What better time than the week of St. Patrick’s Day to talk about a green event I love?

For some, this year’s Spring Columbia College Chicago (CCC) Open House is just another event on campus. But for Catering by Michaels, it represents a real sense of nostalgia for our company’s sustainability mission. 

Let’s back up a bit…

Columbia College Chicago hosts an open house for both undergraduate and graduate admissions twice a year. It’s the largest admissions event on campus, with anywhere between 5,000 and 7,000 guests on campus each semester. Our team has been honored to have a consistent role in these events, catering every Open House since 2011. Here’s a little known fact: It’s actually our partnership with Columbia College Chicago that kickstarted our commitment to sustainability. 

I had been working with them for some time, and they asked what we could do to make the event more sustainable. As one of our biggest clients, I was obliged to do anything in my power to fulfill their request. I brought the topic to our management, and the rest is history! It’s been really exciting to see how Catering by Michaels and Columbia College have grown in the direction of sustainability together.

For this particular event, we send all food in reusable baskets, and on platters and trays. Additionally, we provide compostable plate ware, flatware, and napkins. Our staff is trained up on recycling and composting best practices, and guides any confused guests through what goes where. 

sustainable catered lunch spread

I like to think of it as “an elegant dance” – making sure that forks, plates, and food find their way to the right bin. It’s not just another event, but a chance to educate attendees. We try to make sure the same staff members attend the event each semester, because they understand what’s expected of them.

Not every facility is setup for sustainable waste removal, but CCC provides both compost and recycle bins at their Open House. The goal for both parties is to create an event that is as close to zero-waste as possible.

Fruit skewers

It’s worth noting that Columbia is an art school, and conducts itself a bit differently than a standard public university. Making an extra effort to be sustainable is part of Columbia’s culture, and is intertwined as part of the event process.

Prospective students attending the Open House come from all over the place, and may be unfamiliar with the concept of composting. It’s a great opportunity to bring awareness to the practice. Sometimes I’m surprised by the fact that everyone is a good sport about it, with the patience to make sure each item goes into the right bin – leaning into the Columbia art school ideals.

Our goal is always to throw the best event we can, and satisfy all client wish list items. But being able to avoid the sheer volume of waste that thousands of people could have produced at the Open House was a real win for both parties. 

Do you have a big event coming up, and want to implement sustainability best practices? Get in touch, and we’ll talk details!