Sustainability at the Wisconsin Union
By Brooke Hollingsworth and Shauna Breneman
For us, at the Wisconsin Union, sustainability is a priority. From cleaning practices to food sourcing, we always s ask ourselves how we can help preserve our planet for future generations. In this article, we’ll take you through some of our sustainability practices.
Building a Sustainable Future
Our commitment to sustainability is everywhere. In fact, it’s in our very walls, windows and lights.
In 13-year-old Union South, for example, energy-efficient, high-performance windows keep warmth in and the cold out during Wisconsin winters. Above the building’s rows of eco-friendly windows is a roof that captures rain water used in Union South’s water feature during our state’s beautiful, warm months.
These and many other innovative sustainability efforts earned Union South a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold designation – one of the highest levels of green design, construction and operation ratings available from the U.S. Green Building Council
Our dedication to the environment extends into our commodes, as well, which help reduce our environmental footprint, with low-flow toilets in both buildings.
Building Union South in the early 2000s meant we had many green technologies that were simply not available when we built our original building Memorial Union in the 1920s. So, when approaching a renovation and restoration of the more than 90-year-old icon, we made every effort to incorporate new, green infrastructure; local building materials; and waste reduction technologies. For example, the now completely restored Memorial Union includes an HVAC system that is 37 to 40 percent more efficient than building codes require. We also recycled building materials whenever possible. Reclamation efforts during Memorial Union renovations include salvaging glass blocks, theater brass handrails and building façade limestone.
Also, in Memorial Union, the HVAC system shuts down in Lakeview Lounge when its exterior sliding glass doors are open to the exterior during warm months, helping to conserve energy and fill the lounge with sunshine and fresh air. Thanks to this infrastructure update and many other sustainability investments, Memorial Union earned a LEED Silver designation.
Cleaning with the Planet in Mind
In addition to having high sustainability ratings at both buildings, we use many environmentally friendly cleaning products and employ eco-friendly cleaning approaches. In fact, we worked with a consulting company to create a custom cleaning plan, which includes green cleaning training process and training materials.
Part of that plan included replacing aerosol cleaning products with water-based chemicals and using microfiber cloths, whenever possible, rather than disposable, cleaning materials.
We constantly work to reduce our water and chemical use. One of the ways in which we have done this is by using a honing system with diamond pads to clean and polish our floors without the use of chemicals or water, eliminating our previous use of wax to seal our flooring. For regular floor cleaning, we use foam-based auto scrubbers that require significantly less cleaning solution and water compared to traditional floor scrubbing procedures and equipment.
Behind the scenes at the Union, our commitment to green technology continues in many ways, including through using high efficiency dishwashing machines that recycle water, transitioning away from oil-based paints, and so much more.
Incorporating Sustainable Dining Practices
Our team does dining with a conscience. From how products are sourced to waste reduction efforts, we are focused on the long-term health of the planet in our dining practices.
As far as materials we use, our commitment to green includes the transition from Styrofoam to-go boxes to a biodegradable sugarcane-based box, the use of bioplastic disposable silverware, the sale of reusable, metal straws, and the offering of reusable utensils in some dining units. Plus, we offer our customers the opportunity to save some green when being green by offering discounts on coffee and soda at markets and cafes when customers bring reusable cups.
We also recognize the positive environmental impact of sourcing local food and beverages, whenever possible. Examples of local products we use include Babcock Ice Cream, Babcock Dairy cheese, Slide Gourmet Potato Chips, Gotham Bagels, multiple Porchlight Products, Superior Fresh aquaponics-grown lettuce and more.
Other efforts to preserve our planet include a receipt reduction program that only prints receipts for necessary transactions, providing water bottle refill stations and offering recycling and compost bins.
Investing in Green Practices
Rather than accept what could be an environmentally taxing process or product, we constantly challenge ourselves to innovate and to invest in sustainability. And, when it comes to this commitment, we are far from done; we will continue to seek new partnerships and to find all new ways to make sustainable choices.
To learn more about our sustainability efforts, visit union.wisc.edu/dine/sustainability.