The University of Illinois in Champagne-Urbana has been a Big 10 leader in food waste diversion, successfully donating, recycling and digesting food that may have otherwise gone to a landfill. But in 2013 the university’s dining services team decided it was time to focus efforts on the most preferred option on the food waste hierarchy: prevention.
In doing so they implemented the LeanPath Food Waste Prevention System across their six dining halls and their catering operation. Since deploying the program in April of 2013, they have seen a marked reduction in pre-consumer food waste. LeanPath spoke with Dawn Aubrey, Director of Dining Services, about her success with the program.
Why did you decide to implement the LeanPath System?
“It was part of our multi-faceted approach; a way for us to be more sustainable from an environmental perspective by not wasting food. At first I thought, what you’re offering through LeanPath is what we should be doing already. But a very streamlined approach makes it simple to do it, which makes it consistent. We were also interested in cost containment. We had experienced a 6% increase in food costs due to rising commodity costs. We needed to be better stewards with those commodities.
The LeanPath System streamlines it so that it will be consistently done. It’s also extremely helpful to have a dollar amount—it makes it very real. This was a logical next step after what we had done on the post-consumer side; we were the first Big 10 school to be “trayless,” which reduced our post-consumer waste by 80%. The next step was to look at pre-consumer.”
Had you ever tracked or measured pre-consumer waste before?
“When we tried to quantify pre-consumer, it was very difficult. Tracking things manually wasn’t easy for staff. If it’s not easy for staff, they’re not going to do it.”
How did your staff react to the system?
“A few people were resistant, but once they realized how easy it was, that changed. It’s interesting how the staff “police” each other. If a co-worker is taking too much or trimming too much, they remind their co-worker that it will be weighed.”
How has your focus on food waste prevention influenced your kitchen culture?
“We use the system positively—it’s always positive and never punitive. That’s very important to making sure that staff buy-in to the program. We celebrate as a team when we look at the reduction we’ve experienced. We also utilize “bragging rights” to recognize and reward employees, with verbal recognition and positive recognition letters. Every unit has their own Stop Waste Action Team meeting once a week and daily pow-wows to look at data.”
What results have you seen so far?
“Since we started the program in April, we’ve seen a 23% reduction in waste. Within the first month, we experienced an 8% reduction just by installing the system—we found that to be really remarkable. The savings in food costs have been much more evident this semester. We’re serving 600 more students this semester than we did last, and our food costs are flat.”
Want to hear more about Dawn Aubrey and University of Illinois' food waste reduction results? Watch this free, on-demand webinar, featuring Dawn, LeanPath Co-Founder & CEO Andrew Shakman, and Raj Karmani of Zero Percent.