After a two-year-long process, all six Rice University serveries have been named Certified Green Restaurants by the Green Restaurant Association. The lengthy process, greenlighted by the internal vice president of Housing and Dining, was kept secret from upper administration per GRA policy.
“It’s like Fight Club,” Dining Director Chef Johnny Curet said. “We can’t talk about it.”
As of August, Housing and Dining is free to reveal the accomplishment. Rice is the first university in Texas and the second university in the nation, after Harvard University, to have all dining halls named Certified Green Restaurants.
“This isn’t easy,” Director of Sustainability Richard Johnson said. “There’s a reason only 15 restaurants in Texas have this certification.”
Getting all six serveries certified was akin to certifying six restaurants at once, Johnson said.
“All of us at Rice are overachievers,” Curet said.
The GRA evaluates restaurants’ environmental standards in seven different categories, including sustainable food, reduction of chemicals and pollution and water efficiency. H&D provided invoices, construction records and a comprehensive video inventory of every machine in the kitchens for the evaluation.
“The Green Restaurant Association looks at— almost audits — your business practices, your culinary practices, and it looks into your facilities management practices as well,” Glenn said.
She emphasized the process’s thoroughness.
“They were looking at what type of light bulbs do you use, how was this building constructed, what trash can liners do you use, so it was very involved,” Glenn said.
However, she noted the complexity wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“It’s good that it’s complicated because these people are indeed interested in understanding what our practices are,” Glenn said.
To minimize costs, H&D used video conferences with GRA representatives, walking around facilities with a phone or iPad. Glenn explained that she even had to show the GRA the serveries’ waste disposal system.
“They wanted to get up close and personal in our recycling and trash area for the entire campus,” Glenn said. “They talked to waste management, who takes care of our single-stream recycling, to kind of understand how that works and verify what we were saying.”
Johnson attributed the motivation for earning the certification to H&D’s “exceptional culture” and student encouragement.
“I think this certification reflects their values,” he said. “[It is] representative of years of having thought about their role in the bigger system.”
Students’ interest in the environment provided motivation to complete the process, Johnson said.
“[The relationship between students and H&D] is a partnership,” he said. “As students become more interested, the staff and the chefs become more interested, and as the staff and chefs introduce new things, it pulls the students along, too.”
Conrado Asenjo, co-chair of the Student Association Environmental Committee, thinks the certification is a step in the right direction.
“I applaud the hard work of all our staff that worked hard to achieve the certification, and look forward to continue working with them,” Asenjo said. “We need to make our home the best it can be.”
Asenjo said there is still more work to be done.
“This certification does not mark the end of the race, but simply a checkpoint,” he said. “We hope to see less food waste, clearer food sourcing labels, more options for students with dietary restrictions in all serveries and better use of resources.”