In recent years, food has become a big deal on college campuses. Between 2013 and 2014, campuses saw a sixty percent increase in regional and local food initiatives. Students are increasingly interested in where their food comes from; how it’s grown, raised, and harvested; and the impact their eating has on the environment. Composting and recycling programs have gained traction, and more than 600 schools are participating in AASHE’s sustainability tracking program.
This is an important trend because institutions of higher education play a significant role in highlighting and spreading sustainability. College campuses have considerable purchasing power within their communities and among larger corporations. Universities can also leverage a lot of publicity around the issue of sustainability, and perhaps most importantly higher education influences the way that future generations think and act.
By leading the way in achieving sustainability through food, higher education continues to show everyone else that there are many ways we can effectively and economically approach the climate change challenge.
When Boston University began its sustainable dining initiative in 2007, it started small: hire someone to coordinate the program. Focus on sorting and reducing kitchen waste. Start a compost scheme.
Today, not only does the university recycle, repurpose, or compost about 75 percent of waste from its kitchens, it also sources 22 percent of its food from sustainable suppliers. All eggs served on campus, for instance – about 4 million a year – are cage-free and independently certified as humane. The 23 tons of ground beef, hamburgers, and hot dogs that make it to the university’s three dining halls are sourced from 100 percent grass-fed Maine cows.
The story is echoed in the dining halls of colleges across the country. Driven by a broader movement toward sustainable practices – as well as a desire to attract students who increasingly place a premium on locally sourced and humanely raised food – higher-education institutions have increasingly committed to buying more local and organic products from vendors who engage in fair, transparent methods of supplying food.
The result is that universities are growing more aware of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to serving fresh, healthy, and environmentally sound meals to students – and of the impact their efforts can have on attitudes and local economies.
“Universities play a tremendous role in letting people know the importance of sustainability,” says Lydia Zepeda, a professor of consumer science and an expert on sustainable consumption at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Not only do such institutions wield considerable purchasing power within their communities, she says, but they can also leverage a lot of publicity around the issue.