Sidgwick Buttery is one of fourteen canteens and cafes managed by UCSLouis Ashworth

The first UK university to sign the ‘Cool Food’ Pledge, Cambridge’s University Catering Service (UCS) joins a growing movement of dining facilities owned by universities, workplaces, hospitals, cities, hotels and restaurants around the world.

The ’Cool Food’ Pledge is an initiative of the World Resources Institute which encourages signatories to introduce more plant-based food with a lower carbon footprint. The ultimate aim for the group is to collectively reduce food-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25% by 2030, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.

The UCS is the University’s in-house catering service, managing fourteen cafes and canteens across Cambridge, such as the Sidgwick Buttery and the UL tea room, as well as catering for more than 1,500 events every year.

Joining the ‘Cool Food’ Pledge means that UCS will have to share their food purchase data of animal-based foods and plant proteins on an annual basis with the pledge team, with aggregated results reported back and publicly promoted.

Being part of a global pledge such as this is described by the ‘Cool Food’ team as ‘a compelling way to engage employees, students, visitors, and other customers in sustainability efforts’.

Professor Andrew Balmford, who has previously advised the UCS on sustainability decisions, described to Varsity the benefits of signing the pledge as lying largely in "communicating the University’s work to other institutions, learning from what they’ve done, and in due course having an independent assessment of the impacts of UCS’ actions on its emissions".

Other signatories range from Nestle to the World Bank and the City of Copenhagen to Harvester, with almost a billion meals already impacted by the pledge annually.

If current pledge signatories achieve the 25% reduction target by 2030, more than 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions will be avoided, equivalent to taking 230,000 cars off the roads.

Food production accounts for a quarter of global GHG emissions, with two-thirds of agricultural GHG emissions and over three-quarters of agricultural land-use stemming from the production of animal-based products.

Consuming more plant-based foods can make a significant contribution to reducing pressure on the climate as plant-based foods generally have a lower environmental impact. The Cool Food website, for example, describes how ‘producing beef uses 20 times the land and emits 20 times the greenhouse gases as producing beans, per gram of protein’.

This pledge builds upon previous sustainability changes made by the UCS. It launched its ’Sustainable Food Policy’ in October 2016, which was further updated last year.

This policy change in 2016 led to the UCS removing ruminant meat from its menus, switching away from beef and lamb. At the same time the UCS also committed to promoting plant-based food, removing unsustainably harvested fish from its menus and reducing food waste.


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Last year a UCS report announced the impacts of these policies, with a 10.5% reduction in the overall carbon footprint of food, despite an increase in total food purchases. Overall the carbon dioxide emissions per kilogram of food purchases from the UCS decreased by 33%.

Other sustainability initiatives championed by the UCS in previous years include switching to compostable Vegware packaging in 2015, and the introduction of a discount for drinks purchased in Keep-Cups in 2013, which saved 121,000 disposable cups from being used (now changed to a 25p charge for disposable cups).

Signing the ‘Cool Food’ pledge is unlikely to be the end of changes for the UCS, as they continue to review their policies ‘in light of the latest science and new best practice’. The UCS will now be able to take on board advice provided by the ‘Cool Foods’ team as well drawing from the expertise of the University of Cambridge academics it has consulted in the past, such as when constructing the original Sustainable Food Policy.

The UCS's signing of the 'Cool Food' pledge follows the University committing to divest from fossil fuels by 2030. The Vice-Chancellor further announced in his annual address on October 1st that the University's £3.5 billion Endowment Fund will be redirected towards investments in renewable energy by 2025.

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