Green supply chain 101

From the December 2021 print edition

Sustainability at the University of Guelph is a shared responsibility between producer and consumer and a balance between supply chains and customer needs. There are measures we can share that, with teamwork, can benefit any organization.

At the university’s hospitality services, sustainable choices begin with our supply chain and a few questions.

Do we buy or make? How can we reduce plate waste? What can we do with leftovers? Where does our food come from? How much will sustainability cost? Who will support our initiatives? Does what we do make a difference? How will we communicate this? The answers are not so straight forward.

First, let’s tackle supply chain. Reducing food miles in transit is a win. But how do we go further to have food less travelled? Our executive chef Vijay Nair and his team work with Rodger Tschanz in the Plant Agriculture department to grow food in campus greenhouses. While it doesn’t feed everyone, our apprentice chefs learn to grow food and appreciate the time needed to go from seed to plate. We grow our own hot peppers for sauces, potatoes, berries and more. Find people in your business who are passionate about food and have them build a summer garden and serve it onsite.

Paul Kelly at the Honey Bee Research Centre on campus, along with over 300 hives, provides honey to our operations and for sale to faculty, staff and students. This cuts local food miles to about 500 feet. The university is the second Bee City certified campus in Canada.

There is also the Guelph Urban Organic Farm (GCUOF), a one-hectare learning and research facility established by the Ontario Agricultural College in the Department of Plant Agriculture. We buy the produce they grow to serve students, faculty and staff. The farm does not operate in the winter, so during harvest season we preserve many of the local foods from this farm and others in our community.

Another supply chain partner
is our Alma Aquaculture Research Station. This state-of-the-art facility has introduced Atlantic salmon, Arctic char and new strains of rainbow trout to the Ontario aquaculture industry. We source Ocean Wise-certified Arctic char from AARS for special events and are working towards 100-per cent sustainable seafood through other regional suppliers.

These activities are unique to Guelph and have taken years of planning, promotion and collaboration between departments. The key is to find someone passionate about these choices, start small and incorporate more local goods into the food chain. There will always be someone willing to go that extra mile so your sourcing is local and sustainable.

Waste not, want not
What do we do with food rather than throw it out? Again, it’s about teamwork. Our staff work with the Sustainability Office to figure out what to do with the spent coffee grounds produced on campus.
In 2018, the office hired volunteers to collect coffee grounds from coffee shops around campus and divert it to the organic farm for compost which goes into the gardens at the farm. The program was dubbed Coffee to Compost and has diverted over 67,000kg of coffee grounds in the past three years.

To repurpose food waste – called food recovery – our chefs work with students Kiana Gibson and David Sahai (co-founders of MealCare Guelph) to make food go further. Their team of 20 student volunteers take food from our operations and redistribute it to local food banks, including the University of Guelph Campus Food Bank. We have diverted over 14,000lbs of food otherwise destined for landfills. Although a traditional supply chain doesn’t rely on volunteers, ours does. It matters who you’re supplying.

Finally, we focus on reducing purchases of unnecessary goods. We call this Resetting the Table.
In 2018 we eliminated single-use plastic straws, plastic cutlery and paper plates from a major food operation at the university. We started with the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” repurposing this with
a social media campaign: “Reduce, Reuse, Rethink.”

Since 2011, we’ve offered green, reusable food containers rather than paper plates. Our new campaign built on this by offering the choice of a china plate or compostable takeout container. The plate is the reduce option, the green container is the reuse option and rethink is the compostable clamshell container for $1. The green container program is a one-time, $5 cost and the china plate choice is free.

For each program, customers get stainless steel cutlery. By eliminating paper plates, plastic cutlery and straws we have eliminated these from landfill and provide a better eating experience. We built a new ware-washing room to clean and sanitize plates and containers, but we utilize it to remove supply chain waste.

To learn more about our sustainability initiatives, visit:

Mark Kenny, CSCMP, is the procurement manager with Hospitality Services at The University of Guelph.