The Sustainable Campus (Trends and Innovations)

Award-Winning Green Dining at UVA

green dining

Environmental sustainability is a fundamental part the mission of University of Virginia (UVA) Dining/Aramark, guiding how they operate. The department established a green dining program and a set of sustainable food purchasing guidelines in 2008 and a full-time green dining coordinator position in 2010. UVA Dining/Aramark prioritizes local/seasonal, organic, humanely raised, and fairly traded food. Programs include reusable mugs and to-go boxes, trayless dining, food donation and composting in all back-of house locations, recycling cooking oil, utilizing the Local Food Hub, outreach events, and partnering on zero waste events. They participate in the Game Day Challenge: each fall at the Homecoming Game, UVA Dining/Aramark, the Department of Athletics, and UVA Sustainability partner to collect and divert food waste from concessions and discarded recyclables.

In 2014, over 250 tons of food was composted and over 1,400 pounds of food was donated. They achieved Marine Stewardship Council certification in 2014.

The department works each day to reduce its environmental impact through practices that enrich and support the natural environment across all 30 of its dining locations on its campus in Charlottesville, VA. The Castle, one of those 30 locations, is the first of its kind on UVA Grounds.

“We found that students were looking for more plant-based options and wanted to create a sustainable café with an emphasis on mindful eating,” says Brooke Kinsey, Aramark sustainability coordinator at UVA.

With that in mind, The Castle went from a late-night burger joint to a mindful café with fresh paninis, salads, and customizable grain bowls. Those offerings—and wraps, sandwiches, and combos, along with fruit-infused water—have all been selling well. All materials in The Castle are compostable and payment is via kiosk, eliminating the need for cash.

The space is designed to encourage mindful eating with a plant wall, no TV screens, and a mindful reading library. Shortly after The Castle’s opening, “we pursued our fourth Certified Green Restaurant certification through the Green Restaurant Association to highlight the environmental sustainability initiatives featured in the café,” Kinsey explains.

Greening the Restaurant Industry

The Green Restaurant Association (GRA, is a national nonprofit organization that provides the only official Certified Green Restaurants mark in the U.S. Since 1990, the GRA has pioneered the Green Restaurant movement and has been the leading voice within the industry encouraging restaurants to listen to consumer demand and green their operations using transparent, science-based certification standards. With their turnkey certification system, the GRA has made it easy for thousands of restaurants to become more environmentally sustainable in a profitable manner.

The Castle was recently certified as a 3 Star Certified Green Restaurant by the GRA. The Castle received 201.93 GreenPoints on the GRA’s rigorous certification scale and implemented 43 environmental steps. Highlights of The Castle’s sustainable accomplishments that led to the certification include:

  • By not offering bottled water, the facility does not contribute to the four billion pounds of plastic bottles that end up in landfills each year.
  • 100 percent of the lights in the facility are LEDs, which use up to 90 percent less energy, last longer, contain no mercury, and emit fewer greenhouse gases than incandescent bulbs.
  • Recycling plastics, glass, aluminum, cardboard, paper, and kitchen scraps can keep up to 90 percent of generated waste out of landfills.
  • Each of the high-efficiency handwashing aerators save enough water to fill over 3.5 swimming pools each year.

Other Recognitions

Three other UVA Dining/Aramark locations, in addition to The Castle, are Certified Green Restaurants. The O’Hill Dining Room and Fresh Food Co. have received 3 Star Certification for commitments to purchasing local and sustainable food and beverages, comprehensive waste reduction and diversion programs, incentives for reusable to-go containers and mugs, and efficient energy and water appliances throughout the buildings. The Fine Arts Café—UVA’s flagship sustainability café—achieved a 2 Star Certification for its plant-based menu featuring local and organic ingredients, comprehensive waste reduction and diversion programs including recycling, composting, and efficient energy and water appliances throughout the café.

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management July/August 2019 issue of Spaces4Learning.