Case Study: Reed College, Portland, Ore.

Sometimes it pays to invest in green. Take, for example, Reed College, which received a gold certificate in the City of Portland's Sustainability at Work program. Reed received the program's highest honor, in recognition of the college's energy-saving, waste-saving and local food-sourcing initiatives.

reed-college-portlan-oregonRed waste, food that has been prepped but not served, is weighed, tracked and composted. Food in the form of preconsumer scraps and trimmings — green waste — is reused for stocks, soups and sauces.The college — which contracts with Bon Appétit Management Company to run its main dining hall and retail satellite outpost serving a combined 2,800 meals a day — faced a rigorous application process in order to earn this recognition. From measurable energy-efficiency and waste-reduction efforts to details about sustainability standard operating procedures and how such initiatives are communicated, Reed had to heavily document its greenness, which began as far back as 1993 when a different contract feeder ran the college's foodservice program.

In 2007, the 1,400-student college pushed its sustainability efforts into higher gear, beginning an aggressive energy- and waste-management tracking program and reporting carbon emissions for the campus-wide Low Carbon Diet initiative. At that time Reed stepped up its local food sourcing and composting programs already in existence, according to Debby Bridges, general manager with Bon Appétit Management Company (BAMCO) at Reed College.

Reed's dining hall for students living on campus and faculty remains open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., serving about 400 to 500 at breakfast, up to 1,500 at lunch and 600 to 800 at dinner.

Waste Management

In order to even qualify for Sustainability at Work certification, applicants must have a recycling program in place and avoid single-use plastic bags and Styrofoam in
accordance with city regulations.

Reed College's foodservice operation exceeds that minimum requirement through its expanded pre- and post-consumer composting program, says Bridges. Though the college had tracked waste for several years, Reed and BAMCO invested in enhanced software capabilities four years ago to measure daily and weekly waste levels in pounds and then produce graphs showing measurable results. As a result, the college has reduced its waste production by about 30 percent each year.

"Just by paying attention to waste, we noticed our staff doing a better job of reusing scraps for different items," says Bridges. "It's amazing to see how much goes to waste when you start paying attention to it."

Batch-cooking techniques help to further reduce waste. Now, the executive and sous chefs managing the kitchen verbally ask their cook staff how they plan to use, say, a 40-pound roast they've pulled from the walk-in before the prepping begins. They will then measure the portions served against the portions prepped to further cut down on overproduction, holding staff accountable and teaching the importance of managing food costs. Food that has been prepped but not served — known as red waste — is weighed, tracked and composted. Food in the form of preconsumer scraps and trimmings — green waste — is reused for stocks, soups and sauces. Fryer oil gets picked up and turned into biodiesel.

BAMCO also donates leftover food from the café's serving lines to Urban Gleaners, which feeds it to people in need within the Portland community. And postconsumer waste goes straight to compost.

The college continues to have students bring their full trays to the dishwashing station where kitchen staff sort through the waste to make sure the compost and trash streams remain pure. "Our worry is that students will make a mistake, and if the compost is contaminated in the slightest way, the hauler will not accept it," Bridges says.

Energy and Water Management

An energy audit conducted by the consulting firm Ecova in 2007 helped the college reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent over a 3-year span. This percentage, part of the self-imposed low-carbon diet, took into account the college's waste savings as well as its total, campus-wide energy reduction, according to Bridges.

And while exact numbers for kitchen-centered energy and water use have not been pinpointed because of the way those utilities lump together as part of the billing process, representatives from the college's facilities department informed Bridges that the kitchen's efforts have significantly lowered total costs over the years. "Anytime we replace equipment we invest in an energy-efficient piece," says Bridges.

The kitchen also installed low-flow faucets and spray valves and replaced all florescent light bulbs with LED alternatives. In addition, foodservice staff set up a comprehensive energy usage schedule to ensure simple things like the lights were turned off at night. They also developed an equipment startup schedule to help minimize peak load charges and to make sure items were shut off when they were done being used for the day.

Standard operating procedures were also drawn up. Those include many equipment maintenance procedures like checking for leaks and faulty gaskets to prevent excess water use, and installing and maintaining strip curtains on refrigerator doors for energy conservation, among other steps. The kitchen has also upgraded its grease-collection system to protect the sewer system.

Local Food Sourcing

BAMCO requires chefs at all of its 500-plus cafés around the country spend at least 20 percent of their food dollars on small, owner-operated farms within 150 miles of their kitchen. Reed meets that goal, often surpassing it in the warmer months when fresh produce is more available, says Bridges. The college has developed strong relationships with local farmers, ranchers and other food producers and purveyors over the years to be able to receive direct deliveries from the farms several times per week.

BAMCO and Reed are exploring ways to streamline those deliveries, however, says Bridges. These changes (e.g., working with smaller distributors perhaps) can further cut down on carbon emissions produced by the number of vehicles traveling to and from the farm, and make it easier on their farmers.

When it comes to seafood, the college pays close attention to Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guidelines to select the most sustainable fish. Reed serves seafood from a Pacific Northwest tribal program that supports local Quinault and Nisqually tribal fishermen. A small, student-run garden supplements the kitchen with fresh herbs and other vegetables.

In accordance with standard HACCP protocol, once the farm-fresh food enters the kitchen's doors, produce goes through another wash cycle in the kitchen's three-compartment sink, even if lettuces, for example were washed by the farmer. Produce is transferred from the farms' reusable containers to the kitchen's containers, which are then labeled with the name of the farm or producer. This helps the staff pinpoint on menus and other signage which produce came from which farm, and helps cooks easily differentiate between multiple sources.

This labeling is a step above the way many restaurants handle their farm-to-table goodies, which can often get mixed in with commodity purchases. "We definitely keep everything separate and label everything because our students are curious about the farms we work with," says Bridges.

This type of communication, education and outreach about local farm sourcing is an important part of the puzzle, she adds. In addition to ample signage throughout the dining hall, the kitchen hosts regular chef dinners at which students can tour its produce walk-ins, ask questions and in some cases meet the farmers. Reed also organizes farm trips for the student and culinary team. And the dining team hosts regular meetings with student affairs liaisons to educate about sustainability initiatives as well as garner feedback for future programs.

"We hear from students a lot that they didn't realize everything we do," says Bridges. "We need to get better at communicating what we're doing because, even though we do things because it's the right thing to do, sometimes we forget to tell people about it."

Students can also learn about the kitchen's activities and offer feedback through the website, comment cards and email.

Reed's foodservice operation also offered its own series of classes for students and faculty interested in animal butchery, in addition to its produce and student garden-centered cooking classes. "Because we're organized more like a traditional restaurant, we have been fortunate to be able to recruit more skilled chefs and cooks," says Bridges. The focus and importance BAMCO publicly places on sustainability efforts like this one also helps attract interested and savvy staff.

Going forward, Bridges hopes to step up the outreach and feedback. "Being open to whatever else is out there and listening to our students and guests and what's important to them helps us develop new programs," she says.

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