University of Bristol: Catered halls to list carbon footprint of every meal

The University of Bristol is at the forefront of higher education sustainability. It is on track to become carbon neutral by 2030 and recently became the first university in the world to achieve institutional Green Labs Certification.

Now it is taking things further by calculating the supply chain of every ingredient to find the environmental impact of meals served to catered students.

“It’s a really complicated thing to track the carbon footprint of our ever-changing menus,” explained Caroline Wynn, the University’s Head of Catering.

“But it will give students more agency in what they eat than ever before. Getting menus right is always difficult: meals have to be tasty, watch out for allergies, meet many individual preferences and have the right calorific and nutritional content to sustain various lifestyles – plus we’ve got to keep up with trends.

“Adding in a sustainability strand over the last few years and boosting this now by finding the carbon footprint of each meal complicates things even more, but we are up for the challenge!”

In October 2021, the University teamed up with the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), an Italian charity, to trial adding carbon footprints to the menus at Badock Hall in North Residential Village.

SRA’s app showed students the environmental impact of each meal and by the end of the six week trial 100 students were regularly using it.

The drive was helped by student sustainability ambassadors who explained the app and the trial to halls residents.

For Rob Smith, the University’s Senior Head Chef, one of benefits of the trial was a greater appreciation of the impact of the food they serve.

“Lasagne has always been very popular with students – in fact, you can never make enough of it,” Rob said. “Instead of taking it off the menu because we knew how unpopular that would be, we changed the recipe.

“It was 80% beef and 20% veg. So, we reduced it to 50/50. Now we’re at 40% beef, 40% veg and 20% lentils and it’s become even more popular. I’d argue it tastes even better.”

Catered Halls can expect to have the carbon footprint of each meal on their menus for the start of the 2022/23 academic year.

The University is also running a trial with its Source Cafés, in partnership with Professor Jeff Brunstrom from the School of Psychological Science. The carbon footprint of each sandwich will be displayed on its packet and Prof Brunstrom’s team will monitor if this extra information affects what sells best.

Martin Wiles, Head of Sustainability at the University of Bristol, said: “Mapping our food and drink scope 3 carbon is key to the University’s sustainability agenda.

“Caroline and her team are leading the way with this work in the University and in the sector as a whole with incredible focus and enthusiasm.”

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