Sustainability

Foodservice leaders discuss the future of sustainable dining

A recent report by The National Association of College and University Food Services revealed insights pertaining to the storytelling behind sustainability and more.
local food
Purchasing local food was discussed in the Corporate Social Responsibility focus group. | Photo: Shutterstock.

Sustainability and other corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives continue to dominate conversation in the college foodservice space. CSR has become a focal point for many operations and foodservice providers continue to discuss best practices for the future of sustainable dining. One important consideration for decision makers when establishing CSR initiatives is storytelling.

That, at least, is according to the National Association of College and Universities Food Services (NACUFS) College Dining 2030 and Beyond report which includes a discussion of a CSR-based focus group.

Research for the report was collected through focus groups consisting of college and university foodservice leaders, as well as foodservice academics, technology experts and facilities design professionals. The focus groups were developed with the goal of understanding the issues facing foodservice providers today. The team also put together an advisory board with foodservice experts such as Zia Ahmed, senior director of dining services at The Ohio State University and Ken Toong, executive director of dining at the University of Massachusetts.

Here's three takeaways from the CSR focus group.

1. Operations need to tell the story behind what they do

The focus group revealed a need to tell the story behind what the operation is doing for sustainability. Common topics of discussion were eliminating single-use plastics and utilizing composting. One way this storytelling can come alive is through marketing. For instance, the dining team at the University of Nevada at Reno has recently put a big marketing push behind sustainable dining efforts, such as the implementation of reusable to-go containers.

Another topic of discussion was incorporating more locally sourced food items onto the menu as well as telling the story behind the food.

The group also discussed the need to communicate authentically as well as gather data around sustainable initiatives.

2. Balancing sustainability and cost can be a challenge 

It’s seldom that a conversation around sustainability can be complete without bringing up costs. The group put onus on manufacturers to find ways to reduce costs while providing sustainably packaged and sourced products. In addition, the group concluded that corporate needs to work on making sustainability affordable for foodservice operations.

3. Sustainability needs to be a part of campus culture

It’s valuable to get both parents and students on board with sustainable initiatives. One way to do this is by engraining sustainability into campus culture. The group discussed ways to do this including offering ongoing opportunities for students, faculty and staff to learn about CSR and sustainability. Another focus area is the workforce and building up carbon literacy, ensuring that employees understand the importance of sustainable initiatives. Another point of consideration is ensuring that messaging and learning opportunities are accessible and engaging.