Sustainable Dining at UTRGV
Sodexo is the dining services contractor of UTRGV. Sodexo reinforces its position as one of the most sustainable companies in the world by earning Gold Class distinction in RobecoSAM’s annual “Sustainability Yearbook 2018”. For the eleventh consecutive year, Sodexo was ranked as the top-scoring company in its sector for its excellent sustainability performance, scoring 78% compared to an industry average of 39%. Additionally, Sodexo has maintained its ranking as the top-rated company in its industry in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) for the 14th consecutive year.
Sodexo has developed a blueprint for the Group’s sustainable development called the “Better Tomorrow Plan”.
The plan includes policies for Responsible Business Conduct & Ethics, Animal Welfare, Responsible Sourcing, Food Waste, Reducing Carbon Emissions, and more. "We identified nine commitments and clear objectives for 2025 to guide our roadmap, in accordance with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)." View Sodexo's Policy Plan at Corporate Responsibility at Sodexo.
Below, explore the many ways dining at UTRGV is sustainable!
Produce from UTRGV's campus garden is harvested, sold, and donated:
Produce is harvested from community/research garden belonging to the Agroecology and Resilient Food Systems department (School of Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences) on the UTRGV Edinburg Campus and donated to students via the UTRGV Student Food Pantry. The produce is first sold at the on-campus farmer's market by the Agroecology club and Environmental Awareness club, and anything that remains is taken to the Food Pantry where it is stored in refrigerators until it is picked up by students. View UTRGV's Garden and their produce at UTRGV Garden & Greenhouse
UTRGV hosts a farmers market:
UTRGV supports the Environmental Awareness Club's monthly farmer's market, held outside of the university recreation center or the student union on the Edinburg campus.
Some of the produce is harvested from the community/research garden belonging to the Agroecology and Resilient Food Systems department (School of Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences) on the UTRGV Edinburg Campus. View the Organic produce and homemade treats that are available every month at the UTRGV Farmers Market. Produce also is donated to the Environmental Awareness Club by neighboring farms across the Rio Grande Valley when they either have an excess of product or produce that would be harder to sell. All produce sold at the farmer’s market is certified organic, having been harvested according to USDA standards.
Complete-protein vegan options available to every member of the campus community at every meal:
In addition to offering clearly labeled Gluten-Free, Vegan, and Vegetarian options, Sodexo caters to the dietary needs of all students, including those who have food allergies, Celiac disease, or other dietary needs:
My Zone is our campus “pantry” where food items needed by students with celiac disease or food allergies can be housed with precautions against cross-contact. This special area is free of gluten-containing ingredients, as well as tree nuts and peanuts. My Zone gives students the ability to be involved in their own allergen-safe meal preparation. Simple Servings is our allergen-safe, dining option for our customers with food allergies, gluten intolerance, or those who prefer plain and simple foods. The Simple Servings station offers food free from common allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, wheat, soy, milk products, and eggs.
UTRGV offers this plant-based and culturally-diverse station in addition to a salad bar at the main dining halls on the Edinburg and Brownsville campuses.
Students can have any meal made vegan – offering tofu or meat alternatives when available, but always stocked with vegetables, legumes, pasta and other ingredients to make a nutritious, satisfying meal.
Lettuce wraps and soups at the deli are vegetarian options, and the “Simply To Go” pre-packaged line of food products sold at all campus venues also make complete vegan meal options available. Sandella’s Flatbread Café and Schunior Street Grill also offer Black bean veggie burgers and other vegetarian options, and Jazzman’s Café and Bakery modifies any menu item upon request.
Meatless Mondays and other Low Impact Events:
Sandella’s Flatbread Café (overseen by Sodexo, UTRGV’s primary dining services contractor) promotes Meatless Mondays every week. The main dining hall at both campus locations hosts low impact events on occasion, such as Earth Day, when the grill expands the menu to offer black bean/mushroom blend burgers. Students can make any day a Meatless-day at the dining hall, with an expanded vegetarian and vegan menu!
Health and wellness initiatives:
Sodexo partnered with U-REC for a “ Motivational Mondays” health and wellness initiative that was carried out the first Monday of every month in the Fall 2018 semester. Open to all UREC members (all UTRGV students, and staff who become members) these mindful eating and exercise events offered healthy eating tips, fun recipes, free food samples, and goodies. Personal Trainers were available to answer fitness questions. Recipes included Greek yogurt bars, vegetarian paninis, fruit-infused water, and gluten-free muffins.
Sodexo itself aims to educate students about sustainable food systems and nutrition through its " For Your Health" initiatives.
Sodexo, UTRGV’s primary dining services contractor, participates in both a food waste tracking program and an annual competition to track and improve its food management practices.
Sodexo is a signatory to UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, which sets a target of 50% reduction in food waste per capita by 2030. Over 8 years of partnership, Leanpath and Sodexo have developed the highly customized WasteWatch powered by Leanpath food waste prevention platform to help Sodexo reach their food waste prevention goals. View Sodexo's Partnership with Leanpath at Sodexo and Leanpath’s Food Waste Partnership: How the “Impossible Becomes Possible”
In October, Sodexo at UTRGV participates in a Weigh the Waste competition against other campuses. In the campus dining hall for a week, Sodexo sets up special containers for post-consumer food waste alone, and it is weighed. This serves a dual purpose of data gathering, to see if they need to make changes in signage or serving sizes, while also educating the public about the problem of food waste as a social, economic, and environmental issue.
In the pre-consumer sense, chefs are also trained to re-use as much usable food as possible such as by using daily vegetable scraps for fresh soup.
UTRGV has implemented trayless dining (in which trays are removed from or not available in dining halls) and/or modified menus/portions to reduce post-consumer food waste:
We're also Styrofoam-free as of Fall 2018, replacing Styrofoam to-go containers with reusable “Eco-Takeout” plastic to-go containers, which are free as long as they’re returned to the dining hall. If not returned by the end of the year, students are charged $4.99. If lost, the fee can be paid off to continue participating in the Eco-Takeout program.
View Sodexo's Sustainability Campus Initiatives
UTRGV donates food that would otherwise go to waste:
Simply-To-Go pre-packaged food, which is made daily and sold at auxiliary food stands around campus, could be a source of waste if not for Sodexo’s intervention; on its last ‘serve by’ day, unsold food products are taken to the dining halls and students can take these pre-packaged items along with their other food options for free (included with regular price of buffet).
Other Sodexo food is not donated out of concern for food quality and safety.
The produce not sold at the on-campus farmer's market by the Agroecology club and Environmental Awareness club is taken to the Food Pantry where it is stored in refrigerators until it is picked up by students.
Sodexo diverts food materials from the landfill, incinerator or sewer:Sodexo has a contract with Filta to collect and reuse cooking oil. Filta services reduce the amount of oil used (means less trash created by the number of plastic and cardboard boxes, and reduces the number of boxes being shipped around the country; Reduced energy usage with improved frying practices, and reduced chemical usage through better fryer maintenance. The oil is then taken and converted into biofuel (not returned to UTRGV).
Incentives for reusable containers:
UTRGV students and staff are discounted $.50 for serving their coffee in reusable mugs or soda in reusable branded tumblers.
“Eco-Takeout” plastic to-go containers are free (as long as they’re returned to the dining hall - if not returned by the end of the year, students are charged $4.99. If lost, the fee can be paid off to continue participating in the Eco-Takeout program.) The incentive to use these is that they’re the only way to have a Takeout meal from the dining hall; they’re a great convenience to students who might not want to eat in the dining hall. UTRGV simply does not offer Styrofoam or other disposable to-go containers.
UTRGV and Sodexo are working with vendors and other entities to reduce waste from food packaging:
UTRGV works with Mayers for its plastics contract through Sodexo, and implemented changes from Styrofoam to compostable materials for “Simply-to-go” pre-packaged meals while keeping the price point low enough that it didn’t result in a price increase for customers.
Additionally, Sodexo purchases Milk in large bags instead of gallons, and its primary retail vendor sends products in reusable plastic bins instead of cardboard boxes.
On the consumer side, Sodexo makes biodegradable, single-use utensils at retail locations available through a single-serve dispenser so that they’re sanitary while not having to be individually wrapped. Eco-friendly napkins are unbleached and made of 100% recycled paper, while the dispenser signage encourages customers to take (and waste) fewer napkins.
Additionally, UTRGV serves Aspretto Coffee by Sodexo in the Dining Center: fair‐trade & sustainable coffee and sugar, recycled cups, sustainable bamboo stirrers and minimal waste packaging.
Outreach efforts to support learning and research about sustainable food systems:
UTRGV students and staff recently planted seeds for raised garden beds during the annual Community Garden Day at the UTRGV Garden & Greenhouse on the Edinburg Campus. Roberto Cantú, executive director for the UTRGV Department of Auxiliary Services, coordinated Community Garden Day, which is part of the university’s commitment to sustainability and a healthy lifestyle. He said the main goal is to get people to eat healthier and to make fresh vegetables a regular part of their diet. View the Healthy eating at the forefront of UTRGV Community Garden Day.
Curricula Development, Experiential Learning, Networking, and Agroecology for a diverse student clientele (CENA): overcoming barriers to agricultural education and careers in south Texas: (Funded by the USDA-Hispanic Serving Institutions Program). The project concluded Fall 2018.
The primary goal of the proposed project is to overcome barriers to agricultural education and careers in south Texas through the establishment of an innovative program in agroecology and the study of sustainable food systems based at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). The program is designed to recruit and retain outstanding students into agriculture related disciplines that focus on the complex relationships between agricultural systems and community well-being. The CENA program at UTRGV consists of four distinct elements:
- Development of innovative curricula to support an undergraduate concentration and graduate area in agroecology and sustainable agriculture.
- Expand experiential learning opportunities through research internships with USDA laboratories, university researchers, and practitioners of sustainable agriculture.
- The establishment of a network that draws from research, teaching, and professional expertise which allows students access to educational and professional opportunities in agriculture related field.
- Increased accessibility of agroecology related content in high schools science courses.
Funding is available to support 36 undergraduate research internships, one MS level graduate student, and 75 local area STEM teachers for their participation in summer workshops. Over the project period, measureable outcomes will include increased understanding of the intersection of agriculture and society among students and teachers, an increase in the number of applicants to UTRGV's Environmental Sciences BS program, and an increase in the number of applications to graduate schools. We also aim to increase the number of UTRGV graduates at local USDA/ agriculture research organizations. In effect, we aim to create and foment a high school-college-career pipeline for Hispanic students in the agroecological and food related sciences. View the Curricula Development, Experiential Learning, Networking, and Agroecology for a Diverse Student Clientele in South Texas (CENA) Research Project at the USDA Research, Education, & Economics Information System.
Granted funding in Fall 2018, The goal of TRESS is to ameliorate disparities in Hispanic representation as well as insufficient applicant pools in soil-related careers, particularly in USDA NRCS, by qualifying Hispanic graduates in soil science. This overarching objective branches into three specific performance objectives (SPO):SPO 1: Through coursework, students will master soil science fundamentals from each sub-discipline (i.e., genesis and morphology; chemistry; physics; and biology). We will develop 5 courses and their respective lab and field components. These courses will provide students a solid foundation in the sub-disciplines of soil science and a springboard for an effective experiential learning opportunity and community engagement. SPO 2: Through experiential learning opportunities, students will have practical experience in surveying, managing, evaluating, and solving problems related to soil quality and health. Investing in soil science supports a set of disciplines foundational to agriculture, potentially generating direct and indirect benefits across a wide variety of USDA strategic goals and delivering them to an underrepresented region of the United States. The planned experiential learning opportunities are comprehensive for all student levels and encompass a range of knowledge applications for research and for local agricultural systems. We will offer M.Sc. and B.Sc. level research projects; off-campus internships within NRCS programs and local farms; as well as community-engaged classes geared towards food-security and agriculture. Soil science-related research projects will aim at improving agricultural resource-use efficiency and developing a knowledge base on diverse soil management practices for the sustainability of domestic and cross-border agriculture. Projects will also focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving soil health as well as cropland sustainability as well as global food security. SPO 3: Students at UTRGV, a predominantly Hispanic university (89%), will successfully seize application opportunities and secure jobs, increasing the proportion of Hispanic professionals in the fields of soil science. This will result from career development workshops, networking with internship mentors, and guidance from local USDA representatives. View the Training, Research, and Education in Soil Science (TRESS) Research Project at USDA Research, Education, & Economics Information System
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