This USC Hospitality Teaching Garden’s output will be used in menu development for restaurants and residential dining.

Buying Sustainably

Purchasing at USC is a highly decentralized process. Each department can purchase from any university-approved vendor so long as the transaction complies with university purchasing guidelines.

However, the bulk of USC’s food purchases are made by USC Hospitality, and the bulk of logo merchandise is purchased by USC Bookstores. These large areas of consolidation create opportunities for sustainable practices with strong impact.

In 2018, USC Procurement Services began a sustainability assessment to gradually introduce guidelines, goals, standards, best practice, and information for procuring earth-friendly products and services.

The first commodities to be targeted, starting January 2018, were:

  • Paper
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Janitorial paper

The next phase of assessments, slated to begin later in 2018, will target:

  • Ink/Toner
  • Office supplies
  • Electronics
  • Medical research


Sustainable Purchasing Initiatives

Know Your Sustainable Products

As part of the Sustainability 2020 Plan, USC Procurement Services is rolling out sustainable products information to every departmental purchasing agent, highlighting the best options available when making purchasing decisions.

Sustainability and Diversity

While USC Procurement Services has adopted the goal of promoting sustainable purchases, it remains equally committed to supplier equity. In collaboration with the Small Business Diversity Office, USC Procurement Services uses diverse suppliers, including women-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses. To learn more, read about our Local and Historically Underutilized Business Consultant Focus.

Sustainable Food Purchasing

USC Hospitality has exceeded the Sustainability 2020 goal of 20 percent sustainable food purchasing by 2020. As of July 2018, more than 37 percent of its food purchases came from sustainable sources, broken out by percentage points per category as follows:


Reporting is based on Residential Dining units only. Restaurants, banquets & catering, and “retail” (franchise and branded/packaged food products) were too demand-driven for inclusion in the initial Sustainability 2020 measurement period. Data will be updated semi-annually.

What Counts as Sustainable?

USC Hospitality uses the following food categories and definitions in it sustainability metrics:

Seafood is sustainable if it meets at least one of the following criteria:

  • Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Certified
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium Watch Sustainability Ranking System (MBA Sustainable)
  • Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP)
  • Sea Pact Member (sustainability improvement within seafood industry)
  • Eco-Conscious Packaging

Protein (meat) is sustainable if it meets at least one of the following criteria:

  • Never Ever Program Member ​(​hormone free/antibiotic free)
  • Raised under humane practices
  • Vegetarian fed
  • Pasture to plant standards
  • Eco-conscious packaging

Produce is sustainable if it meets at least one of the following criteria:

  • Local grower (within a 250-mile radius)
  • Antibiotic free
  • Organic
  • G.A.P. Good Agricultural Practices

Groceries ​(dairy, packaged perishables, paper, plates and utensils) are sustainable if they meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Fair trade
  • GMO free
  • Global Growers
  • Member of Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)
  • G.A.P. Good Agricultural Practices

USC Teaching Gardens

In April 2016, USC Hospitality opened the USC Teaching Garden, a vertical, Aeroponic Tower Garden® created with the help of LA Urban Farms. This 60 x 20 square-foot urban farm yields 2,640 edible plants year-round. The towers use 90 percent less water and 90 percent less land than traditional gardens. USC is the first university in the nation to have an aeroponics farming effort of this scale.

What is aeroponics? It’s the process of growing plants in air- or mist-based environments. Fruits, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers can all be grown aeroponically without the use of any soil or harmful chemicals. All seeds used in the USC Teaching Garden are organic. Plants are fed natural, water-based ionic minerals and plant nutrients. The towers are made of FDA-food-grade-approved plasic and UV stabilized for outdoor protection.

The garden is harvested twice a week. Produce that would normally come from more than 250 miles away is grown within three city blocks of USC Hospitality’s three full-service restaurants (Moreton Fig, The Lab Gastropub and McKay’s) and one residential dining hall (Everybody’s Kitchen). Together, these four establishments receive about 360 pounds of greens and 50 pounds of herbs a month.

The main USC Teaching Garden is located behind McKay’s. To help build student awareness about the program, in 201x USC Hospitality installed another 10 aeroponic towers at the entrance to Everybody’s Kitchen (EVK). Crops from the EVK towers are used in special events and faculty resident dinners hosted by USC Housing.