News Climate Change and Nature

New sustainable food guide helps universities tackle the climate and nature emergency

Sustainable food can help institutions like universities dramatically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, improve mental and physical well-being, and support their local communities.  

Credit: SOS-UK

Credit: SOS-UK

The new sustainable food guide, produced by Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS)-UK in collaboration with Sustain, outlines eight key actions institutions can take, and 15 actions for students, including serving less and better meat, more fruit and vegetables, and allowing student to access land to grow food.

Students want change. Over three quarters of students questioned in a recent survey by SOS-UK said they would be willing to change their diet to reduce their environmental impact and 71% said it was important, or very important, that food available on campus contributes positively to health, the environment and producers. 

Many universities in the UK have committed to become carbon neutral and are taking actions including divesting from fossil fuels and installing renewable energy. But with food and farming contributing up to a third of global emissions, and intensive farming the leading factor in biodiversity loss, antimicrobial resistance and the threat of future zoonotic diseases, a sustainable food policy is vital for universities that are serious about tackling the climate and nature emergency.

Larissa Kennedy, National Union of Students and SOS-UK President, said:

"The tertiary education sector can, and should, lead the way on food justice. Our research shows that almost three quarters of students would feel proud of their university if the food available on campus contributed positively to their health, the environment and producers. Students have the right to food that is good for them, good for the people that produce it, and that doesn’t contribute to the climate or nature crisis." 

Ruth Westcott, Climate and Nature Emergency Coordinator at Sustain, said:

"Universities have been at the heart of cultural and social change for generations and we need them now. The food on campuses should not only respect the planetary emergency identified by our esteemed academics but should be demonstrating to the world how to make planet-friendly diets the norm."

Eight key actions for institutions

  1. Commit to phasing out industrially produced meat and dairy
  2. Commit to only serving and selling demonstrably sustainable fish
  3. Eliminate all avoidable food waste and compost the remainder
  4. Make seasonal, local, ethically produced, plant-based food the default option
  5. Provide professional training for chefs and catering students on the links between climate, nature and health and the food they purchase, prepare and serve
  6. Provide opportunities for all students to grow food and to learn how to cook in fun and accessible settings
  7. Explore ways to make sustainable food the more affordable option
  8. Contribute to creating a better food system in the UK

How students can take action

  • Choose more and better produced plant-based foods
  • Choose less and better produced meat, fish and dairy
  • Choose Fairtrade where possible
  • Avoiding overly processed food, drinks and snacks
  • Use water fountains rather than bottled drinks
  • Always carry reusable drink and food containers with you
  • Grow some of your own food
  • Campaign for food justice‍

For more details about how food is interrelated to the climate, nature loss, and our health, and what needs to be done to reduce negative impacts, read the full sustainable food guide.


Published Friday 21 May 2021

Climate Change and Nature: Sustain has taken a keen interest in the rapidly accumulating evidence about the effect of food and farming on climate change and nature, as scientific evidence emerges that our food system is a very significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss.

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