The University of Nevada, Reno's Downunder Café was recently nationally recognized for its efforts to become more environmentally sustainable. The primary dining service for students living in residence halls took the University's commitment to environmental sustainability to new green heights when it won the Bronze Award in the Waste Management category of the 2012 National Association of College and University Food Services Sustainability Awards.
The Sustainability Awards annually recognize and honor member institutions that have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the promotion and implementation of environmental sustainability, specifically as it relates to campus dining operations. The Downunder Café was recognized for its use of the EnviroPure EPW Wet System Food Digester, a food waste decomposition system with a high level of sophistication that breaks down food waste in a submersed water-based environment.
The digester was installed more than a year ago in order to reduce the dining services' carbon footprint and address the environmental concerns of University students.
"The initiative behind this project was influenced by customer satisfaction surveys conducted on campus," Beau Wootten, campus dining's director of marketing, said. "The surveys indicated a large majority of students viewed environmental stewardship and sustainable practices as positive factors in determining their purchasing decisions."
The student survey responses indicated that 50 percent of students are either extremely likely or very likely to purchase a product more frequently based on the sustainability features of the store where the product is purchased. By promoting environmental sustainability, it is expected that the number of students who frequent the café will increase.
With an already large number of daily customers, approximately 2,400 people each day, a large amount of food waste was being accumulated. The Food Digester proved to be an ideal solution for the 25 tons of food waste being sent to landfills annually. Instead of sending food-waste to the dump, it is discarded into the digester at intervals to be completely decomposed and eliminated within 48 hours. Besides minimizing environmental impacts, the Food Digester has also saved the café a substantial chunk of money over the past year.
"In the first year alone, Nevada Dining as a whole saved approximately $10,000 in reduced services for garbage collection by removing the need to pick up, transport and dump approximately 25 tons of food waste," Wootten said.
With the success of the Food Digester system - both environmentally and economically - the Downunder Café has begun taking other steps to further increase its environmental sustainability. Russ Meyer, the University's associate director for Housing Operations and Dining Services, is currently working on multiple "go green" projects for the café.
"We are retrofitting the kitchen exhaust hood in the Downunder Café to incorporate variable speed fans, which should significantly reduce energy consumption," Meyer said. "We are also planning to begin getting fresh produce from the Valley Road Field Labs and Greenhouse Complex property on campus."