UCSC earns Hobart’s praise, help

This West Coast university becomes the latest member of the Hobart Center for Foodservice Sustainability.

Well before ‘green’ and sustainability became widely accepted as both industry terms and viable approaches to designing and operating foodservice facilities, Hobart Corp. began a program of “driving sustainable design from the inside out,” starting with its own manufacturing processes and later moving to establish a forum to allow foodservice directors to share their case studies and best practices and to provide “thought leadership and counsel.”

The forum became known as the Hobart Center for Foodservice Sustainability. Rick Cartwright, vice president/general manager of ITW Food Equipment Group Retail Systems, who oversees Hobart’s Weighing, Wrapping and Deli product lines, said the idea grew out of the company’s own efforts to look at design activities to reduce water and energy use in its equipment manufacturing.  

“We were certainly early, if not the first” equipment manufacturer to take such an approach, he says.

HCFS is designed to promote new thinking in sustainable design. “We started by bringing in a collection of people,” Cartwright recalls. Those people, called Fellows, include Cartwright; Richard Young, director of energy for the Food Service Technology Center; Michael Berning, director of sustainable design, Heapy Engineering, and John Turenne, chef and founder of Sustainable Food Systems.

“It didn’t represent a big investment of money, apart from creating a $5,000 grant,” Cartwright says of the award that recognizes the most innovative, best managed foodservice sustainability project of the year. The award and grant are presented each November during the Greenbuild Conference in Boston.

The return on that investment, however, has been immeasurable, creating, in a short period of time, a wealth of shared information and data and a resource “hub” about ways foodservice operators can improve their bottom line while being ecologically responsible. The data is designed for use not only by operators, both commercial and non-commercial, but architects, designers and consultants as well.

The competition drew numerous entrants from educational institutions, foodservice establishments and hospitality facilities. Many of the entries, past and present, are featured on the HCFS website. Among the new submissions that will be showcased are

Sodexo at UC Davis, Davis, Calif., for its “Sustaining Our Future” program; Aramark at the Anaheim (Calif.) Convention Center, which implemented an “Environmental Stewardship Platform” focused on energy, sustainable menu development, waste stream management, communication and education, and Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pa., with a “Campus Kitchen Project” that recycled unused portions of food from Dining Services into nutritious meals that were redistributed to local agencies.

This year’s grant recipient, the University of California Santa Cruz, will use the money to add new sustainability resources, says Jamie Smith, chef de cuisine, who accepted the award for Director of Dining and Hospitality Services Scott Berlin, who now becomes an HCFS Fellow for the next year. “We add someone as a Fellow each time we make an award,” says Cartwright. “This way, we increase the knowledge base which operators are free to access on our Web site. We are seeing a significant increase in the number of people tracking return on investment from sustainable practices. I like to say that being ‘green’ is green. You have to spend to save, but you do see a return.”

UC Santa Cruz’s foodservice program has taken a number of steps to make the campus more environmentally friendly. For example, the department decreased energy consumption and water use, reduced solid and water waste, and implemented a Farm-to-Fork program. Working with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), staff replaced incandescent lighting, exit signs and older style T-12 ballasts with more energy-efficient alternatives, saving nearly $10,000 a year. For that effort, the university received a $26,500 rebate from PG&E that will be used to fund future sustainable dining services projects, Smith says.

Dining Services updated purchasing practices to mandate that only Energy Star® qualified equipment be purchased, and by using 56 Energy Star® rated appliances, was able to cut most energy costs in half. A “Trayless Tuesday” campaign that removed trays from one of five dining halls reduced food waste by 32%. This fall, all trays were eliminated, a move estimated to save 30,000 gallons of water each month as well as savings from cleaning chemicals and water heating costs.

A pilot composting program was implemented in which kitchen scraps are collected from four of the five facilities and transported to the Vision Composting Project. The program will be extended to all dining facilities in the future.

“We made it a mission to create both a dining experience that is fundamentally based on a sustainable food system, and one that also provides fresh, healthy and tasty food to 15,000 students,” says Berlin. An inventory analysis was developed to adjust perishable food levels to significantly reduce spoilage or dehydration. Portion sizes are adjusted when certain foods are consistently not eaten, and hourly and daily production charts help minimize over-preparation and unnecessary food waste. Perishable items are donated to a local food bank.

Vegetable and meat scraps are used for stock, and grease, fat and unused cooking oils are recycled for uses such as biodiesel fuel; five gallons a grease per day no longer enters the wastewater system. Food that is thrown away is converted to slurry by a pulper. The pulpers have reduced the cubic yards of waste collection in Dumpsters by two-thirds.

“We measure and weigh plate waste,” says Smith. “The students do it. Waste goes to a landfill now but we’re looking for ways to dry it out and use it as compost.”

UCSC, which purchases $6.9 million in food supplies annually, seeks to buy from local sources wherever possible. Approximately 24% of the school’s produce is organic, with 61% purchased directly from local farmers.

The school also has its own farm, which supplies some organically grown produce.

“Our to-go containers are all potato starch-based,” Smith points out. The school uses paper products and corn-based flatware, all biodegradable and compostable. Hydration stations were set up to reduce disposable plastic water bottles. Solar-powered trash compactors are being installed.

Students play an active role in the sustainability programs, Smith notes. HCFS Fellow Michael Berning observes that in sharp contrast to the 1960’s, when California’s state universities saw numerous student protests, today’s students “want to work with the universities to do this. There’s a big drive within the (college and university) foodservice industry for sustainability because it’s the wave of the future. Universities are the leaders in sustainable foodservice.”