In tandem with other endeavors to make the University more friendly to the environment, Bon Appétit and various faculty members are working to improve the sustainability of catered events and campus-wide eating habits.
At a Nov. 11 administrative meeting, Bon Appétit told faculty members about its current policy regarding the use of biodegradable products for campus catering. As staff members explained at the meeting, faculty members can request the use of more environmentally conscious materials, such as biodegradeable “corn cups,” over less sustainable products when organizing catered events.
Bon Appétit Resident District Manager Michael Strumpf said that this strategy is in accord with the company’s overall design.
“Our food program is very sustainable,” said Strumpf. “Especially if the customers and clients reach out to us.”
This focus on sustainability is one of the the general initiatives listed on Bon Appétit’s website, which includes making socially responsible decisions and having an active role in the University community.
Library Assistant Jesse Steele attended the meeting, in which other issues regarding the University’s carbon footprint were brought under discussion. She said that most faculty members attending the meeting wanted to make campus greener.
“Everyone in the meeting wanted to get on board [improving campus sustainability],” she said. “They’re just looking for someone to guide them in the right direction.”
Steele noted that she had not been aware of Bon Appétit’s policy regarding requests for environmentally friendly materials before the meeting.
“I had no idea you could request biodegradable products,” she said.
Additionally, she and other faculty members at the meeting expressed concern that these biodegradable products would not be disposed of properly. At Olin, as well as many other campus locations, there are no separate bins designated for biodegradable products.
Steel said that oversights like this can defeat the purpose of environmental initiatives.
“If there’s something we can do with it afterwards [we will request biodegradable products at Olin Library]” Steele said. “But there’s no point if it’s not going to be composted afterwards.”
Bon Appétit employees have also noticed that people do not always discard biodegradable products correctly. Catering Manager John Kehoe explained the dilemma.
“90 percent of the time, it’s not one of our associate workers cleaning up [after a catered event],” he said. “Most of the time we’re not in charge of disposal.”
Echoing Steele’s concern, Strumpf also expressed a need for a more cohesive system.
“There’s no separate garbage can [for biodegradable products], which really becomes a problem.” Strumpf said. “If it’s mixing with common trash, it’s defeating the purpose. There’s a lack of a good game plan in place. If we are going to go to the added expense of using biodegradable material, let’s dispose of it in a proper manner.”
Still, faculty members have found that they can work with Bon Appétit towards greater sustainability in campus catering. Victoria Stahl, assistant director for the Center for Faculty Career Development, makes a consistent effort to go green with her catering orders from the company.
“You just have to ask,” she explained. “I always specify organic and local. They comply when they can, but it’s not always possible.”
Stahl explained that Bon Appétit would tend to overdress tables using excess fabric. Consequently, Stahl now requires that only the bare minimum is used for her catered events.
“You have to specify or they’ll do their regular thing,” she said.
Both Steele and Stahl expressed their desires that Bon Appétit make sustainable products the norm.
“It would be great if they made the switch to using only [biodegradable products],” said Steele.
Bon Appétit has plans to implement more extensive green efforts next semester, such as the introduction of reusable china to their catering guide.
“It’ll be more earth friendly,” said Strumpf. “And you don’t have to worry about disposal.”
Stahl said she that, overall, she is pleased with Bon Appétit’s plans for its future and current initiatives, as well as its general efforts at the University.
“I think Bon Appétit is better equipped to help us with sustainability than [former University dining management company] Aramark was,” she said.
Some believe that there are still general improvements that would make catering and other systems at the University greener. Steele noted that the biggest problem she has encountered is the lack of campus cohesion in efforts towards sustainability.
“I think the whole University needs to be on board with it,” she said. “I think it’s on its way, but I don’t think it’s there yet.”