CAL, EPA Paint Facilities 'Green'

The University of California at Berkeley and the government office complex for the EPA show others how easy it is to make foodservice environmentally friendly. By "greening" their business, these two operations are striving to make a big impact on the environment.

Call this A Tale of Two Foodservices. Foodservice programs for two very different institutions, located at opposite ends of the United States, are almost mind-melded by a singular goal: to make their own, however small, positive impact on the environment through best practices and education.

On the West Coast, in the Bay Area city of Berkeley, Calf., CalDining at the University of California at Berkeley has been garnering national headlines over the last year or so for its efforts to make at least dining services a "green" haven.

On the East Coast, on a much smaller scale, the foodservice department at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Research Triangle Park, N.C., facility has striven quietly since 2001 to lead by example by promoting sustainability and environmental consciousness among its employees.

Both programs will be on display later this month at the Society for Foodservice Management's annual conference in Las Vegas. Shawn LaPean, director of CalDining; and Joe Williams, conference center manager for the EPA's Research Triangle Park facility, will comprise two-thirds of a panel discussion titled "Going, Going, Gone Green."  John Burke, president of the Foodservice & Packaging Institute, is the other panelist.

Cost concerns

LaPean and his staff at Berkeley have invested much time and money over the past three years to meet a self-imposed challenge: to make CalDining as "green" as possible "without raising meal prices or room and board costs," LaPean notes. "We are not doing this simply to make a statement," he adds. "Our changes have to be economically feasible, or we won't make them."

What CalDining has achieved thus far is impressive. The department has the first certified organic salad bar in the nation. It operates the only two "green" buildings on campus; Crossroads and Clark Kerr dining commons, both certified by the Bay Area Green Business Program. The department purchases environmentally friendly products: everything from containers made from post-consumer materials to chemically safe cleaning products, recycles a wide variety of materials, and ships more than 70 tons of food waste every year to a composting facility.

CalDining also works with student sustainability education coordinators (SSEC) to teach resident students about recycling, organic foods and other sustainability issues. The SSECs, organized through the Residence Life department, perform such tasks as measuring plate waste and rewarding students who turn in clean plates, and donating leftover food to a local homeless shelter.

Great PR

"Our efforts certainly have raised our cachet and changed students' view of what we do" says LaPean. "It does provide a public relations perception of CalDining as beneficial to the campus."

The changeover has not been without its financial rewards, either. Overall, revenue has increased by 22%, while expenses have climbed by only 11%. "Our cost per meal continues to go down, 15 cents this year," LaPean notes.

"The number of optional meal plans sold has gone from 399 to 1,646. Customer satisfaction is up 27%, and CalDining has become the fifth most popular Web site at Berkeley," he adds. As a result, LaPean says, the bottom line has improved by 33%.

The greening of CalDining has raised the department's profile outside of the student population, as well. When LaPean came to Berkeley three years ago, full-service catering was virtually non-existent. By next fiscal year, CalDining will generate more than $1 million in catering sales.

"After our salad bar was certified organic (in April), we did $150,000 in catering in May" he explains.

More to do

Despite the list of accomplishments, LaPean says the department is not done. Among the CalDining goals: to have all four dining commons both green- and organic-certified by the fall of 2007; to expand the list of natural and organic products for use in the dining halls and for sale in retail outlets, and to arrange for the purchase of organic milk and cage-free eggs.

"Now, would this work in Missouri, or another state in the heartland? I don't know," he points out. "But it does for us. Going green creates green around the campus, and we will continue to pursue these environmental policies."

Across the country, in Research Triangle Park, N.C., the EPA has gone about its business much more quietly, but no less effectively. Of course, the entire campus, which covers some 133 acres and contains 1.2 million square feet of building space, was designed to be "green."

Marks of distinction: Among the campus' environmental hallmarks are...

  • Buildings that are 40% more energy-efficient than standard buildings of the same size.
  • 70% more efficient lighting.
  • 100% capture and reuse of storm water runoff.
  • The elimination of ozone-depleting chemicals in the campus's central cooling system.
  • Buildings designed to last 100 years, as opposed to a typical life span of 35 to 50 years.

In the main, six-story office tower is the 400-seat Lakeside Cafe, where the campus's 2,000 employees can choose to eat breakfast and lunch. There, EPA's Williams notes, foodservice operator Aramark manages a number of programs that have helped earn the facility several honors.

"The most important thing for us in implementing all of our initiatives is the working relationship we have with Aramark," Williams explains. "Operationally, they make the program work."

In the Lakeside Cafe, where Aramark serves an average of 900 meals a day, all take-out products are made of recyclable, biodegradable or compostible ingredients. Most condiments, like ketchup and mustard, are dispensed from bulk containers, rather than single-serve packages.

The composting program is extensive, with pre-consumer waste including produce, meat scraps and coffee grounds and post-consumer waste including napkins, paper cups, disposable tableware and chicken bones. What can't be composted is recycled, not just from Lakeside but throughout the campus. Coffee dispensers feature organic, shade-grown varieties.

Taking the lead

"I would say we are ahead of most, if not all, corporate cafeterias," says Williams. "Even our c-stores focus on earth-friendly products. Most recently we added bottled water in completely recyclable containers."

Customer enthusiasm for environmental concerns at the EPA is mixed, he adds."There are some employees who probably don't care what we do as long as they get their food hot and fresh and at a good price," Williams explains. "Then there are others who believe we aren't doing enough. For example, sugar is still one product that we offer in single-serve packages. We're trying to balance issues of cost, convenience, labor, sanitation and health issues, so we haven't gone to putting out sugar in bulk. But some people still would prefer that we do that."

As much as the Lakeside Cafe has contributed to EPA's healthy footprint, Williams says that more can be done. He notes, for instance, that he would like to serve more organic and locally grown foods, once cost and quality issues can be addressed. He would like to increase the facility's composting rate. He also would like to see lower pricing for green products, to create a stronger supply-demand relationship with product manufacturers.

"We do monitor and evaluate how effective we are," Williams points out. "We're always looking to push the envelope, to take things to the next level."

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