Partnerships in Sustainable Food – University of Guelph and Earl’s Restaurants

GuelphThe University of Guelph College of Business and Economics in Canada is dedicated to changing lives and improving life. This commitment resonates through Guelphs’s 22,000 students that share this profound sense of responsibility to address global issues. Actively engaged both locally and internationally, the College of Business and Economics has a range of projects on campus that aim to develop leaders for a sustainable future.

One such project is their Sustainable Restaurant Project that focuses on sustainability in the food industry, and their on-going partnership with sustainability leader Earl’s Restaurants in Canada. I spoke

with Bruce McAdams at the College of Business and Economics about this interesting partnership and the impact it has had on the students, faculty and the business itself.

How and why did the partnership with Earl’s Restaurant come about?

In 2011 we started UGSRP (University of Guelph Sustainable Restaurant Project) without any funding. The goal of the project was to incorporate more sustainability focused curriculum and take steps to move our student run restaurant, PJ’s, towards a more environmentally sustainable model. The idea of the project came from a fourth year student who was working on a case study focused on sustainability at the school.

As the project evolved we realised we would benefit from some financial support. Earl’s Restaurant approached our faculty asking how they could be involved in the School and we saw this could be a perfect match. Earl’s Restaurant has a strong sustainability reputation in Canada, in part because of their commitment to OceanWise (sustainable seafood certification) and their progressive and sustainable take out packaging programme. They also possessed a great reputation as an employer with a commitment to developing young leaders. They were consistently recognised as one of Canada’s top 50 employers.

How has this partnership developed over the years?

The partnership provides opportunities for students, faculty and industry to research and discuss issues of sustainability that apply to foodservice.

Earl’s Restaurant provides the majority of the funding for the project, approximately $10,000 Canadian per year.. The money goes towards an annual Symposium which is organised on the topic of sustainability in the food industry. It has evolved from being financial in nature to a much more involved model. Earl’s visits campus for guest lectures and they have delivered two case studies on their business. We, in turn, have participated in their leadership development programmes. The investment also supports undergraduate student research projects as well as faculty research projects.

How has this impacted them as a company? The school?

The partnership has helped increase awareness amongst our students of Earl’s and the work they are doing in the field of sustainability. This work has lead to increased ability to recruit, and has helped gain recognition for their leaders as they have participated and attended the symposiums.

The students also regularly work on providing solutions to sustainability related challenges the company is facing which are implementing. In 2012, Earl’s told our students they had been trying to decide if they should continue to use paper napkins in their restaurants or switch to cloth. They asked the students to analyse and present to them research that evaluated the alternatives on cost including environmental, and consumer perception. The students recommended staying with post consumer paper with no ink. This recommendation has since been followed by the company.

Outputs from this collaboration include the annual UGSRP Symposium that attracts both industry and students. Other outputs have included peer-reviewed research publications and UGSRP industry discussion papers and of course a number of student projects and recruiting opportunities.

Successes stories? 

Numerous graduates have now gone on to successful careers with Earl’s restaurants. The project has facilitated the creation of several ‘independent’ study programmes for undergraduate students. A student led research project helped contribute to operational changes that saw our student run restaurant become L.E.A.F. certified, a organisation in Canada that certifies sustainable restaurants.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place with a corporate partner?

It is crucial to approach the right partner. Identify a partner who is known for its development and focused on the long term, who is interested in what your school can offer as well as in recruiting your students. Think big and look to create opportunities where academia and businesses can work together to help students while improving their industry as well.

What’s next for the partnership with Earl’s Restaurants?

We are currently developing a ‘mentorship/ summer work” programme with Earl’s. Additionally, students in a strategic management module are currently working on a project with Earl’s to determine if Earl’s could transition to a more sustainable beef programme. The partnership will continue moving forward and we hope to develop more mutually beneficial ways to work together.

For more information on the University of Guelph and their projects around responsible management click here.


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