Changing the eating habits of students and workers for the better one dish at a time

By Tom Tanner

The 18th of October marks a significant date. It saw the start, or more accurately, the re-start, of what promises to be one of the most insightful projects the SRA has ever been involved in.

SU-Eatable Life, funded by the European Commission’s LIFE fund, and designed and delivered in the UK, to help canteens serve more sustainable food and shift customers’ dietary choices, initially launched in early 2020, only to be interrupted by the first lockdown.

We’re thrilled that, thanks to the patience, persistence and innovation of our partners Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition, Wageningen University and greenApes, as well as the participants, SU-Eatable Life 2.0, is up and running again, designed to change the eating habits of thousands of students and employees, using a combination of creative menu design, rewards, data collection and social media.

The project uses a menu of behaviour change tools to help at least 5,000 customers better understand what a sustainable diet looks like and make menu choices that deliver significant annual reductions in CO2, 5,300 tonnes, and water, 2million cubic meter.

This week saw the project kick off at University of Bristol and Queen Mary University. Students at the universities at Greenwich and Worcester will shortly be joining the initiative alongside the workplace canteen at Pernod Ricard UK HQ. The programme will run until early December when we will then analyse the data before publishing the findings in 2022.

Students and canteen customers will be engaged, encouraged and educated using the greenApes app. We’ll be using engaging video content, easy to access information about focus areas, including the environmental impact of common ingredients, health, water, and waste, as well as offering rewards – including vouchers for Abel & Cole and Pizza Pilgrims pizza in the post.

Using the latest technology we’ll be able to track participants’ activity on the app as well as sales in the canteens, all the while calculating the comparative environmental impact of dishes purchased.

Chefs at each site have prepared climate-friendly dishes, in line with the specifications of a One Planet Plate. These dishes are then identified and marketed as such on menus, helping canteen users choose dishes with a lower impact on the environment, like veg-led dishes. The sites will also use point of sale marketing to highlight the benefits of making better food choices. To demonstrate impact, we’ll be measuring shifts in sales.

Katy Boom, Director of Sustainability, University of Worcester, said: “The University has been working with students to support sustainable food for a number of years, both in giving them access to local produce and providing students with the opportunities to grow their own in dedicated allotments. This project is an ideal opportunity to extend this work, with globally leading professors, achieving lasting embedded changes to both the consumers of food and drink on campus as well as the staff and external contractors who help us provide it,”

The project is coordinated by Prof. Riccardo Valentini, Full Professor of Forest Ecology at Tuscia University, Italy, member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2007.

Keep an eye on these pages for the findings from the programme as well as insights from the universities and workplaces.

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