three varieties of fresh carrots


Our food is particularly emblematic of sustainability, a personal and literal symbol of the connection between the social and the environmental. The physically closer we are to the original sources of our food, the greater our ability is to affect positive change. At all three campuses, focusing on local food sources means we are engaging with, investing in, and providing support to our local food systems while reducing the carbon footprint of our community.

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Status updates

FY 2023 progress

Target actions

  • Increase student engagement education and understanding of impact of plant-based options

Housing & Food Services was able to renew its efforts toward sustainability in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic response had required HFS to respond to changes in campus occupancy, supply chain issues and other unforeseen challenges. In FY23, HFS reinvigorated its Sustainability Committee, increasing membership to 11 representatives from a variety of departments and dining units, which will help drive solutions and collaborative efforts across the department. HFS Dining also expanded contact with student groups, campus leadership, sustainability organizations, and professors and instructors over the past year.

HFS purchasing data shows that 32% of food purchased is currently from local sources as of 2022 and the UW is on track to achieve the goal of 35% by 2025. In addition, the current target was chosen due in part to align with the national Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). However, in recent years STARS has shifted its focus to emphasizing the importance of plant-based items, as academic studies have shown increasing the proportion of plant-based food has a greater impact on embodied emissions than solely reducing transportation distance. HFS is also trending well in that measurement, as more than 38% of menu items are plant-based. HFS has made an intentional shift  in purchasing a reduced percentage of animal-based meat analogs with an increased focus on nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and other whole food plant-based proteins.

FY 2022 progress

Target actions for FY22

  • Increase sourcing of local foods 1% each year based on a 2021 baseline
  • Expand plant-based options by 10% by 2025
  • Increase student engagement education and understanding of impact of plant-based options

Housing and Food Services (HFS) is committed to sustainability and works to ensure they offer sustainable options across UW’s Dining locations. However, the current purchasing system makes it difficult to track the metrics for local or plant-based options. For the UW’s most recent STARS report, the UW Dining conducted an inventory of purchases for the 2018-2019 fiscal year (chosen to give a representative account as the most recent year unaffected by the COVID-19 response) showing that more than 35% of the food purchased that year was plant-based. Obtaining this data was extremely difficult and time-consuming by requesting vendor reports. Many vendors did not or could not supply the information, and as a result the 35% plant based food purchase was estimated based on 60% of total food purchased. 

HFS has partnered with the SEED student group to pilot a program with OZZI reusable takeout containers, giving students an alternative to single-use disposable containers. This year HFS expects to expand the program with a second OZZI machine, which dispenses containers to students and accepts the return of used containers. HFS also is exploring initiating a charge for disposable tableware in locations where there is a dishwasher available to encourage the use of rewashable plates, and has eliminated trays in dining areas to discourage food waste.

HFS chefs have also organized cooking demonstrations with students to teach plant-based recipes. This past year, chefs organized blind taste tests of several different plant-based chicken tender products, and the winning product will be used as an alternative in dining locations.

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Target metrics

Guiding principles of this target