A Collaborative Project with MDining
As part of the MDes Integrative Design program, our cohort partnered with MDining (the food service provider for the University of Michigan) to explore ways to improve their Sustainable Mondays initiative.
In 2018, President Schlissel announced that the University of Michigan would be pursuing carbon neutrality for its three campuses. This included things like waste, energy, and water initiatives, but also inspired other campus organizations to join in the push to reduce their carbon emissions. One of these organizations was MDining, the large, profitable food service provider that operated the dining halls and food retail locations across campus.
To extend their other sustainability initiatives, MDining introduced "Sustainable Mondays" to educate students about the environmental impact of various foods and directly reduce carbon emissions from their dining facilities by eliminating red meat on Mondays. Although this initiative had been successful at reducing carbon emissions, there were major struggles with program implementations and perceptions. The MDes Cohort was asked to research the existing problems and identify ways to improve and strengthen the program.
The MDes Cohort collarborated with four main MDining Stakeholders who represented different facets of the organization.
To gain a deeper understanding of the Sustainable Mondays intitative, we conducted an organizational case study with staff that included:
Dining hall observations
Qualitative semi-structured interview guide
The resulting data was coded in a software called Workflowy and analyzed based on themes. During this analysis, a major program barrier was identified:
Staff were not provided training or education related to Sustainable Mondays, resulting in a lack of understanding and support for the initiative. The majority did not understand the carbon emissions goal or its relation to the removal of red meat.
This represented a missed opportunity to empower staff to be champions of the initiatives and, as the main contact point between MDining and students, to act as educators for students. In addition, this lack of knowledge made program implementation uneven, with many staff members serving red meat on Monday anyways.
This insight led us to our main research question:
How might MDining create an internal culture that leverages the voices of all staff to create a successful Sustainable Mondays Program?
We idenified three main opportunity areas that MDining could leverage to improve the Sustainable Mondays program.
We then created a set of recommendations to strengthen the program:
Update and Enhance Sustainable Monday Materials
As one of the main opportunities for formal training about Sustainable Mondays, the guidebook should be distributed to all staff and be included in onboarding materials.
Use the week-by-week breakdown in the Sustainable Mondays guidebook to provide clear talking points for dining hall managers to share with their staff during huddles.
Update guidebook to provide a clear definition of sustainability at MDining and why red meat is being removed from menus.
Utilize Planet Blue Ambassadors and/or MDining student employees to assist in sustainability initiatives as ambassadors.
Giving students an opportunity to pursue their passion for sustainability in MDining may help with student staffing concerns by providing a resume builder.
Student Ambassadors can ensure that red meat is not being served, that signage is being utilized to the fullest, and be available to answer questions and support staff.
Co-Creation Workshop for Staff
Provide an opportunity for staff to participate in Sustainable Mondays and create ways for staff involvement in future initiatives.
Leverage the knowledge of staff to help tailor initiatives to the needs of each dining hall.
Support “bottom up” sustainability initiatives that come from hourly staff as well as students.
Participatory Training for Staff
Ensure all staff have the knowledge to understand and share MDining’s sustainability goals with students.
Inspire staff to actively integrate sustainability in their roles in MDining.
Help staff understand the complexities of carbon emissions associated with food so that they can serve as educators for students.
Ideation & Prototyping
Expanding on our recomendations, we ideated and prototyped a way to "gamify" Sustainble Mondays to create a fun and interactive training experience for staff. The game would use co-operative play between "chefs" and "students" to reduce carbon emissions while maintaining student satisfaction and diversity of food choices. The cards would use real MDining meals and emissions data and provide opportunities to learn about MDining’s other initiatives along with more detailed information about GHGEs from food.