Earth Week: Waste not want not

UND advancing green initiatives at Wilkerson Commons with plans to expand to other dining centers

The architects for Wilkerson Commons, one of UND's primary campus dining facilities, earned a top design award for trendsetting features that included a number of environmental, cost-saving features. Photo by Tyler Ingham.

The architects for Wilkerson Commons, one of UND’s primary campus dining facilities, earned a top design award for trendsetting features that included a number of environmental, cost-saving features. Photo by Tyler Ingham.

Wilkerson Commons has provided meals for UND students since it first opened in the 1960s, but recently the dining center has gone green to become one of the most energy efficient buildings on campus.

That’s thanks in part to a recent $29-million renovation to the facility, which now is home to a number of green cost-saving initiatives.

In the remodel, more energy efficient fixtures were installed throughout the building, including motion-activated sinks and lights. A new ventilation system in the kitchen activates when sensors detect heat and steam. Previously, an employee would turn on the fan in the morning and it would run throughout the entire day.

The trendsetting design, which features a main dining area with eight display cooking stations, garnered JLG Architects a top state design award in November. The North Dakota chapter of the American Institute of Architects cited Wilkerson Commons’ “distinguished accomplishments in design and the profession or architecture.”

A big part of Wilkerson Common’s push to be greener and to save more green followed the building’s relaunch in September 2015, when UND Dining Services implemented a new trayless dining initiative to cut down on food waste.

Wilkerson Commons

A big part of Wilkerson Common’s push to be greener and to save more green followed the building’s relaunch in September 2015, when UND Dining Services implemented a new trayless dining initiative to cut down on food waste. Studies have found that trayless dining leads to less food waste because students are limited in the amount of food they can carry. Photo by Tyler Ingham.

Keeping costs down

Studies have found that trayless dining leads to less food waste because students are limited in the amount of food they can carry.

Trayless dining also saves money and conserves water and energy because the trays are no longer constantly run through a dishwasher.

“The research I had done on trayless dining and the feedback I had gotten was that it really does have an impact on food waste,” said Orlynn Rosaasen, director of UND Dining Services. “We weren’t able to get solid numbers because it varied from campus to campus, but was told it was a significant way to cut back on food waste. And, we have now seen the results at Wilkerson Dining.”

Based on a plate-waste study done at both Wilkerson and Squires dining centers, students are throwing away about 50 percent less food at Wilkerson than at Squires, which still has trays. That amounts to about an $80,000 annual savings at Wilkerson.

That savings is absorbed back into the Dining Service’s budget, allowing the department to keep food costs and student’s dining costs lower.

‘More conscious’

The goal for UND Dining Services is to implement trayless dining at Squires in the near future, Rosaasen said.

A new program called LeanPath also allows Dining Services to measure how much food is being wasted.

“Implementing that program significantly reduced food waste because people were more conscious about it,” Rosaasen said. “That’s made a huge difference too because everyone knows how much food they’re wasting.”

UND Dining Services has made strides over the past few years to advance its green initiatives, and Rosaasen said he hopes to continue this progress.

“Food production takes a lot of energy itself, starting with the growing process and the energy that goes into that,” he said. “When food ends up in the landfill, it’s just wasteful. So if we can reduce food waste in any way possible, it saves food, it saves energy and it saves on the landfill. It’s prudent to be good stewards of the environment. ”

— Wade Rupard, UND Marketing & Creative Services staff writer