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7. Sustainable Food

The food we consume accounts for around 30% of the UK’s carbon footprint according to Sustain, WWF and the Food Climate Research Network. Universities have a significant role to play in the food chain both as procurer’s and providers of food to over 2 million students each year.

People & Planet believes education institutions have a responsibility to address the sustainability and carbon intensity of their food supply chains, whether it is provided internally or through contractors. Universities are also key to shaping behaviour change in the choices we make regarding our attitude to food; the sector could become an example of best practice within the UK.



Sustain website

Soil Association

Marine Conservation Society

Marine Stewardship Council

Community supported agriculture


Sustainable Food Policy

1. Does the university have a publicly-available sustainable food policy?

or a Sustainable Procurement Policy which integrates sustainability criteria for food) that is reported on annually at a senior level of the university.

Score 10%


  • People & Planet will find the policy on the university website

  • Policy states explicitly that it covers all food outlets and food served by the university (it may exclude vending machines, and students’ union food, for which university does not have responsibility).

  • If the university has outsourced its catering, policies provided by contract caterers reflecting their principles are not acceptable here. The policy must be authored by the university itself and reflect the university’s aims, objectives and principles with regards to healthy, sustainable food.


Sustainable Food Framework

2. Has the university implemented a comprehensive framework for continual improvement in sustainable food and catering

 that is regularly audited and verified by an external organisation credible to the sustainable food standards movement and stakeholder bodies?

Score - maximum 50%

One of the most common ways to measure commitment to sustainable catering in the public sector is through the achievement of a Food for Life Catering Mark award.

The Food for Life Catering Mark is a widely-respected and evidence-based scheme, governed by an independent standards committee, which certifies over 170 million meals a year. The Catering Mark incorporates and provides an independent audit framework for a comprehensive set of evidence-based sustainability standards and assurance schemes including Red Tractor, LEAF, Fair Trade, RSPCA Freedom Food, Marine Conservation Society ‘fish to avoid’, Marine Stewardship Council and organic.

The award is run and independently assessed by the Soil Association, the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. The awards progress from Bronze to Silver to Gold and can be applied to a selection or all of a university’s catering outlets.

People & Planet will look for evidence on the university website demonstrating progress against an externally verified sustainable catering framework. This information should include:

  • how many catering outlets the university has

  • how many outlets are covered by the Catering Mark scheme (or similar scheme or framework)

  • The Food For Life Catering Mark accredits university catering outlets against 3 levels; Bronze, Silver and Gold– the university show show which level each catering outlet has achieved.

  • A University might have a number of catering outlets that are accredited to different levels of the catering mark.

  • The following would be classed as outlets: halls of residence (this counts as one outlet if they’re managed the same and use the same menus, or counted independently if they are managed separately), canteens, cafes/coffee shops, hospitality menus, anywhere that food is served.

  • Alternative schemes should be credible to the sustainable food movement

People & Planet will calculate your scores based on the information found on the university website and if the university is accredited to the Food for Life Catering Mark then scores will be verified by the Soil Association Catering Mark team and the university information will also appear here


Food for life catering mark

If the university doesn't have a sustainable food framework.....

In the absence of an externally verified framework, People & Planet will look for evidence of sustainable food targets with a process for reporting and review,

  • Increasing seasonal fruit & vegetables
  • Increasing higher welfare meat & dairy
  • Reducing meat & dairy consumption
  • Purchase and sales of sustainable fish (as defined by Sustain, Marine Conservation Society and Marine Stewardship Council.
  • Purchasing 100% organic milk
  • Increasing purchase/sales of free-range eggs
  • Sustainable, local sourcing
  • Increasing purchase/sales of Fairtrade certified and fair-trade goods
  • Reducing use of artificial additives
  • Reducing bottled water for sale and providing drinking water from plumbed/tap sources
  • Reducing food waste and or packaging waste
  • Reducing water & energy usage
  • Communications and campaigns around sustainable food issues for staff and students on campus

Score - 20% for 5 or more of the areas outlined above.

NB: If your university has an externally verified sustainable food framework, it will not be scored on these targets.



3. Is 'sustainable food' a contract requirement?

Do tender specification documents for university food suppliers or catering contractors include the requirement for service and supply standards to be met and delivered, as outlined within the university sustainable food policy and against targets outlined within the sustainable food framework?

Score 10%


  • This question pertains to food procured through individual suppliers, consortia and other catering purchasing organisations, and to the catering contracts and sub-contracts held, tendered and re-tendered by universities where catering services might be outsourced, i.e. halls of residence catering provisions or staff and student dining provisions.

  • People & Planet will look for information on the university website that supports this commitment.

  • This requirement might be outlined within the university sustainable food policy.


Sustainable Food Actions

Marine Stewardship Council

4a. Are all university catering outlets certified to Marine Stewardship Council standards?

Score - 5%


  • Universities with MSC certification through contract catering arrangements are accepted

  • MSC certification will be confirmed through the MSC

MSC certification


Local Food

4b. Does the university use local food on university menus and / or campus to kitchen food projects?

Score - 5%


People & Planet will look for case study or news relating to the last 12 months of work in this area.

  • Local food as defined by the Soil association: “Food derived from a system of producing, processing and trading, primarily of organic and sustainable forms of food production, where the physical and economic activity is largely contained and controlled within the locality or region where it was produced, which delivers health, economic, environmental and social benefits to the communities in those areas.”

  • Campus to kitchen food projects create practical systems where food grown as part of a student and or staff led project on campus or with university provision is incorporated into the university catering / menus.

  • Local food projects formed in partnership with local community (community supported agriculture etc)



Drinking water

4c. Does the university provide free drinking water provisions for all staff, students and visitors to the university?

Score - 5%


People & Planet will find evidence that drinking water is made available across all catering outlets / campuses and that students and staff know where to go to find it.

  • Some universities host a map on their website showing where drinking water stations are on each campus


Community Food

5. Does the university provide space and / or other support for student / staff-led sustainable food projects.

Score 15%

People & Planet will look for an outline, news item or case study of the project on the university website. The project should be ongoing and any news updated within the last 12 months.


All of these activities will score full points:

  • Provision of food growing space either on or off the university campus (this might include partnership with a community garden/ rental of an allotment allocation / provision of growing space wholly owned by the university).

  • Roof gardens, allotments, campus orchards, green walls, container gardening, window boxes and raised beds are acceptable if the student and staff community have access to leading or co-managing the project.

  • If the students’ union has provided the space for food growing, it is expected that the university provides donation-in-kind that will support the project, i.e. equipment / funds/ communications support.

  • Student society/club/group or trades union led projects are expected to be supported by the university in the ways outlined above.

  • Space and support for student/staff run sustainable food distribution projects such as veg-box scheme or food co-ops is acceptable

  • Medicinal plants and or herb gardens are a valuable component of sustainable food projects.