Greener pastures with Chartwells?

Call for accountability amid the promise of more sustainable dining

When Trinity announced that it would be switching its dining services provider to Chartwells after 50 years with Aramark, I was pleasantly surprised. Our relationship with Aramark was one fostered over decades of collaboration, but its downfall came because of its failure to meet student demands. Now, with Chartwells taking the reins under the promise of increased sustainability efforts, can we be sure that they’ll follow through to match Trinity’s values of sustainability and social responsibility?

While I’m genuinely excited about Chartwells coming in with the prospect of a more sustainable dining culture on campus, I’m also skeptical of what will actually change in the transition away from Aramark. Obviously, we won’t know for a few more months, but keeping these values of sustainability and social justice in the back of our minds as Chartwells establishes itself on campus will be vital to how our relationship with them begins.

Trinity’s decision to part ways with Aramark was a culmination of efforts driven by a student committee alongside Trinity administration. Aramark’s involvement in the prison-industrial complex, which the student group Tigers for Ethical Dining heavily and publicly criticized, was also a large contributing factor opposing the dining contractor. Though Chartwells is definitely a step in the right direction away from the controversy of Aramark, the two providers may be more alike than one would like to believe.

Despite what we know about Aramark — their involvement in prisons, their underpayment of workers, etc. — their website extensively advertises their environmental, social and governance values, otherwise known as ESG. Aramark thus brands themselves as environmentally conscious and socially responsible through a lot of strategic wording that downplays their shortcomings and past controversies — the most recent of which unfolded just last month at a middle school in New York, when students were served chicken and waffles and watermelon slices on the first day of Black History Month. Sustainability involves taking accountability for one’s actions, and while Aramark seems to promote a better and brighter future for its consumers we know their values do not coincide with that.

While Chartwells has a lot of potential as our new dining provider, I’m not so sure that they’re all that different from Aramark. Their website advertises ethical sourcing from local vendors and addresses food insecurity and the issue of single-use plastics, but Aramark also promoted similar ventures that we have not seen on campus, at least not tangibly. I believe the appeal of Chartwells as a successor for our current dining provider is centered around the fact that they are simply not Aramark, and while that is a win, it’s not enough.

Sustainability is definitely a hot topic right now — and don’t get me wrong, it should be. However, companies know how important it is for their consumers, and they often purport to care far more about their sustainability practices than they actually do. Lying about the efforts of a company to be more conscientious about their impact on the environment or about what goes into making their products more sustainable has thus been dubbed greenwashing. You’ve heard the term before, and our dining providers are no exception to the trend. As a result, Chartwells’ promises must be taken with a grain of salt.

Presently, there are a variety of tools that exist to score companies’ ESG endeavors so that consumers like us are provided with transparency on the inner workings of corporate entities. Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) provides ESG ratings on a company’s performance in regard to financial impacts, making its ratings far from a holistic picture. Aramark, for instance, received an average rating for the restaurant industry through this system, even despite its many controversies and known faults. For comparison, with its arguably greater emphasis on sustainability, Chartwells is also considered average for its industry as an extension of the larger Compass Group that it operates under.

Aramark’s ousting is certainly a win for the sake of our values here at Trinity, but we can’t let the present victory blindside us as Chartwells takes its place. We must continue to foster the culture of accountability that prompted this transition if we truly want to see change with Chartwells. Though our relationship with the new dining services provider has yet to begin, there is already so much room for it to grow.