Going Greener: The Danforth Center Café Ups Their Sustainability Game

The Danforth Center Café is dishing up big changes this spring. Most notably, the team has made an impressive effort to push sustainability efforts to the next level, ensuring an even greener dining experience for all who visit the Café.

Green Dining Certified

The team applied for certification by the Green Dining Alliance (GDA) in the spring of 2023. Right away, the representative was impressed and awarded high marks. The Café received four out of five possible stars, ranking especially high in the water conservation, energy conservation, and awareness categories. 

But the team wasn’t satisfied. Inspired by the constructive feedback from GDA, they set out to pursue that fifth star. 

“It only makes sense because we work for a plant science center,” says Kitchen Manager Ehrin Barry. “If the research here is working towards an eco-friendlier world, why shouldn’t we?”

The Danforth Center Café team stands in front of the kitchen. From left: Kitchen Manager Ehrin Barry, Catering & Prep Cook Ashley Miller, Prep & Line Cook De Rhodes, Prep & Line Cook Anissa Moore, and Utility Worker Brian Smith

Pursuing Eco-friendly Excellence

Since the initial certification, the team has been hard at work doing the research and making the updates necessary to grow. Packaging, utensils, and paper products were one of the areas where they saw the most opportunity for improvement. 

“I was familiar with the concept of greenwashing, but I was shocked to learn how bad it was,” says Events and Catering Coordinator Cat Currens. With the help of GDA, she and Ehirn reviewed the products they’d been using and were disappointed to learn that, despite claiming eco-friendliness or using misleading imagery like leaf logos and natural-looking paper finishes, many of the products that they were using were not as green as they appeared. 

Slowly but surely, they have made substitutions for the products that did not meet their standards. Now, all the packaging and utensils are either biodegradable or recyclable, and they continue to offer reusable dishes for for-here orders.

Kitchen Manager Ehrin Barry offers a selection of fresh fruit at a Danforth Center event.

Additionally, the waste station will be updated with larger receptacles and specific signage to help diners correctly sort their waste into the proper trash, compost, or recycling cans. To reduce their carbon footprint, they are also sourcing the vast majority of their food from local and regional providers, and they continue to offer a 60% vegetarian menu.

The changes took a lot of effort and required budgeting for costlier products, but Cat and Ehrin both agree that it was well worth it. “Even though we’re not plant scientists, we can still be a part of living the Danforth Center's values” says Ehrin.