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The University of Cambridge has committed to serve more climate-friendly foods through the “Cool Food” Pledge, a growing international movement of workplaces, cities, hotels, hospitals and restaurants aiming to slash food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030. Groups serving 940 million meals annually have already signed on to this initiative. 

Joining the Cool Food initiative will help us connect with a network of organisations like us who are working to achieve more sustainable diets

Working closely with World Resources Institute, which serves as secretariat of the Cool Food Pledge, the University Catering Service (UCS) will build on the changes it has made to its food service in order to reduce its climate impact. Last Summer’s ‘Sustainable Food Journey’ report set out some of the results of changes made since 2016, including a 33% reduction in carbon emissions per kilogram of food purchased, and a 28% reduction in land use per kilogram of food purchased. The changes resulted in the UCS’s emissions dropping by 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. That’s equivalent to driving 1.2 million miles, or around the equator over 94 times!  

The successes come as a result of the UCS’s Sustainable Food Policy, which has focused on four core areas: 

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

Further changes are likely to follow, as the UCS continues to review its policies in light of the latest science and new best practices. While the UCS has drawn on expertise from University of Cambridge academics to devise and develop the original Sustainable Food Policy, joining the Cool Food initiative will help the University to tap into wider networks. According to Tom Walston, Head of Business Services, “joining the Cool Food initiative will help the UCS connect with a network of organisations like us who are working to achieve more sustainable diets. We have had great success in recent years, but know there is still more that can be done, so we look forward to sharing our experiences, as well as learning from others”. 

Why is promoting plant-based foods better for the environment? 

Globally, producing animal-based foods accounts for two-thirds of agricultural GHG emissions and more than three-quarters of agricultural land use, while plant-based foods generally have lower environmental impacts. Per gram of protein, beef uses 20 times more land and generates 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions than beans, for example1. However people don’t need to go vegetarian to eat sustainably.

According to WRI’s research, reducing the daily carbon footprint of a person’s diet by just 38% is in line with helping avoid the worst impacts of climate change by 2030. This may seem like a lot, but the carbon footprint of the average American diet could be reduced by nearly 50% just by eating less animal-based foods and more plants1.

The University of Cambridge joins many other signatories to the Cool Food Pledge, including restaurant chains such as Browns and Harvester, the cities of Copenhagen, Milan and Toronto, Universities such as Harvard and New York, and large companies such as Hilton, IKEA, and Nestlé. Preliminary data indicate that if current pledge signatories collectively hit the 25% reduction target by 2030, they will avoid more than 1 million tonnes CO2e of food-related GHG emissions annually, which is equivalent to taking more than 230,000 cars off the road.