The only thing better than one WMU office committed to sustainability is two WMU offices committed to sustainability.
Western Michigan University is focused on reducing waste and energy usage on campus and throughout the community. WMU Dining Services has adopted the same goal and implemented changes to encourage the campus to be more environmentally friendly.
In what was ultimately a student-led initiative, the EcoMug began to be distributed to WMU students in an effort to reduce the solid waste caused by paper, plastic and styrofoam cups. Local businesses partnered to offer discounts on drinks to students who had an EcoMug. Dining Services also agreed to accept the EcoMug in the campus cafes and give a discount to customers that had one.
The EcoMug never really took off, though. The Office of Sustainability adopted the program and they turned to Dining Services for help in making the EcoMug part of the lifestyle at Western.
“The Office of Sustainability pointed out to us that the EcoMug really was struggling in its mission, and the Office of Sustainability pointed out to us that students were saying that the best way to really entrench the EcoMug in the student culture and the culture of the campus, and thereby, the culture of the community, is for Dining Services to accept it in our dining halls,” Judy Gipper, director of WMU Dining Services, said.
After Dining Services supported the EcoMug by accepting it in all their dining halls and giving discounts to those that used it, Gipper began to receive comments from students desiring a program where they would be able to carry out beverages at all times of the day.
Gipper wanted to grant that desire but she knew her overall costs would go up if she implemented that kind of a program. For Dining Services to be able to accommodate students carrying out beverages at all hours, they would have to order more juice, soda, milk and coffee than they previously had needed. Also, more students had an EcoMug and would receive discounts on beverages.
“Along with providing students everything that they want, there is a limit to what students can and want to pay for dining,” Gipper said. Gipper knew that placing the extra costs of beverages on students was not in their best interests.
“We talked to some students, looked at what the potential costs were going to be and talked to students about that,” Gipper said. ”Students are concerned about dining fees, so we looked at what was a good trade-off.”
After speaking with students, Dining Services agreed to implement the carry out drink program. Breakfast carry out was eliminated to offset the rising costs.
Gipper was pleased with the trade-off.
“It has increased our costs,” Gipper said. ”But overall, we’re supporting the EcoMug and we have been able to offset those costs through the changes in breakfast carryout.”
EcoMugs are available for free to all first year and transfer students, as well as students that have a meal plan. Students can also purchase a mug at the Office of Sustainability with their valid Bronco ID card.
Aside from adopting the EcoMug in all dining halls, Dining Services reduced energy and waste by removing trays from four of the five halls. Gipper said that this move saves them money in water, dish washing chemicals, and on energy to run the dish machine. According to the Dining Services website, food waste was reduced by up to 30% as a result of going trayless.
However, if you need a tray, just ask.
“We still have them,” Gipper said. “If somebody wants it, we’ll provide it. If somebody has difficulty getting their food for any kind of issue, we definitely have them available.”
Dining Services is in the process of phasing out the use of styrofoam products, too. That won’t happen overnight, though, because alternatives to styrofoam are more expensive.
“Customers want sustainability, but students also feel that we need to be very cautious about maintaining a good balance, a product mix so
that they can find things that they can afford to fit all budgets,” Gipper said.
Gipper is proud of the WMU student body, which is generally pro-sustainability.
“I’m exceedingly pleased with our WMU students because I’ve heard that students at other universities don’t understand the way that it can
save energy and reduce food waste,” Gipper said. “We’ve had almost no problems with it. It’s a culture change, and I think it’s been a positive move.”
At the heart of Dining Services isn’t sustainability, though. It’s about taking care of students.
“While sustainability is good, customer service, food quality, food safety and a financially viable program are critical points for us,” Gipper said.
To continue meeting students’ wants and needs, Dining Services will be conducting a customer satisfaction survey beginning Nov. 5. Students can also leave a comment on their website at any time.