By making more informed food purchasing decisions on campus, we can all help create a more climate-friendly food system at UBC.

The Climate-Friendly Food (CFF) Labels provide the campus community with an opportunity to learn more about how their choices, supported by a more sustainable food system on campus, can help reduce the university’s overall GHG emissions. 

The CFF Labels (pictured below) are currently being tested in all of the UBC Residence Dining halls (Open Kitchen, Gather, and Feast) and scaled out to other food outlets on campus including Flavour Lab in the AMS Student Nest.

 

A menu item with the label with the largest green earth on it means that the meal generated less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water, and nitrogen than other items on the menu.
 

 

The team reviewed over 775 menu items to quantify environmental footprints: GHG emissions, embedded nitrogen, and water use associated with the production of each ingredient. 
 
This is the first time any Canadian university has taken on a project of this scale, positioning UBC as a model of how other universities can mobilize to address Climate Action through Food Systems.  

This project is an interdisciplinary research collaboration between teams of students, staff and faculty as part of the SEEDS Sustainability Program, to develop, pilot and evaluate the CFF Labels at UBC. One team is also evaluating the perceptions and impacts that Climate-Friendly Food Labels may have on UBC’s awareness, knowledge and purchasing decisions. 

What does a Climate-Friendly Food System at UBC look like?  
 

UBC aims to tackle all aspects of food systems from how we source ingredients to what we consume and the amount of waste produced from food and food packaging. 

This is how the university defines Climate-friendly food systems:

UBC aims to operate within a climate-friendly, just and accessible food system, which means being committed to operating within planetary boundaries by reducing our GHG emissions footprint associated with our food systems and enhancing food system resiliency from production to end disposal and recovery, while producing positive outcomes for people, animals and planet (developed by the Climate-Friendly Food Systems Action Team, 2021). 

Food systems on the Vancouver campus account for just over 21% of UBC’s overall GHG emissions. That’s roughly equal to 3/4 the GHG emissions of all UBC’s buildings and energy supply combined, and it is anticipated that food emissions may become UBC’s largest emissions category as other sources of UBC GHGs emissions reduce. 
 
UBC has set a target to achieve a 50% reduction in food systems emissions by 2030 in alignment with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. That’s the threshold many scientists have said is crucial to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change.   
 
In an effort to tackle this, UBC is currently developing these seven bold food actions described here: 

  • Campus-wide Climate-Friendly Food System (CFFS) definition, label, and toolkit. 
  • Campus-wide Climate-Friendly Food System Procurement Guidelines applicable to all food providers. 
  • Food Waste Reduction and Recovery Strategy (including food-related waste). 
  • Food System Resilience and Climate Action Strategy that holistically advances climate-friendly foods at UBC including climate mitigation and adaptation. 
  • Expanded interdisciplinary research initiatives, student and faculty research to advance climate-friendly food systems, spanning climate mitigation and adaptation.   

Learn more about sustainable food systems at UBC. 

Frequently Asked Questions  

How do we determine what foods are climate-friendly?

The GHG emissions, nitrogen, and water footprints of each menu item are calculated by summing up the weight of every raw ingredient multiplied by their respective footprint factors. Ingredient footprint factors are determined according to their category in the Cool Food Calculator, which provides data on the amount of emissions emitted during the food item’s life cycle (including production, distribution, and processing, excluding cooking emissions and associated food waste).

Following UBC's Climate Action Plan 2030 reduction goals for food systems, the Climate-Friendly Food Label was assigned to menu items whose composite footprint is 50% on a 2019 baseline. 

A menu item with the largest green earth logo associated means that the item generated at least 50% less GHG emissions, water, and nitrogen per 100 grams of food produced than the other items on the menu. 

Some foods that are Climate-Friendly, do not align with my preferred food choices, cultural or traditional foods, or habits. With that in mind, how can I make climate-friendly food choices on campus?

Many climate experts agree that dietary changes don't need to be extreme to positively impact the climate. 
 
For example, adopting more plant-based diets, with moderate intake of animal-source food, can lead to substantial decreases in greenhouse gas emissions while making other positive environmental impacts such as a reduction in water and land usage.
 
According to one study out of the University of Minnesota, if everyone met basic nutritional recommendations, which for most people in developed countries means more fruit and vegetables and less red meat, emissions could fall 29% by 2050.
 
The Planetary Health Diet has similar recommendations which you can find online. 
 
The foods we eat are chosen for a variety of reasons – taste, cost, nutrition, and convenience, to name a few. In the context of the climate emergency, being informed and acting to reduce the environmental impact of our food choices is a growing reason to shift our eating habits. 

Are climate-friendly foods more expensive?

The university is taking bold steps to ensure that the campus community has access to wholesome, sustainable, local and diverse foods. 
 
One most recent initiative is All Access Dining, which was launched at the three resident dining halls where the Climate Friendly Food Labels are currently being piloted. Since all students pay the same amount to eat as much as they care to while at that location, all food items will be the same price regardless of whether they are deemed Climate-Friendly or not.  
 
At Flavour Lab in the AMS Student Nest, where the CFF Label will be potentially added to some menu items, preliminary analysis has found that the foods deemed most climate-friendly are not more expensive than foods labeled as less climate-friendly.  
 
As the university continues its work on building a Climate-Friendly food system, a lens of equity and affordability will be applied to all actions. Visit the Centre for Climate Justice at UBC to learn more. 
 
Here's what UBC is doing to address student affordability and food insecurity.

Does the calculation integrate the GHG emission coming from the transportation of food?

The calculation does not integrate the GHG emissions coming from the transportation of ingredients. 

Since the production of food creates the most emissions, the GHG emission from the cooking process and food waste were not considered for this phase of the project. The GHG emissions associated with the cooking process (i.e. electricity & natural gas) and food waste are included in UBC building-level GHG goals and reporting as part of UBC's annual Climate Change Accountability Report (CCAR). 
 
Learn more about the Cool Food Methodology.

Where can I find a list of all Climate-Friendly food items offered by UBC Food Services?

The team is currently developing an online resource that will have this information. Stay tuned! 

 

Do you have any additional questions related to the Climate Friendly Food Labels project or UBC’s actions around reducing emissions from food systems on campus? Send them to: info@planning.ubc.caLearn more about how you can support Climate-Friendly Food Systems at UBC.