BELLEVUE, Wash.—For the past three years, the foodservice department at 337-bed Overlake Hospital Medical Center has been “greening” its operations. This summer the department, which is led by Director of Hospitality Services Mark Eggleston, had the opportunity to incorporate environmentally friendly initiatives into the 10-year-old Stanzas Café when the location was renovated.
The eco-friendly renovation is the latest in Eggleston’s sustainability initiatives, which include recycling, composting, and buying local and organic foods. These efforts earned Eggleston recognition from the Association for Healthcare Foodservice (AHF), which honored him with the Exemplary Leadership Award this June.
“We started small just in dining services with eliminating things like Styrofoam,” Eggleston said. “We got away from using processed products and started to bring in natural and organic as much as possible. We started composting and recycling.”
Stanzas Café: There are two cafés and three espresso cafés on the Overlake campus. Eggleston decided to renovate Stanzas Café, the secondary café located in the hospital’s lobby, to incorporate more sustainability initiatives. “We wanted to make it as close to 100% organic, natural, sustainable and green as possible,” Eggleston said. “Most of those efforts are centered around the menu and composting.” Stanzas reopened Aug. 23rd.
A big focus of the renovation was creating a new menu. New menu items include the addition of Seattle favorites Theo Chocolates and Macrina Bakery breads. A fresh juice bar with carrot, orange and a variety of berries was also added. Flatbread pizzas are made with organic toppings and all of the café’s greens are organic. Milk and bottled beverages are organic or natural, and entrée protein selections are either natural or organic. “Anything that we put on the menu has to fall into one of those categories of either
being local, sustainable or green,” Eggleston said.
Because of the green requirements, Eggleston was forced to raise prices. “All the dairy products are organic so the espresso prices went up a little bit.
“We took a big risk,” Eggleston said about the department’s green menu. “We slowly phased it in and justified the cost in certain circumstances, at least on the retail side. We didn’t really get any grumblings about our prices. We are charging more than most other cafeterias in hospitals for the same kind of stuff.”
“Local” means within Washington state, Eggleston said, and when it comes to buying things like apples for Stanzas, price dictates whether the produce is organic or simply local.
Eggleston said marketing is another change to Stanzas Café. “Most of the marketing is done with signage,” he said. “We have our story posted on the walls as to what our mission is all about and where we source our products.”
A sign in the café reads, “Stanzas is a destination restaurant focused exclusively on local, sustainable, organic and natural foods, freshly prepared. We select the highest-quality products and suppliers to create great-tasting meals that support healthy lifestyles and healthy communities.”
Employee scripting is also used as a marketing device. “The staff has bought in to the whole thing and they are excited about it, so part of what they do is each time a customer buys something they are asked to remind customers to not forget to compost their dish or recycle their bottle,” Eggleston said.
When the department switched to on-demand patient service (room service) in December 2009, Eggleston took the change as an opportunity to add more green items to the patient menu. “We were already doing organic produce for the patients, and we just took it a step further and introduced a lot more of the fresh and natural components,” he said.
“Green wasn’t really a trend when we started looking at doing this,” Eggleston said. “I remember having a conversation with my bosses and they were like, ‘why would we do that? It’s going to be more expensive.’ It was more expensive at the time. Three years ago organics were out there, but there wasn’t much availability from our prime vendors.”
Eggleston said that has changed. “The vendors are much more responsive now,” he said. “They wanted the business, and we were going outside to some of the smaller vendors to get these products. Now, the bigger guys are stepping up to the plate and offering us more variety.”
Taking on trash: Another area Eggleston had difficulty with sourcing three years ago was compostables. “If we did find some, they were really expensive,” he said. “Styrofoam was still trumping everything in terms of price.”
Now, polystyrene has been eliminated. All dishware is compostable, except flatware, which is plastic because the company whose dispensers are used doesn’t have a compostable product. However, Eggleston said the company is developing a compostable flatware line.
Thus when King County, which the hospital is located in, banned polystyrene in foodservice institutions in January of this year, Eggleston was one step ahead.
Eggleston worked with the environmental services department, which he also oversees, to create a recycling program hospital wide. Recycling bins were placed at elevators and in the staff lounges. Composting containers also were set up around the hospital. The foodservice department composts both pre- and post-consumer waste.
Sorting has been a problem. “For some reason people just don’t get it,” Eggleston said. “We started out with signs showing what goes in each container and people would screw it up. Then we put up little baskets with plates and bottles and we said this is what goes in this container. They still didn’t get it right. That’s been the frustrating part. Now, we are trying to do more with scripting of staff.”
In the hospital’s main café, foodservice employees do the sorting, which helps with the problem. Empty trays are returned to a dishroom where an employee sorts the waste.
Eggleston said the city of Bellevue approached him about starting a composting program. “They had a consultant come and help us set it up. The city did a lot around the recycling effort. They gave us containers and table tents and other things to really market the program. They had the mayor come out to speak to our leadership.”
The mayor also presented the hospital with the award for King County’s Best Workplace for Recycling and Waste Reduction this year, making it the three year in a row the hospital has received the award.
Leap of faith: “Don’t be afraid to take a risk,” Eggleston said about starting green initiatives. “We were very nervous about how this was going to affect our budget. And it did affect our budget. We know that we spend more money on our supply budget now than we used to. But we also get a lot of it back on the retail side by the up charging. We’re hoping with the revamped Stanzas Café that people will see it as a destination rather than as a convenience.”