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February is 'Spotlight on Sustainable Food' month!

Throughout the month of February we focused on sustainable food. We're encouraging University of Cambridge staff and students to consider how they can act on sustainable food issues. Read on for our comprehensive list of ways you can act on sustainable food issues in your place of work or study?

Awareness activities and events

A great way to raise awareness and get action happening is to carry out an awareness activity or event relating to sustainable food. We’ve got loads of idea for things you can do – visit our guidance page to read our guide to running a fairtade bake-off, taking part in meat-free Monday, holding a sustainable TV-style food competition and more!

You could use our Sustainable Food Quiz to get people thinking about sustainable food (we've got an online one and a paper version you can print out), or why not encourage staff to take part in our recipe competition - see our poster here with more details! (Note: competition now closed). 

Don't forget to let us know about any events you hold - and we love to receive pictures showing what happened!

Engage suppliers and vendors

Externally franchised catering outlets in the department could be encouraged to adopt at least one new sustainable practice, or could sign up to the principles of the University's Sustainable Food Policy. The University's own Catering Service has brought in a number of sustainable initiatives, such as 'Vegware' compostible packaging and cutlery, branded 'KeepCups' and discounts for customers using their own cup, and has reduced the amount of ruminant meat in its products. There are, however, many more externally franchised catering outlets across the University which may not be acting on environmental issues. Departments may have direct influence over these (for instance through tendering and contract management) or can exert indirect influence (for instance through informal dialogue).

Staff in the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership recently created guidance for their staff that details what food issues should be considered when planning catering for events.

Green your events

Many University departments run events for external stakeholders (such as workshops, conferences and training sessions), or for staff (such as away days or Christmas parties) where catering is provided. The department could therefore work to reduce the environmental impacts of catering for events it hosts or organises.  The University's Sustainable Food Policy includes a number of suggestions for ways to reduce the environmental impact of catering.

High(ly sustainable) tea?

Tea, coffee and sugar bought by the department can have a significant food-related impact. There are plenty of Fairtrade options that the department could switch to buying, or actively encourage staff to purchase for consumption at work. Fairtrade products guarantee a fixed price for some of the lowest paid farmers in the developing world. There is also a fixed community premium that goes towards community development projects. Visit http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/ for more information.

Lug a mug

Each year millions of disposable coffee and tea cups are thrown away across the UK. Using a reusable mugs or your own mug would really help to reduce this. University Catering Services cafes offer a discount for staff using KeepCups, and offer them for sale in the cafes. Your department could actively advertise the use of reusable mugs such as 'KeepCups' - see our posters page for a poster advertising the University's KeepCup scheme. College catering outlets could offer a small discount for customers using KeepCups or other reusable mugs, or a 'tax' on disposable cups, or offer branded ones for sale.

Cup final

Disposable cups have a greater environmental impact than reusable cups. It is one thing to give people the choice, but why not remove the disposable option? Many departments have opted to provide reusable cups and glasses for staff and visitors to use, while removing disposable drinking cups/cones. This can save the costs associated with purchasing disposable cups, while cutting waste too.

Within the last 12 months, the College has provided for sale reusable mugs such as 'KeepCups', and provided an incentive for the use of reusable mugs instead of disposable cups. 

Farm to fork, to food waste bin?

With the new Mick George waste collection contract serving the majority of University departments, almost any department can now set up facilities for separate collection of food waste. Setting up a collection procedure for food waste, particularly from canteens and communal areas, can help reduce food waste and contamination of the general waste and recycling streams. Email Facilities Management to request an external food collection bin. Please note that Departments not falling under the main waste contract (such as those in Addenbrookes Hospital) may not be able to action this.

Colleges can also get in on the act through their own waste disposal contracts, and some Colleges are working to recycle organic waste already. Organic waste can be recycled through composters, wormeries, or bokashi bins. 'Desktop' versions are available which are both safe, clean and do not smell - ideal for the work environment.

The deep green sea

Did you know Cambridge is a Sustainable Fish City? Some College catering departments promote unusual, more sustainable fish species, for example coley instead of salmon. By promoting different species, outlets can engage customers in more sustainable food choices. See the 'top ten sustainable fish swaps' or Molly Watson's Seafood Fixes for some ideas.

Monday’s child is… full of sustainable food?

Outlets have an excellent opportunity to educate customers and students about the benefits of eating food that is healthy and produced in a sustainable way. Different ideas work for different locations, but holding a regular catering event such as such as a meat free Monday, cold food day or Vegetarian Week can highlight to staff and students the impact their food has on the environment. 

The University of Cambridge trialled a shift from ruminant meat (beef and lamb) to non-ruminant meat (chicken and pork) in 2016, cutting the proportion of ruminant meat from 22% to 10%. They found that, while sales doubled (partly due to an expansion in operations), costs only increased 10% and carbon emissions increase by only 50%. This is because ruminant meat has a roughly six times greater impact on the environment per gram of protein then non-ruminant meat. This goes to show that simple changes in purchasing often go unnoticed by customers, and yet can have a significant impact on environmental performance.

Certifiably sustainable

The University of Cambridge Catering Service has become Fairtrade-certified. Colleges could join in the act by becoming, or taking the appropriate steps to become, a Fairtrade College. A Fairtrade University or College is one that has made a commitment to support and use Fairtrade. They ensure that Fairtrade products are available in as many places as possible and they raise awareness of Fairtrade and the benefits that it brings to producers in developing countries with students and staff. Colleges can apply to be Fairtrade here.

Another option, form a more ethical standpoint, is for meat used by the College to be Red Tractor certified. The Red Tractor mark ensures meat production reflects legal UK minimum standards of environmental protection and animal welfare.

The MSC's fishery certification program and seafood Eco label recognise and reward sustainable fishing. For more information see www.msc.org. The MCS 'fish to avoid' list is also a great way to understand which fish are unsustainable and so shouldn't be served. The University Catering Service serve no fish on the list.

Spread the word

Why not promote any positive actions that you, or the University, have taken on sustainable food? Have you switched to Fairtrade tea or coffee? Stocked the canteen with MSC certified fish? Well then, let your colleagues know! Departments can help create cultural change by letting staff, students and visitors know about the positive steps being taken on a range of sustainable food issues. Particularly with food and drink; it's easy for people not to notice a change - the tea and coffee looks the same, the same egg sandwiches are delivered. Unless people are told, they won't necessarily realise that the drinks are Fairtrade accredited or that the eggs are free-range. A survey of UCS customers found that 64% of them actively seek sustainable food options, so letting people know what they're eating and drinking is really important!

‘Tis the season

Seasonal produce is healthier for the consumer and can reduce the carbon footprint of the product. Your college or department could aim to procure at least 10% of ingredients from the local area, or 85% of fresh primary commodities from the UK. To find out what is in season visit this website. Alternatively, have a look at what local food means.

Break it down

Your department or college could use biodegradable takeaway packaging, plates and cutlery for some or all of its catering. The University of Cambridge's in-house catering service has moved to entirely biodegradeable packaging, plates and cutlery using 'VegWare' products, significantly cutting the amount of waste to landfill, as well as the level of recycling 'contamination'. This can also help to increase the volume of compostible waste, making food waste collections more viable.

Water way to go

Colleges and catering outlets could provide training for staff to tackle high levels of water consumption in food preparation, cleaning and customer behaviour. In the UK our annual water footprint per person is 1,245 m3 (2001) and rising. It is important that we address the amount of water we use and the sustainability of sources we get it from.​