University Unions Build Community While Increasing Sustainability Efforts

Christina Beckman, Public Affairs Intern
Release Date: 

Students, faculty and staff can find more local, fresh foods available through the University Unions. The Michigan Union, Michigan League and Pierpont Commons have increased the amount of locally sourced items offered in their restaurants, cafes and convenience stores as a result of U-M's new food purchasing guidelines.

University Unions, in collaboration with the U-M Food Team, the Graham Sustainability Institute and Office of Campus Sustainability, has established food-purchasing guidelines to better define sustainable food purchasing practices. Those guidelines include increasing sustainable food choices and educating the campus community about those choices to meet the university's goal of increasing local purchasing (within 250 miles or the state of Michigan) to 20 percent by 2025.

Other U-M Food Team members include representatives from the U-M Health System, Procurement, University Housing, and Occupational Safety and Environmental Health.

"The food purchasing guidelines have clearly defined a path for everyone on campus to follow when sourcing food," says Keith Soster, University Unions food services director. "In addition to the guidelines, it's important to communicate to campus where its food is coming from and how it fits in with our goals to be more sustainable."

University Unions also has consolidated deliveries from local vendors, which reduces the number of vehicle trips on campus, supporting another sustainable goal to reduce carbon emissions.

Encouraging sustainability throughout its facilities, University Unions is actively partnering with other university departments and student groups across campus to contribute to President Mary Sue Coleman's sustainability goals.

Other projects supporting sustainability include:

• Students from Central Student Government's Health Issues Commission have partnered with University Unions to bring MFarmers' Markets to campus this fall. The markets take place in the Michigan Union and the Duderstadt Center on North Campus, and give students a chance to meet local farmers, learn about sustainable and healthy food practices and sample MHealthy recipes using fresh produce prepared by Divisions of Student Affairs chefs. The next market will be Oct. 11, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., at the Michigan Union.

• Every week through October, the Michigan Union features Farm Fresh Wednesdays with local, fresh fruits and vegetables available for purchase at U-go's and included in menu items in the University Club and some residential dining halls, such as Hill Dining Center.

• University Unions Food Service staff meets regularly with a student food advisory team that offers suggestions and important feedback on food choices at the Unions. Feedback from the committee has led to a significant increase in vegan, vegetarian, organic and MHealthy options available on campus.

• Students in the Environment 391 class have been creating ideas for how to make the Unions more sustainable.  With a grant from the Student Sustainability Initiative, a water refill station was installed on the fourth floor of the Union where more than 60 student organization offices are located. The Michigan Union and Michigan League have installed the water refill stations in place of traditional drinking fountains, and Pierpont Commons will be completed this fall.

• The Unions have partnered with organizations and initiatives to promote sustainability to the greater campus. In June, the Unions partnered with the Division of Student Affairs to host a Sustainability Fair, which included tiny talks and a Swap 'n' Shop centered around environmental practices. This event and Planet Blue Open Houses are used to educate staff on how to reduce energy and waste in their own areas. In addition, several restaurants and University Catering services in the Michigan League are participating in a post-consumer composting pilot program with the Waste and Recycling Department.