Cambridge’s Food-Related Carbon Emissions Cut by a Third

Beef and lamb were removed from menus three years ago


In October 2016, Cambridge's catering service decided to replace beef and lamb – meats which produce the most greenhouse gases – with plant-based products for its 14 outlets and 1500 annual events. Now, we are observing the dramatic benefit of this.

The university measured its carbon footprint in a three-month period in 2015, before the changes, and then again in 2018. Findings reveal a 28% drop in land use and a 33% reduction in carbon emissions per kilogram of food purchased.

The University Catering Service pride themselves on their sustainability achievements. The UCS won the University’s first Green Gown Sustainability Award in the Food and Drink Category and The University Caterers Association Sustainability Award 2018.

However, the catering service's changes have not been welcomed by all. A spokesperson for the National Farmers' Union expressed her disappointment at what she describes as "an overly-simplistic approach." The NFU have initiated their own plan to become carbon neutral, and have said the university should instead source locally-produced beef and lamb to cut greenhouse emissions.

A 2018 report on food shopping reveals that a third of Britons have stopped or reduced eating meat. One in eight are now vegetarian or vegan, and a further 20% claim to be 'flexitarian', following a largely vegetable-based diet, supplemented only occasionally with meat.

Cambridge recogises this surge in the popularity of meat-free diets, and have accordingly made their catering service more vegetarian and vegan-friendly. As well as cutting out beef and lamb, Cambridge chefs are given vegan cookery classes, cafe managers are trained in sustainability and vegetarian options have been increased generally.

Interestingly, food is also not labelled as vegetarian or vegan. Catering manager Paula White said: "We just put what's in it. You use your eyes, your nose. If you look at something and think, 'Wow, that looks good', you're not first of all thinking, 'Is there beef in that?"

Discussing the changes, the head of the catering service, Nick White, said: "It's about making the right choice easy."