Project Description

Location: United Kingdom

Primary Stakeholders: University of Oxford colleges (specifically those involved in the catering); other catering at the University of Oxford; external catering organisations.

Sector/industry: Catering

Primary extractive or damaging activities: Food consumption

Affected ecosystem(s) and biodiversity: All global biodiversity that is affected by the food system (directly or indirectly).

Goal: To build a tool that enables caterers and individuals to measure their baseline food-related environmental impacts, track their impact over time, and explore options for reducing this impact in order to meet an environmental target (for example no net loss of biodiversity and net zero carbon).

Metric(s): e.g. carbon emissions, ReCiPe pressure-impact model, Chaudhary et al. 2015 Countryside SAR model, land use, scarcity-weighted water use, eutrophication, acidification, nutritional scores.

Mitigation & Conservation actions: The Mitigation and Conservaiton Hierarchy can be applied to an organisation/individual’s food serving/consumption in the following way:

  • Refrain from serving/consuming the most impactful ingredients (e.g. having some days where red meat is not served/consumed, and replace with plant-based alternatives or less impactful meat(s)).
  • Reduce impacts by serving/consuming impactful ingredients less often (e.g. reducing the overall amount of red meat served/consumed by 30% and replacing with plant-based alternatives; encouraging consumers to choose more sustainable meals using behavioural nudges such as listing sustianable options at the top of the menu), and by best-practice sourcing (e.g. environmental certification labels, or local sourcing).
  • Restore impacts from food that do occur by re-purposing excess or wasted food (e.g. reusing excess food, food re-distribution, composting, etc.), and by investing in habitat restoration efforts of farms that food is directly being purchased from.
  • Renew biodiversity by making up for residual impacts of the food. Make a positive and measurable difference elsewhere, for example by purchasing or engaging in biodiversity offsetting.

Stage of implementation and associated outcomes: This project is in the research stage. There are ongoing discussions with people who work in catering (both within the university and externally) to guide the development of this tool, in terms of preferred functionality and design.

Needs and next steps: Following the piloting of a prototype, it will be essential to gain user feedback to guide iterative improvement, to ensure that this tool is easy to use and useful. In the future, this framework could be incorporated into a mobile application for individual users.

This research is supported by a grant from East Alpha.

Key references and resources:

  • Poore and Nemecek 2018 : Reducing food’s environmental impact through producers and consumers
  • Clark et al (In Review). ‘Estimating the environmental impacts of 57,000 food products in the U.K. and Ireland.’
  • Taylor et al (In Review). ‘Having their cake and eating it: Approaches for reducing the environmental impacts of food consumption at Lady Margaret Hall.’

This is an example of how an organisation’s food-related biodiversity impacts and GHG emissions can be broken down into food categories.

Credit: LMH Food Report (see projects in the OxPOCH case study). Izzy Taylor, Elizabeth Biggs, Niamh Gray, and others.

Similar food products (in this case different types of biscuits) can have large differences in their environmental impact, depending on their constituent ingredients.

Similar food products (in this case different types of biscuits) can have large differences in their environmental impact, depending on their constituent ingredients.

Credit: Mike Clark

Ecolabels give information about the environmental sustainability of a meal. This Eco-Metric tool could complement ecolabelling in canteens.

Credit: LEAP (in particular Mike Clark)