Alan Cushman has a “green mindset.”
As the associate director of Campus Dining and a Washington state native, he pinpointed his upbringing in the evergreen state as the influence on his earth-friendly thought process and the way of operating the business.
“When I first came to Cal Poly in 1984, the most that people were doing was collecting cans,” recalled Cushman. “And that was because people could get paid for doing it.”
His tenure with the company has witnessed marked advancements in terms of environmental sustainability, from the purchase of the university’s first cardboard baler in 1989 to the phasing out of polystyrene cups this past year.
“It’s funny because my reputation for pushing the environmental agenda in the way Campus Dining operates prompted some of the staff to make me a ‘Mr. Recycle’ T-shirt,” Cushman said with a laugh. “But the bottom line is that we at Campus Dining are always looking to better the environment, and we recognize that it’s a process that you have to take on one step at a time.”
Campus Dining won its first Waste Reduction Awards Program (WRAP) award, given by the California Integrated Waste Management Board, in 1995, and has won it every year since. The award is given to businesses in California that have made outstanding efforts in reducing nonhazardous waste and sending less garbage to landfills.
The transition away from polystyrene – more commonly known as “Styrofoam” – cups is particularly noteworthy, with students, faculty and administrators welcoming the change.
“It’s a good thing that we’re using more environmentally friendly cups simply because of the ridiculous amount of cups that we use while working,” remarked Michelle Griffith, business junior and employee at Julian’s. “We’re able to know that we’re having less of an impact on the environment, so we don’t have to feel as bad about using so many of them.”
“It’s something that we’ve wanted, as did the customers,” agreed Cushman.
The first campus eateries to stop polystyrene use were Vista Grande Restaurant (now Sage) and VG Café in January 2007, where customers are now given reusable plateware unless they request otherwise.
The UU-based restaurants and Lucy’s Juice soon followed, and all other campus eateries stopped polystyrene use over the summer. All remaining polystyrene goods were donated to the local Food Bank in September, before the start of fall quarter.
Other notable “green” endeavors by Campus Dining include the composting of pre- and post-consumer waste, whereby items ranging from salad shavings, coffee grounds, leftover food, and used napkins are all separated from non-degradable waste and taken to the on-campus sustainable farm for composting.
“The focus is on making the most out of the stuff we can’t use but don’t want sent to a landfill,” Cushman said.
The efforts have led to a rough average of 1,800 pounds of compost being sent to the sustainable farm each day, and last year about 250 tons of waste that would have otherwise been sent to a landfill were sent to the farm for composting.
“The composting has allowed us to reduce the number of dumpsters that we use for waste from eight to three,” Cushman said. “My goal is to get to two, but the rise in business we’ve experienced over the past couple of years hasn’t made it possible just yet.”
Campus Dining has also retrofitted all of its lighting fixtures on campus to allow for the use of energy-saving bulbs, and maintenance crews now utilize Green Seal-certified cleaning products in the Campus Dining facilities.
Cushman and the Campus Dining staff recognized that the task of becoming completely environmentally friendly is an ambitious one, and that steps must be taken incrementally so as to not take on too much at once.
“We’re just scratching the surface in terms of what we could be doing to better help the environment,” Cushman said. “Behavior modifications are an incredible challenge, and you just have to remind yourself that you’re never done. Everyday’s another step.”