Duane Buske

Duane Buske Through its partnership with the Green Restaurant Association®, Aztec Shops’ SDSU Dining division has shown leadership in College and University Foodservice sustainability with a couple of recent firsts: 

• First campus to require all of its tenants to meet the Certified Green Restaurant® environmental standards. 

• Most stadiums/arenas with Certified Green Restaurants® of any campus in the world

More milestones are expected in the year ahead for SDSU Dining’s sustainability effort.

The initiative is led by Duane Buske, SDSU Dining Senior General Manager of Purchasing and Distribution. A married father of two and a familiar talent in the San Diego rock band scene, New York-native Duane has been with Aztec Shops for the past 20+ years in roles of increasing responsibility and purview.

Sustainable SDSU recently caught up with Duane at the Aztec Shops warehouse delivery dock to learn more about SDU Dining’s commitment to sustainability.

How did Dining’s sustainability initiative get started?

Our former CEO Donna Tusack recognized the importance of Dining being aligned with the University’s sustainabilty initiative. She talked with our Dining Director, Paul Melchior, about somehow earning a green certification for our restaurants.

Paul came to me and asked if I could try and find what was out there. What I found was that there was a bunch of services that would offer suggestions on green practices, and a bunch of companies that would offer green certifications, but there was only one entity that offered both.

I recommended the Green Restaurant Association to Paul about three years ago and we’ve been building the program ever since.

How did you get selected to lead this important effort?

Well, before we had even started with GRA, I was asked to help lead the effort to get rid of styrofoam usage on campus. I think I was selected because my background is in the foodservice purchasing space and that sort of goes hand-in-hand with changes that any operation will need to make in a green certificaiton process.

And how did you get the GRA’s Certified Green Restaurant® process off-the-ground?

I initiated the contact with GRA and it assigned us a point-person to look at all of our locations as far as food sourcing, water usage, lighting, even plants around the units. That’s just to start. Based on what you are currently doing, GRA identifies what changes you can make to earn more points and get certified.

Some of the low hanging fruits were paper towels, toilet paper, straws, reusable plates; those kind of things. We then changed out lighting systems and put aerators on our water faucets in each of our kitchens and restrooms.

I haven’t even started on composting.

What have you been doing on the composting end?

Well, we recognized the importance of reusing green materials back in 2008, before the GRA-certification process. For instance, our cooking oil is being recycled and turned into products like soap. Fortunately for us, we gained points in the system using our existing processes which diverts around 240 tons of food waste from landfills each year. That’s over four tons per week in pre-consumer composting.

And how about local sourcing?

We’re receiving some of the highest points in the GRA program using local produce, local dairy farms, local bread companies, and local meat companies. Our main purveyor, US Foods, also purchases a lot locally and that helps us.

This sounds like a lot of work, above and beyond your normal responsibilities. Is it worth it?

At the end of the day, each of us are responsible of our environment. These improvements are not just the right thing for SDSU Dining, but the right thing for Campus, and for all of us.  

It may surprise some people that the changes we made really had minimal costs. Yes, we’re investing in new light bulbs and new aerators, but just think that we have four tons of waste per week that used to go to the landfill that are now being broken down and reused. That sort of goes beyond measurement.

What’s next for sustainability at SDSU Dining?

All of our self-operated locations are Green Restaurant Certified®, including our Aztec Market convenience stores. Next is to get our leased opeartions on-board, and they have all started the process. 

These are all two-star certifications. We've recently began working our way up to three-stars and beyond.

There’s really no limit to what we can do to make sure SDSU Dining is aligned  with the sustainability initiatives talked about in the President’s Strategic Plan. I think we’re going to continue on our aggressive track and expand our leadership position in campus foodservice sustainability.