Mason Dining works with numerous stakeholders to minimize the environmental and social impacts of our operations through sustainability education, support for local agriculture, and a commitment to sourcing and serving healthy, sustainably-grown foods.
This commitment was formalized with Sodexo’s Better Tomorrow Plan. The Better Tomorrow Plan includes 14 commitments for a brighter future by focusing on three key priorities: health, community, and planet. Learn more about the Better Tomorrow Commitments.
Your Mason Dining team works hard towards these goals and relies on student engagement and enthusiasm to drive sustainability initiatives on your campus. We encourage you to connect with your Mason Dining Sustainability team to answer any questions and get involved with innovative efforts on campus.
How to fight climate change with what you eat!
"The wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world."—Michael Pollan
By opting for a sustainable diet, you are combatting injustices against people, animals, and most importantly - our planet1.Sustainability is an intersectional standard that invites humans to have compassion for land, water, animals, and each other. By doing so, we can achieve an eco-friendly diet that promotes diversity, human health, environmental and economic well-being, all while combating food insecurity.
While there are many components to reaching a sustainable diet, Mason Dining has decided to narrow in on Carbon Emissions through the food we serve. In 2021, it was reported that 34% of all carbon emissions on earth came from food supply2Everyone and everything inevitablyleavesbehind a carbon footprint. However, some foods wear bigger shoes than others, leaving behind massive footprints that diminish the chances for future food to grow. With awareness and smart food choices,we can reduce our carbonfoot printand nourish our immune systems.
To learn more about your personal carbon footprint take an EPA assessmentHERE.
Criteria for carbon indicators
Here at Mason Dining, we decided only to look solely at carbon emissions through the food that we prepare and serve.
GREEN– Equal an estimated 25% of the daily carbon footprint target
YELLOW- Equal an estimated 26- 50% of the daily carbon footprint target
RED- Equals an estimated 50-100% of the daily carbon footprint target
When assigning carbon indicators to food, there are several different methodologies. Though we are focusing on carbon emissions, water use, land use, and emissions from methane, nitrogen, and other factors also can contribute to a food’s indicator.
My Emissions- Estimate the carbonfootprintof your food
How do different foods have different impacts on the environment?
1/3 of allgreen housegasses in our atmosphere is contributed to food systems3.Each step of production; including growing, harvesting, transporting, distributing, preparing, consuming, and disposing of foods, releases varying amounts of greenhouse gases4.Thesegassesthen absorb and trap heat in our atmosphere, resulting in global warming. By measuring the intensity of greenhouse gas emitted along the supply chain, we can better see the impact that specific foods have on the environment. The graph below, from My World Data, visualizes what foods contribute at various points in the supply chain.
Keany Produce – Through our contract with Keany Produce Distributor we are able to source from dozens of local farms. We consider local to be within a 250-mile radius, and continually support farms such as Crown Orchards and Bubba’s Sweet Nectar in VA, Hess Farms and Davis Mushroom in PA, and Shlagel Farm in MD.
In-House Herbs – Southside and Ike’s both grow a share of their own herbs! Mason Dining implemented Urban Cultivator growing systems in each unit, equipped with lighting, watering, and automated monitoring of Ph balance for the plants. Herbs grow year-round in the cultivators where customers can observe dining staff seeding, harvesting, and serving these flavorful microgreens. Not only do the cultivators help us reduce food miles, but they also add unique flavors to the resident dining menus.
President’s Park Greenhouse – Ike’s is proud to sponsor the Presidents Park Greenhouse, operated by the Office of Sustainability. Mason Dining sources all lettuce, herbs, and microgreens from the greenhouse for Ike’s salad bar and menu. Tours and volunteer opportunities are available in the greenhouse – see where your food comes from and help grow some!
Zeponic – Zeponic Farms, located in Woodbridge, VA, is a family-owned and operated “Freight Farm,” a hydroponic growing operation that supplies Southside with ~300 heads of fresh lettuce each week. Through a unique business model, the farm employs students from the Mason LIFE program, providing meaningful work for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Sodexo at Mason Dining is proud to support this important work by purchasing everything Zeponic Farms grows. Find their fresh butter leaf and romaine lettuce at the Southside salad bar and grill station!
Farm-to-Table Dinners – Our chefs work to source food locally when it is available. We host farm to table dinners in the resident dining halls featuring locally-sourced foods to celebrate the abundance of the region, support local agriculture, and educate diners about local and seasonal availability. Eating a local and seasonal diet reduces food miles and manufactured inputs before the food reaches your plate. By purchasing from local farms, we boost the local economy and promote agricultural in Virginia and nearby communities. Keep an eye on the marketing calendars for the next farm to table dinner and reach out to the Sustainability team if you would like to be involved.
Vegan & Plant-based program – An increasing number of our customers, staff, and vendors are interested in eating plant-based diets, for health, social, and environmental reasons. We are committed to providing nutritious meals for all diets and are excited about the expanding demand for plant-based diets. Our team aims to make it easy and delicious to reduce dietary intake of animal products for customers who are concerned about the negative effects of the meat and dairy industries. Through feedback from customer surveys and engaging with students in the GMU Vegan Society, we gain inspiration and ideation for improving our plant-based offerings around campus. In partnership with the Humane Society’s Food Forward program, we run a plant-based cooking/menu training for our chefs and managers to keep on top of current trends toward vegan and vegetarianism.
Animal Welfare Commitments – Sodexo currently sources shell eggs from cage-free operations and its pork from producers who do not use gestation crates. Furthermore, they have pledged to source only cage free shell and liquid eggs worldwide by 2025. In the US, as of May 2020, 80% of shell eggs, 83% of liquid eggs, and 57% of processed eggs used by Sodexo are cage free. Moving forward, Sodexo will continue to seek and support cage-free alternatives with its suppliers for other egg products, as well as for other species (rabbits, sows...). In 2017, Sodexo eliminated the use of veal crates from its supply chain. The company has outlined a phased approach to sourcing poultry, beef and veal from suppliers who foster improved animal well-being. Five of our most high-volume pork products – in the bacon, pork butt and pork loin categories transitioned to open sow housing in 2018 – which allows the sow to roam more freely after the pregnancy is confirmed.
Sustainable seafood – Mason Dining is proud to serve 100% sustainably sourced seafood in our dining halls, certified by the Aquaculture Certification Council, which enforces standards for social, environmental, and food safety at seafood farming facilities throughout the world, and the Marine Stewardship Council, which focuses on maintaining healthy fish stocks and reducing ecosystem impacts of fisheries for wild-caught fish.
Honey - Mason Dining has partnered with the Honey Bee Initiative (HBI) to offer honey produced by Mason bees to our campus community. Through donations to the HBI, Sodexo received 4oz and 8oz jars of local raw honey, available for sale in the Johnson Center Express convenience store while supplies last. With this program, we demonstrate our support for sustainable beekeeping and intend to raise awareness about the importance of protecting honeybees from Colony Collapse Disorder, which threatens the global food supply. In the future, we hope to expand Dining’s partnership with the HBI, offering more Mason honey across campus. Currently, Southside and the Globe do source locally harvested raw honey from Bubba’s Sweet Nectar in Waynesboro, VA.
Palm Oil – Production and use of palm oil is a large-scale environmental problem. While growing palm can be less resource intensive than other oil-producing plants, the carbon emissions from palm oil land conversion are estimated to represent between 15 and 18% of global carbon emissions resulting from the drying of peatlands and the burning of land. Palm oil is a favorable product for cooking and found in many multi-ingredient products our consumers demand. However, it is largely responsible for deforestation, which is incompatible with Sodexo’s values and the commitments that the company has made within the Better Tomorrow Plan. Therefore, we have committed to working with our suppliers to source sustainable palm oil in the products that we buy. Where Sodexo is not able to source sustainable palm oil, we will purchase GreenPalm certificates to reward palm producers who are working in a sustainable and responsible way. Sodexo has defined a time-bound strategy for sustainable palm oil in conjunction with the WWF as part of its technical agreement on Sustainable Agriculture. Sodexo became a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in August 2011 and became a member of GreenPalm in January 2012. Each year, we carry out a full survey of the palm oil volumes that we purchase as a company through procurement reports of our margarine and frying oil and submit to the WWF Palm Oil Buyer Scorecard. We developed and continue to deploy our Sustainable Palm Oil toolkit to raise awareness internally and with our suppliers on the important environmental impacts of palm oil. Our work with suppliers of frying oil and margarine has enabled us to inform those who were not already informed about the environmental and social issues surrounding palm oil and how they could take measures to improve their sustainability.
Fair Trade Coffee – Aspretto is Sodexo’s ethical and sustainable global coffee brand that answers the market’s call for a sustainable, “green” product. It is fair-trade purchased, Fair Trade USA certified, and a partner of the Rainforest Alliance. Through years-long arrangements with companies in coffee-producing communities, we support the values of Fair Price and just working conditions. At the same time, we give back to the communities – For every pound of coffee and tea sold a financial contribution is donated to non-profit organizations that sponsor and support programs to combat hunger and malnutrition, helping those at risk in the communities where we operate. Aspretto coffee is served at Ike's Dining Hall, Southside Dining Hall and The Globe Dining Hall.
Fair Trade Tomatoes – Sodexo is a partner of the Fair Food Program and has committed to purchase tomatoes only from growers with ethical labor standards. At Mason, we source tomatoes from Florida growers who abide by the Fair Food Code of Conduct – one of the most comprehensive, verifiable and sustainable social responsibility program in US agriculture. Click here for information on the history behind this movement.
Composting - Our resident dining halls have been composting food waste since the 2018 Spring semester. George Mason University is proudly partnered with Veteran Compost, We began a composting program at Southside dining hall in the 2018 Spring semester. Our food waste is picked up by Veteran Compost, a local company that collects food waste Southside, Ike's and the Globe and turns it into organic soil right here in Fairfax, VA. Mason Dining's food waste is helping farmers grow food!
Recycling - All Sodexo restaurants on campus recycle cardboard and the resident dining halls also recycle alumiinum and plastic. We use 100% recycled content napkins with up to 65% Post-Consumer recycled content. Please help us in this effort by recycling your single-use containers in the bins located around our facilities, and let us know about your experience with the program.
Trayless/Strawless - In the 2019 Spring semester, we launched a #SkiptheStraw campaign to reduce the use of straws and single-use plastics on campus. We have replaced most lids with strawless alternatives and have placed straws behind the counter to be given by request only. Additionally, we sell stainless steel straw kits in our convenience stores, and we give out stainless steel straw kits at various campus events!
Compostable Serviceware - As of April 2019 - Southside, Ike's, and the Globe use compostable serviceware
Portion Control - The plates in our resident dining halls are smaller in size and come in a variety of shapes. This limits portion sizes in the all-you-care-to-eat environment, where customers are able to return for another helping if desired. Switching to these plates alone reduced our overall food waste by 15%.
Outreach - Informational signage in our facilities helps to educate customers about the issue of food loss and food waste. You can be part of the solution - avoid taking more food than you can eat. Check out this story on our food recovery program. Volunteer with Campus Kitchens to help donate food from Sodexo outlets to local shelters and soup kitchens. Contact Alicia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coffee Club - The on-campus coffee retailers offer a “buy 9 get one free” incentive to customers who bring a reusable mug. Bring your own mug on your next visit to Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Chick-fil-A, Einstein Bagels, and convenience stores on campus and ask for a punch card to start building up rewards!
BioFuel - Program We recycle all kitchen oil waste (over 7,000 gallons annually). The oil is taken and used to create steam energy at a power plant, which helps reduce fossil fuel consumption.
4va - George Mason University is committed to supporting agriculture and sustainable food systems in Virginia. In collaboration with UVA, VT, and JMU, Mason has received funding from 4va – to organize a group of stakeholders to address food systems issues. This group consists of faculty, staff, administrators, students, food service professionals, local farmers, etc. at each respective university. The combined purchasing power of the dining programs at these four universities has the potential to drive immense positive change. The group reached a consensus to act on this potential by first developing an immersive graduate level course – the Virginia Food Systems Leadership Institute that will allow students to work within each university’s dining program to implement a sustainability solution of their choosing.
Students - Students have always been at the forefront of social movements, and fighting for a better food system is no exception. Like students at colleges and universities nationwide, Mason students work with The Real Food Challenge (RFC) for guidance and access to resources that effectively increase sustainable food sourcing and address other food systems issues. A number of Sodexo Universities use the Real Food Calculator to track and increase the amount of “real” food on campus, according to rigorous standards outlined by RFC.
The GMU Honeybee Initiative - Mason Dining has proudly partnered with the Honeybee Initiative (HBI) to sell honey from bees on campus (and nearby bees that are part of Mason’s HBI program).
The GMU Office of Sustainability - Through our partnership at the President's Park Greenhouse, Mason Dining sources food grown on campus and promotes educating the community about local foods. The Office of Sustainability has been instrumental to the success of our sustainability program from assisting with reporting of local food purchasing to implementing the composting program. Each April, we host a celebration of sustainable foods and join together to promote sustainable food systems at Mason - be on the lookout for this year's Sustainable Foods Day celebration!
Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) - Through a unique two-day culinary training program called “Food Forward,” an HSUS team works in our kitchens with our chefs and managers to promote simple and delicious ways to diversify and expand vegan offerings in the resident dining halls. We hosted the team in the summer of 2016 and look forward to having them return this summer with fresh tips and tricks for our vegan/vegetarian program.
Virginia Green - We are pleased to announce that Ike’s, Southside, The Globe, and The Mason Club are now Virginia Green Restaurants! This signifies our continued commitment to protecting Virginia’s environment by reducing waste, hosting green events and recycling.