Five ways the University is making food more sustainable
From sourcing high-quality ingredients to decreasing waste, the University has been working hard to make its food and drink more socially responsible and sustainable. Here are some highlights from 2019-20.
Why is food important?
Feeding the world’s growing population well, while protecting the natural systems on which we all depend, is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. Agriculture, core to achieving food security, is both a key driver of environmental degradation, and extremely vulnerable to environmental change. Achieving sustainable, healthy diets underpins many of the Sustainable Development Goals – especially those concerned with hunger, poverty, health, gender equality, land, responsible consumption and production, and climate action.
Leading the way
Last year, the University won a Green Gown Award in the Campus Health, Food and Drink category for our commitment to responsible catering and our whole institution approach. The Green Gown Awards recognise the exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken by universities and colleges.
Accommodation Catering and Events (ACE) have been awarded two star (excellent level) rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
Our Good Food Policy sets out the University's ambitions in five key areas: sourcing, provision, practice, research, learning and teaching and leadership and culture.
Below are five areas in which the University has made the most progress in 2019/20. Staff and students have been incredibly supportive of these initiatives, recognising the key role they play as consumers in making socially responsible choices.
Want to know more? View a summary of all the progress made in 2019/20 in our annual Good Food at a glance infographic.
In August 2018, we Introduced a 25p levy on single use coffee cups in all University cafés and food outlets. This was increased to 30p in 2019, leading to a 46% reduction in disposable coffee cup purchases since the levy was introduced (up to March 2020). Staff and students are encouraged to bring their own reusable cup to save money and waste.
Cafés are unable to accept reusable cups at present due to additional health & safety measures related to the Covid-19 pandemic, but we look forward to accepting reusables again soon.
Additionally, 27,000 reusable cups have been sold or given away since 2011, and we have removed plastic straws from our outlets.
The number and variety of plant-based and vegetarian items have increased in ACE-run outlets. Examples of the tasty offerings include patatas bravas & vegan cheeze wraps and vegan breakfast burritos.
Research from the School of Geosciences in 2019 suggested that diet change is needed to save vast areas of tropics. One quarter of the world’s tropical land could disappear by the end of the century unless meat and dairy consumption falls, researchers have warned.
In 2020/21 ACE are planning to join the Peas Please initiative, which aims to bring together farmers, retailers, fast food and restaurant chains, caterers, processors and government departments with a common goal of making it easier for everyone to eat veg.
We donated £2,000 to Edinburgh Food Social to support their community food education work.
Edinburgh Food Social is a social enterprise teaching young people and communities about local, seasonal food. The projects give individuals the knowledge and understanding to cook with confidence, whether for friends and family or as a profession.
Other food projects have been funded through Community Grants to specifically respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, including the Community Meal Delivery Partnership (Scran Academy) and the Emergency Food Service (Venchie Children & Young People's Project). Notable food-related projects supported through the Community Grants in previous years include Green Learning (Leith Community Crops) and More than Food: Tackling Root Causes of Poverty (Edinburgh Food Project).
100% of our tea, coffee and hot chocolate is Fairtrade Certified, as are bananas, sugar sticks and apple juice. The rice we use is fairly traded. We held a two-star Fairtrade University Award through May 2020 and are now working towards reaccreditation. We are a member of Edinburgh’s Fair Trade City Group.
One of the latest additions in ACE Cafês is Tony Chocolonely Fairtrade chocolate bars, who's mission is for chocolate to be 100% slave free as the norm.
Buying local is also a big focus: we use free-range whole and liquid eggs from the UK, 90% of beef we serve is Scottish and 100% of dairy milk is Scottish.
We also choose suppliers who give back locally. Since 2012, our coffee supplier has planted 1,155 trees locally (including an apple and plum orchard at Easter Bush) and distributed 154 seed kits with profits from University sales.
We adopted the Too Good To Go food waste-prevention app to sell surplus food from University cafés that would otherwise go to waste.
The app allows customers to pick up the tasty treats for a fraction of the price before the food would otherwise be thrown out. It's estimated that users of Too Good to Go could claim an estimated £12 worth of food for as little as £4 from our outlets.
For food that isn't rescued by the app, 100% of food waste in University outlets is recycled through anaerobic digestion. All of our cooking oil is collected separately and recycled into bio diesel. Our coffee grounds are collected separately and recycled into soil conditioner.
Read our Good Food policy for our 2020/21 priorities.
How can I get involved?
- Support socially responsible and sustainable food with your purchasing choices such as fair trade or local products, and by embracing reusable containers and cutlery. Read Less Waste Laura's blog post on living plastic free in Edinburgh.
- We are working towards our next submission for the Fairtrade University Award: get in touch to find out how you can help by emailing SRS.Department@ed.ac.uk.
- Write a blog post on a food-related social responsibility and sustainability issue - can you relate it to a national campaign like Fairtrade Fortnight or Veganuary? Read our past food blog posts for inspiration.
- Watch the student's guide to ethical eats video from our recent event for lots of tips on how to eat more ethically.
- Get involved with food-related societies. Examples include student-led initiatives like Kings' Buildings permaculture garden and the new Food Security and Sustainability Society. Browse all social responsibility and sustainability related societies.
- Commit to ordering climate conscious food options for catered events. This would involve ordering vegan and vegetarian food options, avoiding items which come packaged in plastic, and considering if the food ordered is in season and sourced locally. Our department has recently switched to only plant-based catering.
- All University of Edinburgh staff are entitled to up to one day of paid leave per year for volunteering activities – A Day to Make a Difference. This is covered under the University’s special leave policy. Could you use your volunteering day to help a local food-related charity?