The National Restaurant Association cited the university’s comprehensive waste management program as well as its organic farm-to-campus endeavor in naming KSU its Innovator of the Year.
The university is the first educational institution to win the national award.
“This really was the Oscars for us in the food business,” said Gary Coltek, director of culinary and hospitality services at KSU. “It’s the first time in the 95 years the award has been given that a university was recognized.”
KSU was honored May 18 at a gala event in Chicago, and also won the industry group’s Operator Innovations Award for Sustainability, both selected by an independent panel of expert judges.
The university will have its own celebration in August in conjunction with the ribbon cutting for Hickory Grove Farm, one of three farms located about 2 miles away from campus that will help supply food to the university’s dining facilities while also serving as a classroom for the new Institute for Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality.
Coltek said his mission is to show other state schools like KSU, and anyone else who happens to be interested, that all institutions can make steps toward being good stewards of natural resources.
“It’s being simplistic,” Coltek said. “This is what we live every day … and we do it profitably, too. That’s what the new institution will really show, that you can be sustainable and profitable at the same time.”
Rob Nolen, assistant director of culinary and hospitality services, said he felt the program’s “closed-loop” waste management program, where essentially none of its food resources go to waste through composting, use in the farm operation or a variety of other natural means, was key in winning the award.
“We’re really trying to take steps to lower our output as much as we can,” Nolen said. “We serve up to 5,000 people a day, and although we’re composting a lot of waste, with all of the students we’re feeding each one is wasting less than half a pound of food over one semester,” Nolen said. “I think that speaks a lot to not only what we’re doing with the waste we get but the outreach and education we’re doing — making sure students know how they can reduce waste.”
The program takes advantage of several other processes, including water reclamation, aerobic digestion and oil-to-biodiesel conversion to reduce costs and minimize environmental impact, qualifying KSU’s The Commons dinging hall as a LEED Gold-certified building.