Feeding a Culture of Sustainability on Campus

By Julie Lawrence, National Events Marketing Manager, Sodexo and Rachel Sylvan, Director, Engagement- Corporate Citizenship, Sodexo 

(This article appears in the August, 2010 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

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(Left) 350.org International Day of Climate Action 10/24/09 during Campus Sustainability Week 135 Paul Smith’s College students, staff, and faculty participated along with community members from the Adirondacks (includes forestry students in orange hardhats and culinary arts students in chef whites) on the Great Lawn at Paul Smith’s College on the shore of Lower St. Regis. 350.org is leading a push to reduce carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million in the atmosphere

Collaboration is at the heart of any successful sustainability program.  At Paul Smith’s College, a deep commitment to achieving carbon neutrality has led to opportunities for collaboration across the campus.  President John W. Mills was one of the first to sign the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment to neutralize carbon emissions and lead the way on teaching students to improve society. Today the importance of sustainability and carbon neutrality is stressed at all levels of the organization.  As a central touch point for all segments of the campus community, campus dining has become a center for promoting the culture change that is driving their success.

With a wide range of innovations that reduce energy, water and waste, dining services has demonstrated their partnership in the journey toward carbon neutrality.  An innovative lighting strategy where they dim for breakfast, brighten for lunch, dim for dinner, dim between meal periods and use no lights on sunny days reduces energy consumption, and 100% of energy used in the dining hall comes from renewable sources.  Dining services has also operated without the use of trays since September 2007.  No trays to wash means less energy and water, and research also shows that removing trays reduces post-consumer waste by discouraging students from taking more food than they can eat.  A “Scrape the Waste” Student Initiative is held every Friday.  These events create heightened awareness and reduce wasted food by about 80%.  Dining services also supports local sourcing efforts through support of Adirondack Harvest “Local Foods” events.

To take the collaboration another step forward, Sodexo created a Campus Sustainability Center within the dining hall, providing space and resources to the college community in order to showcase the sustainability commitment that Paul Smith’s College and Sodexo share.  The Sustainability Council and the Recycling Action Team meet in the Campus Sustainability Center regularly.

Sodexo’s General Manager, Travis Zedick, now acts as a Sustainability Coordinator for the College as a whole.  The Sustainability Council, a student run organization, elected the manager to advise and provide resources to them after noting the commitment and proactive measures Sodexo has taken in regard to sustainability.

Open communication has been critical to a successful collaboration for sustainability.  Patrick Clellan, Operations    Manager, notes a key to their success, “We constantly celebrated our successes and talked about them with our customers, we sold our success on a daily basis and solicited feedback to help continuously improve the initiatives, perception and the process.”  The partnership between Paul Smith’s College and Sodexo has proven to be a successful collaboration based on frequent and open communication and a shared vision which has contributed to the culture of sustainability that exists at the college today.