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McHenry County College Cafeteria Receives Green Restaurant Certification

[Friday, November 18, 2016]


Sandra Johnston, MCC's Food Service director displays fresh Swiss chard and other greens that came from the on-campus hydroponic garden in the Horticulture Department. The cafeteria's sustainable practices recently earned the MCC café a green restaurant certification.  

When McHenry County College Food Service director Sandra Johnston receives a delivery of 60 heads of lettuce and herbs from the on-campus hydroponic garden each week, located down the hall from the cafeteria, the students and staff are getting the freshest, most local greens around.

“It doesn’t get any more sustainable than that.” Johnston said.

Hydroponic lettuce is just one example of the café’s sustainable initiatives. In fact, a number of other changes and improvements earned MCC’s cafeteria a 2 Star Certified Green Restaurant®. MCC’s café is the first community college cafeteria in the country to become certified as a Green Restaurant through the Green Restaurant Association (GRA).

GRA standards provide a transparent way to measure each restaurant’s environmental accomplishments while providing a pathway for the next steps each restaurant can take towards increased environmental sustainability. To qualify, restaurants must meet environmental standards in a number of categories, including water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, and sustainable food.

GRA certification itself is made up of over 500 environmental standards, including 40 from external science, environmental, and governmental organizations. Each standard earns a restaurant a certain number of GreenPoints™ towards becoming a Certified Green Restaurant. MCC’s café is already at the second, or two-star level, and to maintain or improve its rating, it must continue improving and earning GreenPoints at three- and six-year intervals.

MCC has developed a culture of sustainability through the MCC Sustainability Center and the school’s master plan, which includes three major initiatives—green campus, green curriculum, and green community. As a result of the environmental initiatives taken by the MCC Café, the college can save $7,446 in energy and water bills during the year and the equivalent of 32 backyard swimming pools in water.

"I applaud the 46 environmental steps that the MCC Cafe at McHenry County College has implemented to become a 2 Star Certified Green Restaurant,” said Michael Oshman, CEO and Founder of the Green Restaurant Association. “As the very first community college to have a Certified Green Restaurant on campus, they are proven leaders of sustainability.”

“It feels pretty amazing to be recognized as green certified,” Johnson said. “It feels like we’re contributing to the planet, the college and the community.”

Last spring, Johnston learned about the GRA and implemented a 46-step process in six environmental categories to meet these standards. She had a head start before beginning this process, because the cafeteria had eco-friendly equipment installed when it was re-designed in 2012. Improvements included compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), motion sensor restroom faucets, and motion sensor lighting in several areas. The cafeteria added waste recycling and a bottle filling station.

To achieve this designation, it takes a new mindset, Johnston said.

“This is meant to be a continuous improvement,” she said. “We have to think in a zero- waste mentality. For example, we ask ourselves, ‘What could I do with this ingredient instead of throwing it away?’”

To that end, employees often repurpose leftover food. Examples include incorporating entrée items into soups, using leftover diced tomatoes and onions from a taco bar for a salad or infusing leftover fresh ginger from a stir fry lunch into oils and vinegars.

Johnston also is purchasing differently. While the café normally uses chinaware and stainless utensils that are washed daily, its disposable items include paper disposable cups and bowls instead of Styrofoam and utensils made of compostable material instead of petroleum-based plastic.

This week, the café started offering freshly brewed coffee from Conscious Cup, a local Crystal Lake business that roasts socially and environmentally sustainable coffees.

“We have to keep thinking out of the box,” Johnston said. “It’s very important to do our part. We have to look at the big picture of the world and how much water gets wasted. It’s not just us—there’s so much everybody can do to be more environmentally responsible.”

In the future, Johnston said she hopes to start composting of food waste and switch to earth-friendly cleaning products, where feasible.

Founded in 1990, the Green Restaurant Association is an international nonprofit organization that works with restaurants, manufacturers, and distributors to fulfill its mission of greening the restaurant industry. With its turnkey certi?cation system, the GRA has made it accessible for thousands of restaurants to become more environmentally sustainable in energy, water, waste, food, chemicals, disposables, and building. 





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