Step into the Wilson Commons space formerly known as “the Pit,” and it is immediately clear that sweeping change came to the University’s central dining center over the summer of 2010. The steep and austere tiles that line the 30-foot walls and have dominated the view remain, but the eye is now drawn to the human level, the feeling of entering a vast empty space replaced by a sense of coming into a hub of activity—inviting seating options, for eating and hanging with friends at terrace level tables, or sitting cozily apart with coffee and books in overstuffed chairs, in the light of the upper atrium’s glass tower. Food choices and displays have expanded from serviceable—sandwiches, pizza, a carry-out market—to a range of beautifully presented selections reflecting international tastes, local farms and healthy eating.
Behind the beauty and the bounty of the Commons renovation, less visible to the eye but no less ubiquitous, is a commitment to sustainability that took root in 2004 with a decision to begin purchasing from local suppliers (Upstate Dairy) and has blossomed into the most creative and comprehensive approach to green practice on campus.
Continuing a focus on green building that began with the 2007 construction of the Connections café in Rush Rhees Library (and will extend to the renovations of the Danforth and Douglass dining centers) the “greening of the Commons” is marked by the use of sustainable materials, energy efficiency and waste reduction. Low VOC paint and mastic products were used throughout the dining and kitchen spaces. Hand-formed, sun-baked adobe tiles form the facing on the service counter in the Mexican food venue and counter tops in the seating area are made from recycled glass.
Pursuit of energy efficiency was relentless: variable frequency drives power the mechanical equipment, allowing units to supply just what air is needed throughout the space; fluorescent lighting with electronic ballasts and occupancy sensors serve the back-of-house areas and the dining area’s lights are dimmable; a zoned lighting system in the Hive provides different levels of light depending on time of day and lights in the serving areas’ separate venues can be turned off when any one is closed for business. Other energy savers: self-closing doors on reach-in refrigerators and freezers; automatic defrost cycles; gas versus less efficient electric appliances wherever possible; an Eco-smart combi-oven that automatically modulates energy consumption to reduce power and water usage; back-load coolers to avoid energy waste during product loading. And paper waste was reduced to near zero by substituting digital menu and message boards for printed marketing materials.
Recipient of a grade of “A” in Food & Recycling in the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s national report card for college campuses for two years running, UR Dining Services’ sustainability leadership is fueled by the energy of a 5-student intern group hired each spring, “Team Green,” who leave no stone unturned in pursuit of sustainable foods, waste elimination and environmental education.
The “A” is well earned. An extensive program in waste reduction is in place and keeps expanding: Styrofoam is banned; dining trays have been eliminated; grease is converted to biodiesel; reusable mugs and to-go cartons are promoted and sold; 100% of recyclable metals, plastic and glass used in dining center kitchens gets recycled, compost is generated and sent to a local food supplier. A commitment to local foods is strong and growing: the UR was the first campus in the state to join the Pride of New York Program, supporting food raised and processed in New York; Thirty-two local vendors supply Dining Services kitchens; organic, fair trade, locally roasted coffee is served throughout campus; a week each semester is devoted to themed dinners, speakers and farmers markets, in celebration of local foods.
Find information on other 2010-2011 achievements and the full history of Dining Services sustainable initiatives at: http://www.rochester.edu/sustainability/dining.html.