[Continuing an earlier post...which you'll need to read to understand this one. Link here.]
So, unhappy with the state of affairs, I was on the warpath. I began to consider how to deploy my shiny weapons of war. I considered what to do. I could not believe that this really is the policy of the people overseeing the whole operation of Trojan Hospitality (the organization that oversees the whole of campus catering) – it must have been a unilateral effort on the part of the manager and staff in that particular cafe. Or I least I hoped so. So before calling on even higher powers from, say, the Provost’s office, I thought I’d talk to the head person at Trojan Hospitality. If I got no joy there, then I’d go higher. (Ironically, not long ago I’d politely turned down an approach for me to consider a position in the Provost’s office to become a sort of official campus-wide trouble-shooter on an ad-hoc basis for problems of precisely this sort.)
Another reason why this is all so frustrating to me is the fact that USC recently scored abominably in a recent report/survey grading college campuses according to how much effort they make in the area of sustainability. (Sustainable Endownments Insitute here, USC’s report card explaining its “D” score here.) While the report’s results seemed to me to be likely a bit harsh, I’ve always wondered whether anyone at USC actually cared about this issue enough to take the report seriously. (I’ve my own issues with Trojan Transportation with regards environmental matters -not the least because pedestrians, cyclists, and people who use public transportation seem to be lower on the food chain than people who buy parking permits- but have not got around to making noises about it to date beyond using the suggestion box in their office, and some comments in the campus surveys they sometimes circulate.)
So, here was the letter I wrote on Friday:
To the Director of Trojan Hospitality:
I’d like to inquire and to make a suggestion about a practice that can easily be adopted in the campus cafes. I’m very much a supporter of the cafes, the improved service and hours, excellent options, and so forth, and frequently use them and recommend to my colleagues, students and visitors to do so too. I almost always have very friendly interactions with your staff, but something odd has begun to happen which has begun to concern a number of faculty and students of my acquaintance. The issue is one of inappropriate denial of service in at least one of your cafes, specifically Tutor, but I wonder if it is a policy that extends to the whole campus.
It is generally regarded as a good thing, both economically and environmentally, for us to use less paper and cardboard in general, and a common way of doing this is to use our own mugs and cups for coffee, which can be reused, and generate less waste, reducing each individual’s environmental footprint. Nearly every major organization that I know of encourages such practices to some extent. As another related example, it is extremely common now in grocery stores to do this with shopping bags as well, to the extent that they even sometimes give a small incentive to shoppers. (This was a practice enhanced by State Law, but it is generally regarded as a good thing in general.)
Instead, the policy at Tutor cafe (as somewhat rudely explained to me by one of its managers on site the other day) is to do the opposite. They are *discouraging* patrons from using their own cups by refusing to sell them the equivalent of the “small” option, if they have a personal travel mug. They force you to buy a “medium”, even after it is explained that one will not fill the cup to the maximum capacity (estimated to be medium). The explanation given was that they do not trust customers to fill their cups only partially, having paid for a “small”.
This might seem like a trivial matter, but there are several issue of good business practice here as well as the obvious disincentive to us to conserve. It is not a good policy to assume that your customers are basically dishonest (especially over the matter of 10 cents), and must be treated as such by default (never mind telling them this directly to their face, as your manager in Tutor did -Wednesday afternoon of this week, about 2:45pm). One can easily get around this by simply buying the “small”, taking the small cup offered, pouring one’s coffee into it, and then pouring that into one’s own mug, but where is the sense in that? It simply wastes a cup, and produces more refuse for your cafe to dispose of. So your managers’ policy is fundamentally flawed.
This is part of a much larger issue about the USC campus. More generally, it seems that USC, as one of the largest employers -and catering service providers- in the city of Los Angeles should be trying to set a good example in areas of conservation and other good environmental practice. In a recent US-wide survey, USC ranked very poorly among university campuses in terms of campus conservation efforts, which is at first extremely surprising, given our commitment to working with community and the city at large. Should we not be one of the most prominent institutions setting a good example? Especially in matters where a little effort in formulating good policy can make important contributions? Providing unpleasant disincentives for people -even in these simple and seemingly small matters- is *not* the way to set a good example.
In order to be constructive I’d like to make the following primary suggestions:
(1) The bare minimum: Introduce a campus-wide policy to at least allow customers to choose to buy whatever quantity of coffee they wish to, and to put it into whatever cup they please. Do not insult the customers you serve by assuming that they are stealing 10c worth of coffee. Some people will go ahead and fill the cup, maybe, but the choice of others to not have a medium cup of coffee should not be denied them, as a result. Further, given that a cup is not used, and that a cup is not needed to be disposed of elsewhere on campus later on, does this occasional tiny extra quantity of coffee that some might take not at least partially pay for itself over time?
(2) Going the extra mile: Consider going further and giving people an incentive to use personal mugs. Maybe knock 5c of the price of a cup of coffee, instead of effectively enforcing a 10c addition on some customers who are trying to do the right thing.
(3) Clearly instruct your staff and managers about the policies you introduce in this regard. Maybe (or maybe this is too much) a small sign for both staff and customers to see to announce measure (2) if you introduce it would be a good idea too.
Finally, could I ask you to please instruct your managers in Tutor cafe (at least) to be more understanding of (and polite to) of the faculty, staff and students who use the facility. I for one try to be the same in return. The heated argument that I had on Wednesday due to your staff member and their manager not listening to my explanation should not have been necessary.
I’ll be happy to discuss this further with you if you’d like to. Either way, I’d like to hear about what you’ll be doing in response to this query/suggestion.
Thanks again, and have an excellent day!
Well, I had no idea what would result from this. From my experiences in the UK, I have to say that my expectations were not very high, if the truth be told. A typical response would be along the lines of “well, we don’t do that sort of thing here”, or the old favourite: “this is not my problem, have you tried talking to someone else about it, in some other department that is not mine?”…
So I was all ready for that sort of thing, and then I got the following response*, from Mark Ewalt (Director of Operations of USC’s Auxiliary Services) on Monday (a holiday!):
Good morning, Dr. Johnson.
Thank you for your email below. Your concern is certainly justified. Your suggestions are strong, and the customer service issue will be addressed firmly and promptly.
[the previous director] left the university in January, hence the delay in answering your call and email. The new director of Hospitality, Scott Shuttleworth, has been here a week. Since he is still acclimating himself to USC and all the issues in Trojan Hospitality, I will answer for him for now. I am sure you will be hearing from him as well. Sustainability is a major issue that has received a tremendous amount attention since the report you mentioned went public.
Coincidentally, for the past month or so our purchasing agent in Trojan Hospitality has been working with several student government representatives and senators from URSC to develop just such a plan as you’ve mentioned below. I do not know the exact timing of the plan rollout, but I am sure we’ll see some action on that front well before well before the fall semester arrives.
The college sustainability report that was released last semester was devastating. All the more so since USC would have received a much better rating had the report creators solicited information from Auxiliary Services (Bookstore, Hospitality, Hotel, Housing, Transportation) about USC’s sustainability efforts. Here are just a few of the sustainability initiatives we have achieved:
1. All Trojan Hospitality napkins and cupholders are recyclable.
2. All food preparation in Trojan Hospitality is trans-fat free.
3. The vast majority of our food purchasing is from trans-fat free vendors (except the obvious candy and name-brand convenience store sundries).
4. All of Trojan Transportation’s trams and busses run on either ethanol or B20 biodiesel fuel.
5. All of Trojan Transportation’s Campus Cruisers are small 4-cylinder cars, and we are developing plans to phase them out with hybrids.
6. Trojan Housing is poised to contract with outside vendors to have all of its waste products recycled – including old carpet and certain construction materials.
These are just a few highlights of our efforts in this area. We will be releasing a campus-wide “stakeholder report” in July that details all our sustainability programs, in addition to a number of other important initiatives we have implemented this year that bring value and attention to USC.
I have copied this message to Scott; Lore Oehmichen, Senior Manager of Purchasing; and Jeff Miller, Senior Manager of IRC and Tutor Hall.
Thanks again for your email. I am sorry for any inconvenience or discomfort this incident may have caused you. Please feel free to call me with any additional or questions or concerns you have.
Well, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the quick and positive response! (He also sent a followup email about others I might contact for more information about things that are being done – including the Trojan Transportation manager, and so I’ll be following up there to find out what happened to my suggestions I’d made earlier.) A few hours later, along came another email, this time from Lore Oehmichen (senior manager of purchasing):
Hello Dr Johnson
I would like you to know a bit more specifically what I am doing on behalf of Trojan Hospitality to address social responsibility issues. This is not only a huge issue facing all college campuses but it is also something that I am personally committed to making a difference in my own life as well.
I attended last week the National Restaurant Association’s annual trade show. This is the preeminent forum for learning about new products specific to our industry. Not surprisingly, at the forefront are companies committed to setting up distribution channels for products that are made of environmentally friendly materials; as well as innovations on waste management and energy conservation
My goal is to work on the following this summer:
*Implement a 20 refillable, insulated Trojan Mug for both hot and cold beverages-Currently in design process
*Research and source renewable resources disposable ware- most likely products made of sugar cane and PLA corn plastic
*Research and source environmentally friendly cleaning supplies
*Coordinate with USC FMS on recycling and composting programs
*Work with USC Purchasing services to determine and certify companies that “best practice” green initiatives.
Thank you very much for reaching out to us. We have discussed encouraging in our retail locations a “bring your own coffee cup” program. I will make sure to discuss with my colleagues this week.
We greatly value your input. Please let me know if there is any other information i can share with you about our program in terms of procurement or facilities management
… and then this morning, I had Jeff Urdahl, the manager for Trojan Housing email me with:
I have taken the liberty of sharing a number of efforts TrojanHousing puts forward in an effort to be more socially responsible and support sustainability in our operation.
We are always open to new or different ideas from faculty, students and staff.
+ Water conservation â€“ We have installed low flow shower heads and aerators in most of our building. All of our toilets have been replaced with 1.6 gallon (or less) per flush models. Additionally, the new laundry machines in our buildings are all water-efficient.
+ Energy savings â€“ Housing has been replacing old lighting fixtures (interior and exterior) with new energy-efficient ones. When appropriate, timers and motion sensors are being installed to save energy. All appliances purchased these past years are energy star.
+ Recycling Program â€“ All of our buildings are equipped with recycling trash containers for aluminum, glass and plastic. We also recycle our emergency lighting batteries, lighting ballasts and printer ink cartridges.
+ Painting specifications â€“ Housing promotes indoor environmental quality by using only low VOC/ low odor paints that meet or exceed the standards for the GreenSure designation.
+ Carpet specifications â€“ Housing selects new carpet that is at least partially made from recycled materials. In addition, some carpet vendors are recycling our old carpets.
+ Furniture â€“ Furniture is being purchased only from manufactures that are committed to limiting their environmental impact by their choices in materials, transportation and re-use of products.
+ Cleaning products â€“ Housing purchases more environmentally preferable cleaning products with Green Seal, Green label, and chlorine free.
I hope these are of interest.
And then, just this lunchtime, another message came, from Patrice Barber, the nutritionist of Trojan Hospitality:
Dear Dr. Johnson,
Thanks so much for telling us about your experience with our department.
I echo Lore’s sentiments and enthusiasm on sustainability. I am our department’s liaison to the student’s newly formed Sustainability Task Force and I’m so happy to see these issues being embraced by our whole community.
As the registered dietitian for Trojan Hospitality, I am also very interested in any other thoughts you have on the food we serve throughout campus and I’m available to answer any questions you might have. Some of my areas of focus right now are expanding our healthy, vegetarian and organic choices. Please let me know if there is anything I can help you with.
Wow! Not only are they thinking and doing something about sustainability, they are open to ideas, have taken time out to let me know what they’re doing, and genuinely seem to be being creative. (No need to deploy heavy weapons, call back the troop carriers and marine-based task force, and so forth.)
This is among the reasons why it’s such a pleasure to work at USC. People listen, and immediately try to help you make things happen.
I should say parenthetically that I might just be a bit naive, but I prefer it that way, at least to start out. Just now, I was on IM with Lisa Swanson, our department’s main administrator, and we had this exchange** (after I told her I’d got some quick responses):
Lisa: well you threw some weight
Lisa: good to know
Lisa: i can use you
cvj: no no… I do not know if that is why they did it… they don’t know anything about me… I think they just care…
cvj: perhaps I am too naive….
Lisa: that they are nice
Lisa: i have to say though
Lisa: the nice def make up for all the bad ones
Yes, I agree entirely.
*Mark gave me permission to reproduce the contents of these emails here.
**Lisa gave me permission to reproduce this here.
Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):