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Cutting beef and lamb from menu reduces carbon ‘dramatically' at Cambridge Uni

10 September 2019 by
Cutting beef and lamb from menu reduces carbon ‘dramatically' at Cambridge Uni

A sustainable food policy at the University of Cambridge, which included removing beef and lamb from the menu and promoting plant-based food options, has had a "dramatic" effect on its food-related carbon emissions.

In October 2016, the University Catering Service (UCS), which is responsible for 14 outlets across the university and more than 1,500 hospitality events each year, implemented the policy, which focused on the areas with the biggest impact without compromising on cost.

These were:

  • Reducing the consumption of meat, in particular ruminant meat (beef and lamb)
  • Improving and increasing the availability of plant-based options
  • Removing unsustainable fish from the menu
  • Reducing food waste

Our Sustainable Food Journey, a report published by the university's environment and energy team, has revealed that since implementation of the policy, overall carbon emissions across UCS were reduced by 10.5%, despite increases in the food purchased.

There was a 33% reduction in carbon emissions per kilogram of food purchased, and a 28% reduction in land use per kilogram of food purchased.

Nick White, head of the UCS, said: "Sustainability is extremely important to our students and staff and we wanted to ensure that we were not only responding to their needs, but pushing what was considered possible in a catering environment. This has involved making sacrifices, but is has been absolutely the right thing to do. It's about making the right choice easy."

Catering staff were briefed on the environmental benefits and why the UCS wanted to implement the policy. The UCS provided chefs with vegan cookery classes and a trip to Borough Market to get inspiration for plant-based menus. Meanwhile, café managers were given training on marketing for sustainability rather than profit.

To encourage changes in behaviour among customers, UCS increased the number and variety of vegetarian and vegan options, and placed these before the meat options.

The UCS now sells more sustainable, plant-based food; has retained the same level of footfall; and has increased its gross profits by 2% from 2014/2015 to 2017/2018, despite increases in food costs.

Andrew Balmford, professor of conservation science at the University of Cambridge, said: "The university's catering managers have, in a very short time, dramatically reduced the environmental footprint of their operation by removing ruminant meat from its menus, lowering food waste and eliminating unsustainably harvested fish – while simultaneously increasing sales and profit. It is hard to imagine any other interventions that could yield such dramatic benefits in so short a span of time."

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