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Environment and Energy


Sustainable Food at the University of Cambridge

Producing and transporting the food we eat is a significant and growing environmental issue. It accounts for 20-30% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and 70% of human water use, and is also a leading contributor to deforestation, land-use change, land and water pollution, and biodiversity loss.

On this page you can find out about what is already happening at the University, and how you can get involved in your department or College.

The University's Environmental Vision, Policy and Strategy includes an aim to ‘minimise the direct and indirect biodiversity impacts’ of food and food purchasing within the University. Hence, the Environment and Energy section has worked in collaboration with the University Catering Service (UCS) to reduce their environmental impact. This led to the creation of the Sustainable Food Policy, which came into force in October 2016. It has won numerous awards for its ground-breaking approach.

Read more about the Cambridge Sustainable Food Policy here.

What's been happening?

We've won two sector awards for our work on sustainable food! Read more about our winning entry to the Green Gown Awards 2017 here and Sustainability award from The Universities Catering Organisation (pictured below, Catering Manager Paula White and Operations Manager Nick White). We've also been shortlisted as a top 10 entrant to a global solution search designed to identify, reward, and spotlight innovative solutions for addressing climate change.

Sustainable food award

The University Catering Service have taken a lead on sustainable food issues at the University, with initiatives such as:

  • Use of Vegware compostable packaging and provision of compost bins across all UCS outlets
  • Removing single-use plastics, including by providing tap water for customers, and ensuring that soft drinks are provided in glass bottles or aluminium cans rather than plastic bottles.
  • Water refill stations are available at all UCS outlets as well as within all catering operations managed by UCS. Our locations are included on the Refill app.
  • Keep Cups which are sold at Cafes to reduce waste associated with disposable cups; use is encouraged through a 20p discount on hot drinks.
  • Ruminants (beef and lamb) have been removed from UCS menus (excluding Main Dining hall and Riverside Restaurant in the University Centre).
  • The Main Dining Hall no longer serves a ruminant meat main option every day.
  • An increase in vegetarian and vegan options at the Cafes and Main Dining Hall.
  • A new vegetarian catering menu has been introduced.
Influencing others

All catering companies included on the University's preferred supplier list are signed up to meet the requirements of the Sustainable Food Policy. Together, Product Specification (seasonality, local sourcing, vegetarian, vegan and those with special diets) and Sustainability (the ability to adhere to the University's Sustainable Food Policy) account for 40% of the weighting in the scoring system for any new tender.

The University Catering Service and College Caterers are members of the Catering Managers Committee (CMC). Sustainability criteria is included in all CMC contracts.

Many contract categories organised by the CMC do not use national frameworks. This allows the University to buy meat, vegetables and fruit from local suppliers.

We've worked with #NoBeef to develop a 'change pack' for universities, schools, offices, restaurants etc. which aims to show that removing beef and lamb is not only better for the environment, but also straight-forward, safer, healthier and more profitable.

What are the Colleges doing on sustainable food?

There's plenty more happening across the many catering outlets in departments and Colleges across the University. Read more here.

How can I get involved?

Read about how you can get involved below, or get more tips and ideas on our Spotlight on Sustainable Food page.

  • Tell us what sustainable food initiatives are happening in your college/department – email
  • Use and adapt the University’s Sustainable Food Policy for your own context – endorsed by experts here in Cambridge, this policy focuses on the highest impact interventions for environmental benefit.
  • Run an event – take a look at our event guidance, recruit some fellow organisers and make it happen!
  • Alternatively, take our sustainable food quiz!
  • As a customer, speak with staff in your regular haunt and ask what they are doing on providing and promoting sustainable food options
  • Consider supporting your catering manager to promote the purchase of more sustainable food options:
    • Switch from offering two meat and one veggie option, to two veggie options and one meat
    • Swap beef for chicken, switch lamb for pork
    • Change the ordering/labelling/positioning of options – try putting the vegan and vegetarian options first!
    • Attend a course on cooking tasty vegetarian and vegan food
    • Try a meat-free Monday or get stuck into Vegetarian Week
  • If you are an event organiser, have a chat with your main suppliers to discuss how they can help you provide more sustainable catering. An example that could be adapted is here.
  • Send your favourite sustainable recipes to contribute to our cookbook – email, or view Cambridge Sustainable Food's collection of vegan and vegetarian recipes, submitted by Cambridge University students, for students.
  • Buy fair trade.
  • Request a food waste bin to cut waste to landfill.
  • Has your college pledged to serve only sustainable fish? You can check here.
  • Buy a KeepCup or set up a scheme in your college/department.
  • Buy local.