Georgia Colleges and Universities Gather to Promote Sustainable Dining Practices

from Wildlife Promise

On November 12, 2010, more than 40 individuals from over 20 colleges and universities in Georgia gathered at Kennesaw State University (KSU) to learn about sustainable dining issues and initiatives from some of the leading campuses around the state.  This event was organized by the Georgia Campus Sustainability Network in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Ecology program and KSU’s Sustainability Director, Dr. Robert Paul.  There was no cost to attend.

The day began with a tour of KSU’s brand new LEED Gold Certified Dining Hall, the largest facility of its kind to be certified at this level in the United States.  We learned about the design of the dining hall with respect to energy and water conservation, as well as improved usability for employees.  KSU’s dining manager then treated all 44 of us to a free all you care to eat meal, where we sampled the delicious cuisine from a variety of different serving stations.  Vegetarian foods, including vegetarian protein sources, were plentiful and many healthy dishes were offered.  There was also very visible labeling of all locally sourced ingredients, which helps students make more sustainable food choices.

After lunch, Shannan George of Life University, the world’s largest chiropractic college, made a presentation about Socrates Cafe, the new zero waste dining facility on her campus.  All food and drinks are served in compostable containers with biodegradable utensils.  They are testing a prototype composter that breaks down all food “waste” into a natural soil amendment in only 18 hours.  This product can then be mixed with soil and returned to the earth, rather than a landfill.  This system requires no chemicals or enzymes, but relies 100% on mechanical processes and heat to break down food, including meat and bones which can not normally be composted.  Campus Ecology also recently published a Case Study on this project!

I followed with a brief presentation about reducing the environmental, social and health impacts associated with eating large quantities of factory farm meat and animal products.  In addition to offering more vegan and vegetarian options in dining halls and food courts, campuses can choose to provide more sustainable animal products like organic, free-range eggs and wild game.  While vegetarianism may not be for everyone, by decreasing our consumption of unsustainable meat and animal products we can reduce: land and water consumption, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, world hunger, unnecessary use of antibiotics, the cost of health care, and the rates of heart disease, obesity, cancer and swine flu, among other ailments.  Just some food for thought.

Nell Fry, Georgia Institute of Technology‘s Sustainable Dining Coordinator, made a presentation about cost-neutral sustainable dining initiatives.  These include energy and water conservation efforts, waste reduction through composting and recycling, local purchasing, substituting vegetarian protein options for meat, employee education, and several other simple steps that any campus can take to reduce their environmental impact.

Lastly, Emory University’s Sustainable Food Service Education Coordinator, Julie Shaffer, presented on Emory’s leadership in the areas of local and organic purchasing, as well as student engagement through on campus gardens and free culinary classes.  It was inspiring and informative to hear about the wide range of sustainable dining initiatives being taken by campuses across the state of Georgia.  Thanks to everyone who presented at the event!  I hope to hear many more great stories from campuses who participated in the workshop and look forward to future events with the Georgia Campus Sustainability Network.

If you are interested in learning more about the network or possibly getting involved, contact Carly Queen at queenc@nwf.org .