If you want to know what’s happening, or will be happening, in the area of sustainability, look no further than America’s college and university campuses. That’s where sustainability practices and attitudes are being shaped for the new green consumer and employee.
In 2006, America’s institutions of higher learning gave notice that they were serious about responding to the possible threat of global warming. Over 600 colleges and universities have since signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Why should we care? Well it includes short- and long-term goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (carbon), waste reduction and expanding sustainability education. For signatories to the Climate Commitment, the goal is to get to carbon neutral. They have moved well past the debate of whether green house gas warming exists and are taking action to reduce carbon emissions. Many students at these campuses will have lived four or more years with conversations and discourse about carbon and how to reduce it. That means, they eventually will be asking, either as a customer or an employee, what you are or have been doing.
Sustainability at campuses isn’t only being driven by the Climate Commitment. In recent years, environmental awareness on campuses has taken different forms from on-campus composting, trayless dining, re-usable mugs and Meatless Mondays to new majors in green design, sustainable tourism, and even eco-gastronomy. Students also are voting to fund sustainability projects. Recently, students at the University of Utah even voted to raise their fees to fund $125,000 in student sustainability projects each year.
Much is made of Generation Y’s (also known as the Millennials) tech savvy, independence and demands for work-life balance. However, their attitudes about sustainability may turn out to be just as significant. Rather than showing signs of fading, the on-campus sustainability movement increases the likelihood of a Generation Y consumer, those who are roughly ages 18-29, who wants to buy greener products and work in more sustainable settings for greener companies.
While these consumers have been hitting the workforce since the early 2000s or so, and may not have a defining impact on foodservice yet, it’s important to think about how this 70-million-person demographic could affect your organization as they become a larger part of the workforce, gain greater income and start families (currently only one in five is married).
If you want to target this group – whether as consumers, employees or both – you need to publicize and promote, both in-store and out, whatever actions you’re taking to be more sustainable. You don’t have to be Greenpeace, but Generation Y wants transparency into what you are doing and, at a minimum, wants to know sustainability is on your radar. If it isn’t, well, it might be time to go back to school. Both the National Restaurant Association, through its Conserve program, and the Green Restaurant Association offer tips and assistance to operators looking to be more environmentally responsible. Check out your local restaurant associations, too. They may have programs to get you started in the basics.