OCT. 29, 2015 — On Oct. 27, University Housing became a first-time winner of the Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Award. Regarded as the “Emmy Awards for Sustainability,” the annual Governor’s award conferred by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC, a division of the Prairie Research Institute) honors public organizations in Illinois for their implementation of sustainable principles and practices.
Housing serves more than 10,000 residents in 25 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign residence halls and 1,100 University-owned apartments. Dining employees serve more than 4 million meals each year through their on-campus dining halls and in their catering venues. The staff of 650 professionals provides services 24 hours a day.
The Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) nominated Housing for the Governor’s Sustainability Award in May 2015.
“Housing’s employees’ efforts came to our attention through their excellent performance in our Certified Green Office Program during the 2014-15 academic year. They were one of our shining stars of the competition, going above and beyond the minimum requirements to earn a Gold rating,” said Ben McCall, iSEE Associate Director for Campus Sustainability. “They seemed to us like the perfect candidate.”
And, it turns out, they were.
Food — and its procurement, storage, and disposal — is one of University Housing’s greatest sustainability thrusts and played a big part in its award submission. Dining Services has worked hard to make sure that each plate is the greenest it can be. It buys more than a quarter of its food from local sources, including a tomato sauce that is made right here on campus, to reduce travel emissions.
To minimize food waste, all dining halls switched to trayless dining in 2010 – making it harder for students to let their eyes rather than their stomachs decide how much food to take. The scraps still left on plates are processed in an organic food digester to create grey water to be flushed into the local wastewater system, rather than plastic bags of food bound for the landfill. All leftovers are weighed and categorized before disposal or donation to help production teams fine-tune portion sizes to limit waste.
Housing is dedicated to reducing other kinds of waste, as well. During dorm move-out each May, Housing holds a salvage drive to collect furniture, clothing, appliances, and canned and boxed food that may otherwise end up in the garbage because it didn’t fit in the car. Thanks to $300,000 worth of lighting upgrades and efficiency projects in resident dorm rooms and common areas, the campus is also wasting less energy.
“We certainly have done our share, I think, but that doesn’t mean we’re stopping,” Bryan Johnson, a Project Manager with University Housing and Housing’s Sustainability Ambassador for the purposes of iSEE’s Certified Green Office Program, said during an interview with iSEE earlier this year. “We’re going to continue to look for other ways to be sustainable.”
“It really is an all-Housing effort to make it happen,” he said, and leading the way is Housing’s internal sustainability council, made up of individuals from various units and levels within Housing operations.
More on University Housing’s sustainability efforts
History and selection process of the Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Awards
— Olivia Harris, Communications Assistant