At the University of Nevada at Reno (UNR), sustainability is top of mind for the dining team. The team recently put a big marketing push behind its sustainability efforts, but Phoebe Judge, sustainability manager for the university, noted that in many ways, it’s the students themselves that lead the team’s efforts.
“A lot of sustainability is actually driven by students on campus. So as an example, my position is new to the university, sustainability manager, and that was actually a student-driven initiative through ASUN which is our student government body,” said Judge.
But Judge said that reaching students who aren’t as knowledgeable about sustainability is another one of the university’s goals. The team does this in many ways, but namely through social media and tabling events. For instance, the team recently held a sustainability market during lunch hours to spread awareness about different initiatives the university has implemented.
Here’s a look at UNR dining’s approach to sustainability and the role students play along the way.
Reducing waste through trial and error
From a broad approach, sustainability at UNR is focused on reducing waste before it gets to the landfill, according to Judge. The team takes this approach as Northern Nevada currently doesn’t have a composting system, she added.
One way the university has been able to reduce waste is through implementing reusable to-go containers. The team tested out Ozzi to-go containers last Spring semester and through trial and error, they have effectively created a successful system.
At first, they tested out a coin system where students would deposit a coin to receive a new box, with no face-to-face interaction. Now, the team has figured out it works better to simply give the to-go boxes to the cashiers and have them facilitate the program.
The team also provided learning materials, such as videos, when the program officially launched.
It did take some time for students to get used to the program though, noted Liggett, who said that UNR put a big marketing push behind the program to help students understand the importance of it.
“And once they realized why we were doing it, they really got excited about it and really started to enjoy the program,” said Liggett.
Another way UNR has been able to decrease waste is through the implementation of WasteNot2.0, a waste management program the university implemented in June, 2022. The system allows back-of-house employees to record waste that comes in. The team has seen a 50.5% decrease in overproduction compared to the year prior, said Liggett.
“It’s really been able to influence the waste that we've been tracking, protocols and back of house. It's just been a really great program,” she said.
While it took some time for employees to become acclimated to the system, feedback has been mostly positive.
“And they're really excited to see that we're pushing a bunch of different sustainability initiatives in the dining hall. They really just love it whenever I go in to table for it,” added Liggett.
Another sustainability initiative the university has recently implemented is carbon labeling through its foodservice provider, Chartwells Higher Education’s partner HowGood. The system ranks menu items based on their carbon footprint on a range of good, great and best.
“So, they kind of feel like they have an influence on how they can help the environment just from choosing a different meal,” said Liggett.
Each month, Chartwells Higher Education provides the university with a sustainable focus area to highlight that month; the theme for November was Look for Local. This provides the team with a great marketing opportunity. Liggett said they use traditional marketing efforts like flyers and tabling events but also recently have leaned into social media.
“So we started making a lot more of those [TikToks and Reels] to give demonstrations to students so they can visualize how the different things go that we've implemented. There's like a lot of things that I do that are back-of- house that students aren't really able to see,” Liggett said.
The team also welcomes feedback through avenues such as a text chat system for the dining hall.
Liggett said she noticed students have become more interested in sustainability initiatives as of late.
“Students have been coming up to our table a lot more than in the past because they've been able to see all of the things that we're doing. We kind of open it as an area for them to talk to us rather than us chasing after them,” she said.