Sustainable Food at the University

At the University of Bristol we incorporate sustainability into all aspects of our food systems. We aim to carry out our services in a way that enhances positive social, ethical and environmental benefits whilst also encouraging and promoting healthy eating.

At the University of Bristol we incorporate sustainability into all aspects of our food systems. We aim to carry out our services in a way that enhances positive social, ethical and environmental benefits whilst also encouraging and promoting healthy eating, as shown in the Sustainable Food Action Plan (2021). Through sustainable procurement, local sourcing, fair trade and scope 3 carbon mapping we are continuously improving how we source food and drink. We promote and take part in community allotment projects and food growing. Food waste reduction, food donations and food composting or treatment with anaerobic digestion help us manage food waste. We promote reuse over disposable packaging and use more sustainable packaging where possible.
Food systems are inherently connected to the wellbeing of individuals and communities. Food systems will both affect and be affected by climate change. For this reason, the university strives to incorporate sustainability, including carbon impacts into our product and service selection process. We are supporting Bristol Bites Back Better and the city to become a Gold Sustainable Food City with the Going for Gold campaign and were the first organization in the city to get Going for Gold Champion Status. We are determined to build a resilient future through food, some of our actions are detailed below. 

Gardening projects and allotments

The University is committed to enhancing the local community and sustainable urban growing. The Grow Group project was launched by University of Bristol’s Student Action for Refugees (STAR) for asylum seekers and refugees in the heart of St Pauls. The gardening project is accessible to families and encourages refugee volunteers to grow fruit and vegetable that can then be harvested, providing a sense of community and normality. Bristol student volunteering group Roots also encourages outdoor growing projects, aiming to engage students and communities with conservation and sustainability, creating beautiful green spaces with urban pollinators around Bristol. On top of this, student volunteers have also teamed up with the Environment Agency to protect Manor Valley Orchard.
In 2019, staff and students from Life Sciences inspired the development of a community garden in an unused patch of land. The garden was created from 'waste' materials such as tyres and wooden pallets, minimising the environmental impact. People are encouraged to garden here, growing sustainable food and improving wellbeing. This local garden approach has also been adopted by some university Hydrologists that have 'gone green’, growing vegetables and even setting up a wormery to recycle their food waste and coffee grounds. Additionally in 2019 the university won 1st place in the list of the UK's 10 greenest universities.
Enhancing wildlife even further are the University’s sustainable drainage systems located on a local dairy farm. Every University hall of residence has an allotment and compost bay area allowing students the opportunity to grow vegetables throughout the University term.

Sustainable Sourcing

The Sustainable Food Action Plan (2021) demonstrates the close relationship between the Sustainability team and hospitality procurement team to buy local where possible. Catering contracts are awarded partially on the basis of their sustainability credentials which includes supply chain length. University hospitality providers regularly host events where staff who are involved with acquiring food/drinks for events or meetings can meet the University's caterers and learn about their sustainability credentials. This educates staff regarding the University's commitment to the procurement of sustainable food and drink. The Hungry Caterpillar Food Co-Op, a student run enterprise is a not-for-profit Food Cooperative, which provides high quality, low cost, ethical, and packaging-free food. Running weekly the membership-based co-op provides cupboard staples such as pasta, nuts, dried fruits, grains, pulses, teas and more. A packaging free range is also available at one of the Source Café locations (The University’s in-house Café brand) which allows students and staff to purchase wholesome essential dry foods and single use plastic free goods.
  • Reducing Meat Consumption
In 2018 we ran a ‘Plate up the Facts’ campaign to communicate to students the importance of knowing about the carbon impact of the food they were choosing, especially with protein choices. Meat Free Mondays were then introduced into all catered halls at the University in September 2019, with communications to students spreading the environmental messages underpinning this campaign. In 2020 we achieved a 42% increase on the previous year, for our plant based food served in our catered halls of residence. Our cooked breakfast offer only contains 9% meat options. We will also be supporting the upcoming Public Sector Catering Plant Based Week 2021 which is in partnership with the Eating Better Alliance. Our new ‘Source Marketplace’ food offering at Senate House which opens in May 2021 has a plant based menu as we continue to offer healthy balanced and mindful meals.
  • Scope 3 Carbon Emissions
As part of the University’s commitment to reach net zero carbon by 2030 we are striving to map and reduce our scope 3 carbon emissions that emerge from catering practices. The first steps we have taken to reduce our catering emissions have been to introduce meat-free Mondays (as outlined above), removing beef from Source Café retail outlets and reducing ruminant meat from all our menus. We aim to further address this issue by mapping carbon related to all food and drink offerings and reduce it by 20%. As part of this commitment the Catering department is supporting a research project to estimate the environmental and health costs associated with the food UoB serves on its campus and based on this information investigates how to induce changes in food consumption patterns to facilitate more sustainable and healthy lifestyle amongst staff and students.
  • Fairtrade
The University of Bristol was awarded three Silver awards in the South West Fair Trade Business Awards 2019, in the categories of Best Fair Trade University or College, Best Fair Trade Café or Restaurant, and Best Fair Trade Accommodation or Conference Centre.  We support Fairtrade and since February 2021 been campaigning for Fairtrade Fortnight highlighting the increasing challenges that climate change brings to farmers and workers in the communities Fairtrade. This year we are applying to become accredited by the NUS for April 2021 after 2 years of working towards this goal.
  • Reuse and food waste prevention 
In January 2019 the university’s catering team joined a three-month food waste reduction trial with Bristol Food Network and Chefs Eye Tech, a food waste reduction software. At the end of the trial period over 6 tonnes of food waste was weighed, of which avoidable food waste (spoilage, overproduction, expiry) made up nearly 2.4 tonnes, with a value of £4,875. By weighing every type of wastage, the chefs became more conscious about food waste. This project proved a great success . We were showcased for the ‘Chefs Eye’ project for tackling the climate emergency and featured in the LUPC & SUPC Responsible Procurement Event and showcased by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for our work on circularity in catering. The University as a whole is now a member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. More recently we supported WRAP’s Guardians of Grub campaign for our food offering to help us drive down edible food wastage even further. In 2021 this research has now progressed and we will be supporting Knowaste whose vision is to ‘cut food waste by up to 50% and educate diners on their food waste behaviours through visualisation methods and gamification’ by developing an app which can be used for monitoring and tracking food choices.
Careful menu planning, stock control, rotation and stock holdings help us minimise food waste from catering functions. At present catered meal numbers are based on the previous evening meal numbers. Staff predict how many students are likely to turn up with weekly and seasonal fluctuations. On average 75-80% of students turn up for meals and this prediction can greatly save over produced food. Predictions on menu choices are also made with approximate 75% split at present being meat eaters. Food is batch cooked for quality and waste purposes, at the end of service left over food can be blast chilled and reused as a second meal for lunch salad bar etc. This greatly saves on food wastage.
Student communications in catered halls have recently been centred around the carbon emissions associated with the production and wastage of each food type. These carbon quantities allow students to make informed decisions about how much and which food they consume. We have teamed up with Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS) to provide carbon literacy training to staff and students which has a stone focus on food waste as an issue. We are proud to now have three locations on the Too Good To Go food saving app and hope to expand this type of offering in the future to prevent edible food waste from going into Anaerobic digestion systems.
  • Campaigns
The University is involved with lots of waste reduction campaigns, recently we have supported WRAP Food Waste Action Week and Love Food Hate Waste. These campaigns are showcased on our University of Bristol Sustainability Instagram and more of the university’s achievements are highlighted in our waste achievements. We also work with seasonal campaigns for example the Hubbub pumpkin rescue and Bristol City Council’s ‘Slim My Waste- Feed my Face’ promoting them to 35,000 staff and students.
Student groups have also conducted work in partnership with WRAP to identify areas to reduce food waste in UoB catered halls and the barriers to achieving this reduction, such as limited outreach on social media. The team engaged students with pop-up stalls in catered halls to highlight the problem of food waste and its link to the climate crisis. Student volunteers have also run the campaign 'Just Eat It’, aiming to challenge students' perception of food waste and cultivate a more sustainable attitude towards food and consumption. The group organise weekly reclaimed food cafes and other events including cooking workshops, and speaker events.
The Sustainability Department operates the initiative 'Be the Change' which rewards university staff and students for their sustainability and wellbeing efforts and covers six key themes: Get Involved, My Travel, Rethinking Waste, My Carbon Footprint, Better Living, Food and Drink. These categories cover multiple actions encouraging individuals to eat better. So far 12,702 actions have been recorded by the initiative by 897 staff and 266 students.
  • Composting and recycling 
Food waste collections were trialled at the University back in 2013 with a Rocket Composter for one of our catering sites. This was long before any largescale Council or Commercial food waste collection services were available in Bristol for us to use. The composting machine at this location was hugely successful. Chefs were able to see food waste very visibly and this changed behaviour to almost completely eliminate food waste at this site. In 2014/15 we were finally able to make use of local food waste collection systems and rolled collections out to all staff and students across the University. Annually we audit all of our food waste to make decisions around systems and communications campaigns for students and staff. Our main priority is food waste reduction but we use anaerobic digestion facilities at GenEco for unavoidable food waste.
  • Reducing packaging
At the university we are striving to reduce packaging and single use plastic in all of our catering outlets and Source Cafés. Working with our Plastic Action Plan targets we have eliminated plastic straws, sachets, water bottles and much more to date. Crockery and utensils are provided in all staff kitchens and staff meetings. We encourage the use of reusable cups and our Source Cafés sell Keep cup and a 20p reduction is applied when using a reusable cup. Across the university there is a network of water refill stations promoted through our partnership with the Bristol charity 'City to Sea' through their Refill campaign.
  • Food Donations 
The university has supported food banks in a number of ways in recent years, through donations by the catering teams and student volunteers . During the first lockdown, our catering teams sent fresh produce that could not be stored to a variety of charities, including Fareshare, the Trussell Trust and Bristol North Foodbank. Donation points were set up in halls of residence. So far, the University has donated 5279.5kg of food to the Trussell Trust Foodbank since April 2020. This has provided 276 families with a food parcel during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have donated a further 490kg of food to FareShare South West, creating 1100 meals for vulnerable people. The University continues to donate food, recently donating around 400 food boxes to East Bristol Children Centre Hub, and a further 1084 food boxes to Fareshare, who will then divide this among different local food banks. Donating food that would otherwise go to waste not only has a positive impact on the environment, but also on our local community. Annually we run the Bristol Big Give Campaign for student end of term move out waste management. Part of this campaign which has raised over £1.3m for charity since it began is managing food donations from students via our Student Food Bank Society and donating it to the local community.
At the University of Bristol, we are dedicated to reducing our carbon footprint and fighting food waste. Follow the links above and check the Green University food page to see how you can get involved to become more sustainable and help Bristol Bite Back Better.
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