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University Dining Services has worked successfully with students since 2002 in an effort to "green" its operations and purchasing. The University continuously adopts precedent-setting practices and communication techniques to expand campuswide education about sustainable dining.

Goals, Strategies & Progress

Figure 3: Food Purchases
Conventional food purchases have declined from 64% to 34% since 2007
Sustainable food purchases increased from 36 percent in 2007 to 66 percent in 2011, and local (within 250 miles) food purchases increased from 27 percent to 59 percent in the same time period. Click to enlarge.

Goal: Increase sustainable food purchases to 70 percent by 2012, while prioritizing local foods, and raise awareness about green dining initiatives.  

Strategy: Identify and make use of additional locally produced foods, working with vendors and other partners.


  • Sustainable food purchases increased from 36 percent in 2007 to 66 percent in 2011. Local (within 250 miles) food purchases increased from 27 percent in 2007 to 59 percent in 2011 (see Figure 3).
  • Dining Services worked with its primary vendor, U.S. Foods, to further define the source of certain dry and frozen products, resulting in more accurate identification of local products.
  • In the fall and spring, fresh produce was provided to Dining Services by the student-run Princeton Garden Project, which cultivates gardens at both Forbes College and the Frist Campus Center.

Strategy: Develop and display carbon footprint information for different types of food items served in student dining facilities.


  • The relative carbon footprint of approximately 150 common food items was determined over the past year as part of the Princeton Environmental Institute/Grand Challenges internship program in preparation for smartphone app development and dining hall displays. These food items are now identified with low-, medium- or high-carbon emission icons on the interactive menu feature of the Dining Services website, allowing students to compare the relative carbon impact of their food choices.

Strategy: Raise awareness about sustainable dining options through outreach and events. 

  • Dining Services’ Chef Rob Harbison prepared two tastings as part of a Princeton School Gardens Cooperative program for two elementary schools in the fall and spring semesters, educating local students, parents and school staff about meals with locally produced ingredients and how the University uses local sustainable food. 

  • Dining Services featured its sustainable dining initiatives and offered a variety of food samples at several public events this past year, including the University's 2010 Sustainability Open House, campus farmers markets and Earth Day Fest.

Goal: Reduce and recycle food waste.

Strategy: Transition to tray-free dining across all six dining halls and continue to monitor associated reductions and savings.


  • By summer 2011, the “tray-free” dining policy adopted by the Princeton Sustainability Committee was successfully implemented in all six residential dining halls. Tray-free dining (providing larger plates and glasses and eliminating trays) has the potential to reduce water usage and energy costs by $4,000 per year, save up to 1.2 percent on food purchases, reduce food waste by up to 30 percent, and avoid more than 23 metric tons of CO2 emissions. 

Strategy: Recycle food waste, including cooking oil. 


  • Currently, all of Princeton's Dining Services food waste — 1,116 tons in 2010 — is recycled by a local pig farmer. 
  • This past year, Dining Services, Building Services and the Office of Sustainability piloted a food waste dehydration system at Forbes College as part of an ongoing evaluation process analyzing on-site alternatives.
  • 100 percent of waste frying oil produced by Dining Services in the 2011 fiscal year (2,665 gallons) was recycled into biodiesel off site (see Figure 4). Between fall 2009, when the collection program began, and spring 2010, 70 percent, or 1,901 gallons, of collected waste oil was recycled.

Figure 4: Waste Oil Recycled
Waste Oil
Between fall 2009, when the waste frying oil collection program began, and spring 2010, 70 percent — or 1,901 gallons — was recycled. In the 2011 fiscal year, 100 percent — 2,665 gallons — was recycled into biodiesel off site.

What's Next

Short Term

  • Associate each food type evaluated for carbon footprint with one of three icons (most sustainable, somewhat sustainable, least sustainable) and display in dining halls across campus.
  • Build upon current carbon footprint information to include additional food items as well as ingredient listings, and develop a downloadable app.
  • Track and quantify the amount of produce used from campus gardens.
  • Determine an accurate measure of food waste.
  • Evaluate on-site or immediately local food waste conversion system options.
  • Continue to explore the feasibility of a "daylight dining" program in which dining halls turn off overhead lights and rely on ambient lighting, with the potential to avoid 12.6 metric tons of CO2 emissions.

Long Term

  • Continue working with major manufacturers to trace product sources to better identify local purchases that may not currently be classified as such.
  • Partner with the Chef's Move Program endorsed by the White House and First Lady Michelle Obama to provide educational information to local schools based on Princeton’s sustainable dining initiatives.

"No one can deny that eating plays a central role in the Princeton experience — but few realize how truly we embrace Princeton’s unofficial motto, 'In the Nation’s Service and in the Service of All Nations.' With each swipe into the dining hall, we do just that, thanks to Dining Services' ever-increasing use of local sources and initiatives, which are serving to reduce our 'foodprint.'”
Lily Alberts, Class of 2013, a member of the Greening Dining student group

"Dining Services Director Stu [Orefice] and Chef Rob [Harbison] were enthusiastic leaders of our farm-to-school program. With cranberry sauce and sorbet in autumn, and pea tendril salad in spring, they linked Princeton elementary students to local food, farmers, their hometown university — and to the community. And the students asked for their autographs!"
Karla Cook, Princeton School Gardens Cooperative

Watch a video of Chef Rob Harbison as he describes how to make "Carrot-Apple Salad With Pea Tendrils" during a Garden State on Your Plate tasting for children, staff and parents at two Princeton elementary schools.


Local purchases map

Nearly 60 percent of the food purchased by Dining Services is from within a 250-mile radius. View a map of the local farms from which the University buys products.