All eight residential dining units at the University of Connecticut were recently certified as “Green Restaurants” by the Green Restaurant Association.
“UConn has become one of few public universities in the U.S. to achieve ‘green’ certification for every dining hall on campus based on practices used at each site to promote environmental sustainability,” a press release said.
“Achieving Green Restaurant Certification for all of our eight residential dining facilities was an important goal for us,” Director of Dining Services, Dennis Pierce, said, “It is unfortunate that we take this earth lightly and we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. UConn Dining feels that if we see our environment as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. For these reasons, for Dining Services, there were no choices but to achieve green certification.”
Dining Services has been working towards achieving this certification for the past two and a half years, Pierce said.
“We approached the Green Restaurant Association because we knew of it being a certifier for restaurants but not for colleges,” Pierce said. “We reached out to them and said, ‘We serve food in the same kind of production facilities and would that be something you would do?’ and they said, ‘Yes.’”
The GRA assesses restaurants and dining units based on water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable durable goods and building materials, sustainable food, energy, reusables and environmentally preferable disposables and chemical and pollution reduction.
Dining Services was already doing many of the practices that the GRA looks for in its accreditation, Pierce said.
“Why we went after it was we were already doing it in most cases,” Pierce said.
In order to receive the certification, Dining Services was required to compile a great deal of paperwork to prove that they were partaking in green practices, Pierce said.
The GRA takes a holistic look at dining facilities when determining their accreditation, taking factors such as the material the facility is built from and the kind of light bulbs used in the units into account as well as those such as buying food from local vendors and engaging in sustainable practices.
“They look at everything from the plants that are around the building, they look at light coming into the building, the kind of chemicals you use, when you buy local or regional,” Pierce said.
Buckley was the first residential dining unit to receive the green certification.
Dining Services began with Buckley because it was a smaller unit and thus easier to assemble the research for, Pierce said.
“We did it because it was smaller, you could like put your arms around it,” Pierce said.
Despite its more manageable size, it still took a year to assemble the necessary documentation for the application, Pierce said.
“It took a year for Buckley because it was that difficult to reach out to various components of the university to gather that history and find this documentation so you could submit it in your application,” Pierce said.
One of the main challenges Dining Services encountered during the process was that the oil from the fryers was not being used for biodiesel fuel, one of the main criterion for the GRA certification, Pierce said.
“We hit a big hurdle,” Pierce said. “The oil that we used for the fryolator was being processed through a rendering company, but the end products were not being used specifically to make biodiesel fuel.”
Dining Services then went through a bidding process to find a new company to turn the oil into biodiesel fuel.
Buckley’s certification paved the way for the other dining units to become certified, Pierce said.
“We were able to do it for the first one and subsequently for the other ones, and what we were attempting to do was two a semester,” Pierce said.
A graduate student was in charge of the project at Buckley, but Dining Services realized they would need someone to handle the task for the other dining units, Pierce said.
“We realized because of the magnitude that requires us to do this for each of the dining units, we engaged a gentleman who is a consultant,” Pierce said.
Dining Services will continue to work towards improving the green rating of their units, Pierce said.
“Getting a certification right up front is well and good, but the goal is that you want to constantly improve,” Pierce said.
Currently, all eight residential dining units have achieved a three-star rating out of a possible four.
“The goal is to start benchmarking and work towards bettering that area and becoming more greener,” Pierce said. “Over the summer, we’ll start looking at where is everything in terms of how many stars and what do we need to do to raise that—what can we do to improve.”
Once a new assistant director for UConn’s retail operations is hired, they will begin working toward getting UConn’s cafés and food court certified by the GRA, Pierce said.
“I don’t want to just reach this goal and say it's only for the residential side; I want to do it for the whole department because it’s achievable, without a doubt,” Pierce said. “It’s just a matter of having someone there who can put it together and accomplish it.”