Sustainability is a Core Value for Yale Hospitality

What is “sustainability?” Why does it matter to Yale University students, and how is it reflected in Yale Hospitality?

Yale Hospitality been at the forefront of national efforts to demonstrate sustainability best practices in college dining for many years, with focuses on preserving non-renewable resources, supporting local businesses, making sustainably responsible purchases. Yale Hospitality strives to educate and include students on sustainability initiatives in hopes that those students will in turn influence the world around them during and after their time at Yale.

Waste Reduction. The three primary tenets of Waste Management are “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” The first of these is critical and Yale Hospitality constantly seeks new methods to ensure that its food purchasing and production incorporate industry best practices to reduce pre-consumption waste as well as dining hall and retail unit waste. It also actively seeks to minimize any non-renewable resources used in its operations.

Single-stream recycling bins are in every dining location. When disposable plates, cups, and utensils are required, Yale Dining uses biodegradable products that can be composted along with food. Over 95% of pre- and post-consumer waste from dining halls, retail locations, and catering events is also composted. All of Yale Dining’s cooking is oil is recycled into biodiesel to offset the depletion of the world’s petroleum supply and by maximizing the amount of waste that is composted and recycled, we return organic matter to productive land and reduce overall energy and water usage. Yale diners are encouraged to “Take what you eat, and eat what you take,” emphasizing every diner’s role in optimizing sustainable operations.

Energy and Water Management. Carefully specifying and maintaining refrigeration and ventilation systems, installing efficient lighting components, and implementing water and power management strategies do not have the “feel good” appeal some other sustainability initiatives do. That does not mean they are any less important, though. Reduced energy and water use translate directly into a smaller carbon footprint, and Yale Hospitality has made proactive energy and water management programs a part of its operational philosophy for 8 years. All equipment purchased for food production is required to be Energy Star approved. In 2014, Yale Hospitality installed temperature and humidity monitoring systems in all coolers that can be remotely accessed. These monitors send an alarm when temperatures drop, which frequently indicates an improperly closed door, and prevent both energy loss and food waste. YD is also currently replacing all dishwashers with efficient models that conserve energy and water, which in turn decreases the usage of chemical detergents by about 50% per upgraded location.

Trayless Dining. Some students wonder whether or not the “trayless dining” policies of Yale Dining really affect food waste. Studies have consistently shown that in cafeterias where trays are available, almost twice as much food is wasted than in trayless locations. Going trayless also saves the water and energy that would be used to wash trays, as well as the labor involved in composting extra waste. Yale Hospitality asks you to remember that while going trayless may be a bit less convenient, it has a real return on investment for the community.

Supply Chain and Procurement Practices. Yale Hospitality purchases from local producers when possible, and regularly changes menus to reflect seasonal and local availability to support that effort. It makes sustainable manufacturing practice one of its primary procurement criteria and expects its food suppliers to demonstrate that they share those values.

Yale Hospitality uses four major sustainable categories: Environmentally Sensitive, Humane, Fair, and Regional/Local. Thirty-nine percent (39%) of food purchases in the 2014-15 academic calendar met sustainability criteria, a 2% increase from the previous year. At least 18% of total purchasing meets multiple categories. Over 60% of animal proteins are sustainably sourced. YD is also on its way to meet a goal of 100% phosphate free cleaners, with an increase from 58% to 64% from 2013 to 2014.

Environmentally sensitive food purchases include seafood that is MSC Certified or rated “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, tea, chocolate, or coffee that is Rainforest Alliance Certified, and produce that is grown organically or with Integrated Pest Management practices.

Humane food purchasing criteria are humanely raised, cage free, free range, American Humane Certified, or Certified Humane.

Food purchases in the “fair” category are Fair Trade or family or farm owned.

Regional/Local purchases are counted in three different ways. Regional purchases are those made in a 350-mile radius around Yale University. Local purchases are from Connecticut. New Haven purchases are counted in addition to local purchasing because Yale Dining strives to support the businesses in the surrounding community. YD spends over $2.3 million on food from regional producers every year. More than $350,000 of that figure is from food producers and manufacturers in New Haven, CT.

In addition to the four major sustainable criteria, Yale Dining is committed to serving hormone- and antibiotic-free and vegetarian fed beef and pork, antibiotic free chicken, and hormone- and antibiotic-free dairy products.

Yale Hospitality has consistently sought to reduce the number of deliveries made to the campus and the environmental impact associated with them. In 2010, YD regularly sourced products from 57 regional suppliers, with about 124 truck deliveries to each dining location weekly. Today there are around 20 main suppliers for Yale Dining and about 35 weekly truck deliveries to each location.  

Plant-Based Protein Initiative. It has been widely shown that plant-based food production is far less demanding of land and other natural resources than is animal production. While plant based meals are known for their health benefits, they also can have a major impact on agricultural sustainability. YD’s extensive offerings and sophisticated Plant-based Protein Development Initiative set a standard seldom matched in the campus-dining marketplace. Vegan and vegetarian options are offered at every meal, every day, presented in ways that invite carnivores and herbivores alike to try them.

Yale Hospitality Supports Yale Sustainability and the Yale Sustainable Food Program and its efforts to develop leaders who fully appreciate the pressing international need for more sustainable food systems.

Every fall semester, Yale Hospitality gives students the opportunity to visit local farms that supply to Yale Hospitality produce distributor. Students get to learn from the farm operators about GAP certification, IPM practices, and sustainable agricultural practices.

Yale Hospitality uses the residential dining units as an opportunity to further inform Yale students about the sustainable purchasing practices that have gone into their meals, and how they can make their own contributions to food sustainability. These campaigns introduced trayless dining, explain the compost and recycling bins, and encourage students to “Erase the Waste”. The “More This, Less That” campaign promoted eating more fruits and vegetables while eating less animal protein.

Looking beyond campus borders, Yale Dining spearheaded a sustainable purchasing symposium in 2013 that brought together over 40 food management leaders: sustainability experts, nonprofit foundations, and representatives from prominent university, healthcare and government institutions in the region. Their goal was to explore the medium and long-term potential of a regional procurement network that could support more efficient and cost-effective sustainable food production in New England and nearby states.