On Green Business Certification for Brenan Connolly and Danielle Lee

Green initiatives at the University of California, Davis.

At 31,400-student University of California, Davis, a strong sustainability program led dining services to try and find a third party to certify them as a “green business.” We spoke to Brenan Connolly, general manager of resident dining for Sodexo, and Danielle Lee, sustainability manager, about how the certification process worked for them.

Q. How did the idea to get the Green Business Certifications come about?

Connolly: To start off I just want to say that Danielle steered the campus in this direction as far as the work to get the certification process done. Along with that, she worked very closely with student housing and other departments to help support us, get the documents together and double check a lot of different things. It wasn’t just a dining services initiative—it was a campuswide process.

That said, we’ve been doing a lot of sustainability initiatives on campus for the past five to seven years. Through that, we’ve been discussing how we wanted to get our businesses certified by a third party. We were working with the UC Sustainable Practice work group, which involved members from all UC schools, and as a group we decided was that we did need some kind of green certification for our dining services programs. So from there we evaluated what certification we wanted and that’s when we landed on the Sacramento Area Sustainable Business certification.

Q. What were the first steps to get certified?

Lee: We started by taking a look at what the criteria was for certification. We went through their checklist and compared them with our best practices. The criteria focused on six areas: energy conservation, water conservation, pollution prevention, solid waste production, “green” building and transportation. We were already doing a lot of what was on the checklist. We were able to use what the campus had already established toward our certification. Just the fact that we had bike parking outside our dining facilities, which is a standard campus practice, helped us achieve one of those criteria points. So for each of the practices within the six areas within each of the categories there is a minimum requirement of five points for practice changes or best practices and a minimum of five points for equipment or facility changes. So once I analyzed the checklist and figured out what we were already accomplishing that I knew of, I had meetings with various campus representatives within facilities, grounds and landscaping facilities to figure out what was being done that I didn’t know about and also verifying that what I thought I knew was true. Easy things that we weren’t doing just required us to basically do an inventory of all of our hand-washing sinks and making sure that they had aerators. Another step was bringing the foodservice technologies center in to do an energy audit of our facilities to give us a third-party look into how our facilities are being operated. We basically organized a bunch of information and data and put it together to document that we were actually doing these things and submitting it to the Business and Environmental Resource Center (BERC) within Sacramento that does the does the certification.

Q. Why was it so important for you to get these certifications?

Lee: Well, there are many reasons that it’s important. First of all, it’s a third-party certification, so its not like we are going in there saying, “look how great we are.” It’s also really important because it helps us meet the goals that the UC Universities have set up for sustainable business or green business certification for dining facilities. The goal within that program was to have one dining operation on your university campus be certified a green business by December 2010. That was another reason we wanted to work on meeting that goal that the UC had established. Also, it is a part of how we do business not just on the campus, but nationally as part of Sodexo. They have a lot of emphasis on decreasing energy use and basically looking at how our facilities are being operated and trying to reduce our environmental impact.

Connolly: Another important aspect is that working with the campus we want to make sure that we are staying up on what the campus goals are as far as improving our operations from the sustainable standpoint. The campus is always looking for more and more ways that we can go in that direction. The other aspect that we are really seeing at the college market and the education market is getting more and more competitive with incoming freshman and transfer students into the systems. The university, from a competitive standpoint, it’s getting down to what can housing and dining services offer the students that might be a little bit different or might be something that the students are looking for versus another college campus. We are feeling more and more that we are a part of that whole recruitment process for the campus.

Lee: Some of the newest sustainability initiatives we’ve been working on is trying to reduce organic waste in our facilities and operations. We are composting, which is great, but we are still trying to reduce the amount of organic waste that we are producing. We are partnering with Lean Path to measure all of the kitchen waste the pre-waste and over production waste and take a look at some trends so we can help analyze that and reduce the amount of waste in our kitchen. In terms of student waste, plate waste or post-consumer waste, we are doing a lot of education on portion sizes. We are actually physically changing portion sizes to help them and encourage them to reduce the amount of waste that makes it into the dish return. This is definitely stuff we would be doing regardless of the certification. We are constantly analyzing our program on an annual basis and even on a weekly basis to make sure we are moving forward.

Q. What were some of the biggest challenges going back to the certification process of being certified?

Lee: It took a lot of time and expertise, and as a recent graduate I do know a lot about our practices here on campus, but the energy and some of the facilities practices were all new to me. As the point person I had to reach out to the experts on campus, which is important because they need to be involved in these conversations. So the biggest challenge was finding a time where everybody could meet on campus because there are a lot of individuals who needed to be a part of this project. In terms of the certification itself, because we have so many existing best practices and such an amazing facility already, it wasn’t really hard to achieve the certification.

Q. What advice would you give to others operators who might like to pursue certification?

Lee: Find one point person to facilitate the meetings with all of the campus stakeholders who have a stake in that dining facility, someone who is super organized, someone who is good at identifying important contacts on your campus and who has the knowledge and expertise that you might not have in order to move forward with the certification. Doing a baseline assessment of where your campus is at compared to the criteria in whatever certification is really important because you will have a better idea of what steps it’s going to take to move forward to get the certification. After you do you baseline assessment, if there are any practices that you need to accomplish in order to achieve the certification, prioritize which ones are the easiest over the ones that are going to be pretty time consuming and costly. A good example is changing hand-washing sink aerators versus implementing a composting program.

Connolly: One of the most important things too when you talk about advice that we would give other accounts or other people out there is really sit down from a strategy standpoint when you’re looking at your sustainability program and see where this fits into that program. I wouldn’t want to hang a whole lot on having this certification if you are not doing a lot of other things too. For me this certification was one piece of a whole puzzle.

At 31,400-student University of California, Davis, a strong sustainability program led dining services to try and find a third party to certify them as a “green business.” We spoke to Brenan Connolly, general manager of resident dining for Sodexo, and Danielle Lee, sustainability manager, about how the certification process worked for them.