Tufts Dining has recently received 3-star certifications at all of its campus locations from the Green Restaurant Association (GRA), a nonprofit organization that recognizes food service providers for their work in becoming environmentally sustainable, according to the GRA website.
The GRA rates food service establishments from one to four stars based on their environmental friendliness, according to their website. The ratings are based on seven evaluative categories: water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable/durable goods and building materials, sustainable food, energy use, reusables and environmentally-preferable disposables and pollution/chemical reduction. Establishments are required to get a score of 10 “GreenPoints” per category to receive a 3-star certification; all 10 of Tufts’ locations received this rating.
“We are the first university [to achieve that],” said Lyza Bayard, Tufts’ Dining’s communications specialist.
Melody Vuong, associate director of retail dining and catering and one of the primary leaders of Tufts’ push to receive certification, said that usually there is more variance among universities’ restaurant ratings.
“You’ll see a lot of colleges and universities where they will have a mix of 2-star, 3-star, 4-star and some locations that aren’t rated at all,” Vuong said.
Tufts has a long history of championing sustainable dining practices, according to Tufts Director of Dining and Business Services Patti Klos, who joined the Tufts dining team in 1995. Although Klos said that Tufts has always made a conscious effort to be environmentally sustainable, she also said that dining sustainability had been steadily increasing ever since she arrived on campus.
Recently, it became a priority at Tufts to pursue certification from the GRA in order to not only be awarded for the work they had put in to make dining at Tufts more sustainable, but also to locate the less sustainable portions of certain operations within Tufts dining facilities and improve those operations in the future, according to both Klos and Vuong.
“It came to our attention as leaders of the department that if we were to pursue certification it would help us focus our energies in ways that could be very meaningful and put us in touch with peers or industry leaders who’d already walked this path, whether it was controlling energy, reducing water consumption, being more energy efficient, how we menu, so it helped us internally think about areas of opportunity that are consistent with the university’s vision and mission,” said Klos.
The assessment did not come without challenges, both Vuong and Klos said.
“I found it more challenging in the retail locations because we have a lot of prepackaged goods,” Vuong said, “so I thought that we would fall under the two star, but we were able to get to that three-star point.”
Klos also said that there were challenges associated with the Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center having been a source of energy and heat loss in the past, due to its worn down building envelope (the physical barrier between the interior of the building and the outside). Klos added that Tufts Facilities Services had played an important role in these updates and in making other buildings more efficient.
“The mortar on the brick was wearing away, and cold air would penetrate in the winter, if you were cooling the building it would seep out in the summer — they call that ‘repointing’ the building envelope,” Klos said. “We had single pane windows, we went to double and triple pane for more energy efficiency, the roof was wearing out … so while we did that, that gave us points towards having a more energy efficient building,” Klos said.
According to Klos, students have played an important role in making Tufts Dining more sustainable by their menu requests, specifically through the growing popularity of vegetarianism.
“We know so many more students are interested in plant-based foods and so we’re having a veg out contest [vegetarian recipe contest]. We did a veg out dinner in the spring and we’re going to do another one. We’re doing a sustainability dinner, and so through conversation, working with Tufts Sustainability Collective, or the EcoReps and any number of groups, we become aware of what students are interested in,” Klos said.
“They also just tell us with comment cards, on the survey or could walk up to a manager and say, ‘hey, are these fair-trade bananas?’”