We understand that the choices we make now affect the lives of present and future generations. This is the heart of a liberal education.
“When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree. When drinking clear water, remember who dug the well.” — Vietnamese proverb
Whether encouraging our students to use their talents to improve the well-being of the communities in which they live or working to secure the financial soundness of the institution itself, we understand that the choices we make now affect the lives of present and future generations. This is the heart of a liberal education.
At Willamette, therefore, we teach not only about one’s connectivity to natural laws or to outward expressions of aesthetic and cultural forms or to economic and political structures, but also one’s connection to the earth and the environment that sustains life. It is difficult to talk about the environment that sustains life without eventually talking about food.
According to the Oregon Food Bank, hunger and food insecurity affect about one in five Oregon children, meaning their families do not always know where their next meal is coming from. In an average month, 192,000 people eat meals from an Oregon Food Bank emergency food box. More than 440,000 Oregonians — the majority of them children — receive food aid through the Food Stamp Program each month.
As food and fuel costs rise, we must reach out to those in need as well as redouble our own efforts to conserve, eat responsibly, waste little. As an employer and institution, Willamette must model the practices we hope to see reflected in the larger community and the nation.
Willamette’s food service has been recognized for excellence in sustainable practices. We compost and recycle extensively. Seventy-five percent of all disposable tableware is made from sugarcane or recycled paper. We support more than 20 local artisans and farms within a 150-mile radius of our campus. We are implementing more than 20 procurement initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent in the highest impact areas of our business by purchasing all meats and vegetables from North America; reducing the amount of beef and cheese purchased and served; eliminating air-freighted seafood; and decreasing purchases of tropical fruits.
We are reducing food waste and developing alternative uses for it, sending all used transfat- free cooking oil to be used for biofuel. Revising the service style at our main cafe has resulted in a 35 percent reduction of post-consumer waste. We seek to reduce consumption of processed foods, are currently evaluating portion sizes, and hope to reduce unnecessary food packaging and the expectation/demand for it. We also want to eliminate the use of bottled water, since the quality of local tap water is among the highest in the world.
Willamette’s leadership and commitment to sustainability are not only transforming our campus culture and having a favorable effect on our institution’s carbon footprint, they are also earning us a national profile: In an August 2008 report, the National Wildlife Federation named Willamette the nation’s leader in sustainability in higher education.
The report, “Campus Environment 2008 Results: A National Report Card on Sustainability in Higher Education,” surveyed 1,068 colleges and universities regarding their respective sustainability practices in both operations and curriculum. The report states, “The school engaged in the greatest number of such activities is Willamette University is Salem, Oregon. Willamette is committed to energy efficiency and conservation, greener transportation, environmentally friendly landscaping practices, as well as to orienting personnel and faculty to the sustainability goals of the campus.” Read more about our sustainability efforts in the news briefs section.
As always, this issue of The Scene offers plenty of food for thought. Bon appétit!
M. Lee Pelton