An intern participating in Chartwells Higher Education’s Student Success program helped engineering a sustainability-focused collaboration between the contract feeder and the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus.
Catherine Thompson was a Chartwells intern when she joined the board of Seedlings, a national social network of campus groups focused on greener living, during her senior year. She saw an opportunity for the two organizations to combine forces to spread the sustainability message through campus dining; the result was an event this past spring designed to raise students’ awareness about the carbon impact of their meal choices.
The “How Good” event, a lunchtime takeover of a dining hall station, was scheduled in April, just before Earth Day. The menu, chosen by Seedlings’ members, included jerk tofu steak, roasted beets and lemon couscous. Each course was ranked and labeled according to Chartwells’ HowGood scale, an indicator of their carbon impact.
Both Seedlings and Chartwells were relative newcomers to the campus, Thompson says, and the event helped raise both their profiles.
Seedlings leveraged the event as a recruiting opportunity. The group set up a table at the dining hall entrance, where students swiped in. They could then spin a wheel to earn Chartwells-supplied sustainability swag, such as small succulents or reusable cutlery. The group provided a QR link to a Seedlings information and a board application. Thompson says interest in Seedlings saw a healthy bump from the display.
The special lunch also provided Chartwells an opportunity to promote HowGood, a relatively new system that labels dishes throughout the dining hall based on their sustainability score. Poster explained the HowGood rankings—none, good, very good or great—which , are the product of a partnership between Chartwells Higher Education and HowGood, an independent research company that claims to have the world’s largest database on ingredient and product sustainability. HowGood has used the data and analyzed Chartwells recipes to call out their relative impact compared to conventional choices. The eight impact metrics include greenhouse gas emissions, processing, water usage, soil health, land use, working conditions, biodiversity and animal welfare.
Chartwells began displaying HowGood labels on dining hall menus and digital signage at its partner campuses last fall.
“We didn’t really know how the event would play out,” Thompson admits, “but the support from Chartwells was so helpful in teaching students about sustainable food.” She says Chartwells would like to offer similar events on a regular basis and expand the idea.
“This was a first step, but now Chartwells would like to collaborate with more schools,” she says. “It was a good way for both organizations to test the water.”
Following fast on the heels of the How Good lunch, Chartwells also released the results of a plate waste study that the contractor and Seedlings had promoted. “We wanted the final measurement so people would have that in the back of their head,” Thompson notes. The students ended up beating expectations, reducing plate waste 18 percent during the semester.
The impact of food choices and food waste is only one of the areas of focus by Seedlings. The group also promotes recycling, Earth Day and other green concerns, with each chapter determining the best way to do that. “One college does a podcast; we wanted events. The whole goal is to get the message out there, but how you do it is up to you,” Thompson says.
Thompson recently graduated. During her stint in Chartwells’ Student Success program, she had the opportunity to connect and share ideas with other Chartwells interns who also focused on sustainability through biweekly remote meetings. “I did a research study about plate waste and bounced the idea off the other interns, and I learned from them,” she says. The program also provides advice on resume building, handling workplace conflict and other issues designed to prepare college students to be better employees.