Brandeis recognized for sustainable dining program that's cutting carbon footprint

Buffet service in a dining hall.Photo/Mike Lovett

Brandeis has been named the winner of the Campus Sustainability Achievement Award by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education for its innovative sustainable dining program.

By taking advantage of the negotiation process in selecting a new dining vendor when the university's previous contract expired in 2019, Brandeis was able to institute new programs, policies and goals in its new contract with food services company Sodexo that resulted in an unprecedented 20 percent reduction in its food carbon footprint in the program’s first semester.

The AASHE announced Brandeis was selected for the award out of more than 360 submissions on December 9. Brandeis was previously named a finalist among schools with an enrollment of under 10,000.

The changes and new initiatives implemented in the sustainable dining program included: reducing beef offerings on menus, holding events to promote plant-based diets, increasing locally sourced food, implementing a food waste reduction program in Brandeis’ kitchens, and increasing sustainable foods incorporated in menus. 

"We found that reducing the footprint of our food purchases is not only possible but easy," said Mary Fischer, associate director of sustainability programs at Brandeis. "We heard zero negative feedback from our students, and implementing our pilot program in the spring semester, which resulted in a reduction of nearly 50 tonnes of carbon, cost nothing. A capital energy efficiency project with similar benefits would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars." 

The reduction in beef consumption was a particularly remarkable achievement. The program aimed to reduce the consumption of beef - which has a significantly larger carbon footprint than most other meats - by 4 percent in its first year. By offering red meat less frequently and by changing the recipe of hamburgers -- blending them with locally-sourced mushrooms and onions -- ground beef consumption dropped by 50 percent.

The new program got its start in the summer of 2019 when the university decided to put its dining contract out to bid. The request for proposal included sustainability language created by the Office of Sustainability after extensive research. This ultimately resulted in a dining contract with metrics and scoring for the sustainable dining program. New menus were implemented in the spring of 2021.

“Very few institutions are doing the level of purchasing review and analysis that we are doing. It’s the key to making progress and leveraging the impact of our dining program,” Fischer said. “We serve thousands of meals on campus every day, adding up to close to one million pounds of food that we purchase each year, so food is a crucial lever we can pull to reduce the environmental and social impacts on the planet, especially climate change, through our food purchases.”

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