Best Intentions
The drive toward sustainability is reflected all across campus
by Julene Snyder
Ryan Brothers
Harry Ryan ’92 is a passionate advocate of making a green impact.

photo by Marshall Williams

Practice what you preach. From student life to transportation, there’s a concerted effort at USD to reinvent institutional habits into more thoughtful, eco-friendly behavior.

You want specifics? How about cups made out of corn? Food that turns into water? Coffee byproducts that morph into compost? The intensive move toward embracing sustainability seems to be happening all at once, all across campus.

“Every step of the way, you have to walk the walk,” says Harry Ryan ’92. He’s a passionate advocate of making a green impact on campus through his company’s partnership with the university. Ryan Bros. Coffee — which began in the ‘90s as a 6-foot cart selling refreshments at USD sporting events — provides organic, fair-trade coffee and teas to the university, and is committed to helping the campus improve sustainability.

“The quality of the organics has been getting better and better, because the farmers are getting rewarded for it,” explains Ryan, who runs the business with his brothers, including younger sibling Carmine ’93. “It’s not about huge estates, it’s about the small, higher-altitude farms that produce the organic, sustainable coffees and teas.”

The company has partnered with USD’s Dining Services to launch its own coffee roaster program at Aromas. This is not only unprecedented (the university is the first in the nation to have its own on-site roaster), but eco-friendly on a number of levels. Besides saving resources and materials, the program is estimated to save more than 10,000 metalized polyester tube bags and provide campus gardens with more than 4 tons of coffee compost annually.

But that’s just one aspect of the campus-wide response to USD’s Sustainability Initiative, created last fall by President Mary Lyons. “We have a green document that’s a commitment as an organization,” says André Mallié, USD’s new executive director of auxiliary services.

“We’d like to get to the point where we buy everything within a 150-mile radius,” says Mallié, who earned his degree in culinary arts and management in Bordeaux, France. “All products: seafood, vegetables, meat. We want to support the local farming industry and local producers.”

He’s been researching all sorts of cutting-edge products. “Our cold cups look like plastic, but are made of 100 percent corn,” he says. “And almost all of our plastic tableware looks like plastic but is made out of potato.” While the shift toward more eco-friendly institutional consumption has its challenges, technological advances are helping such efforts make sense in the real world.

“The momentum of sustainability is everywhere, and the momentum is not going away,” says Mallié. “It’s the right thing to do, it’s the right direction.”

USD is heading down that road on a number of fronts. Seventy five percent of the university’s cleaning products are green products. The Main Dining Room is now “trayless” on Fridays, with a goal toward going completely without trays by

July 2009. Mallié explains that students tend to overload their trays, causing much of their meal to end up in the trash.

He’s also excited about a new product that turns leftover food and waste into a useful resource. “We’re installing this new technology — it looks like a big dishwasher — that you put all your waste in. It tumbles all night and the next day it’s 100 percent water. Then you can take the water and ship it to gardening. It reduces the number of garbage bags, reduces all the landfill. It was just invented last summer, and ours will be the first one installed on a West Coast campus.”

There’s more. Much more. Talk of building a fleet of Zip Cars that can be rented by the hour. (“We would park them right here, for students, staff, faculty, you pay by the hour. It will reduce the carbon footprint, help with campus parking, it’s very affordable.”) A plan to have a student-run herb and produce garden that would supply vegetables to Dining Services. (“We would buy them the seed, and use the product in our operation.”) Talk of a green roof for the new Student Life Pavilion. (“The plants will help cool the building.”) Emphasis is on making sure that philosophies mesh. (“We want to make sure we believe in what our vendors are doing. What is their practice, their philosophy, their product?”)

And, of course, there’s coffee. That on-site roaster at Aromas is capable of roasting 250 pounds of coffee a day. “It saves a lot of packaging, but it also brings education and connection to the world to the students,” says Mallié. “And the quality of the product is fantastic, how much fresher can you be? It’s right on the spot.”

Ryan agrees. “The whole program, the attention on the farm, the attention on the process of getting it here, the emphasis on what fair-trade and organic is all about, has started an awareness. It’s teaching me. Each step of the way, you have to find the next way to conserve. It’s pretty exciting.”