life of the university, the dining department has adopted strategies such as featuring local foods at all events that involve food. It also hosted an academic year kick-off brunch featuring local farmers and developed a unique maple shortbread cookie recipe by using all Maine-grown ingredients. It is a delicious and high profile vehicle for spreading the word at a variety of events on and off campus.

For More on Sustainability at Bates…

Dining Services Director Christine Schwartz participated in a webinar last October on sustainability. To see her presentation, complete with her Powerpoint slides, go to www.food-management.com/hobart [3].