Staff Services Student Enterprise

Serving the public sector carbon reduction for lunch

Image shows school children having lunch
Project contact
Monica Dearden
Consultancy Manager: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions is very much at the forefront of the public consciousness. The public sector can set an example and encourage this with increased transparency and reporting of carbon emissions by local authorities and the businesses they work with.

Collaborative research between experts at the University of Edinburgh and an industry partner has generated a solution that allows public sector caterers to measure and compare their carbon footprints, and hence drive reduction of their emissions to net zero targets.

Professor Angela Tregear (Personal Chair in Marketing at the Business School) and Adam Wilkinson (Founder of Impact Measurement Ltd) have combined their academic and industry expertise to create the 'Meal Analyser' tool. The development of the tool benefitted from translational funding via the Scottish Funding Council’s Innovation Voucher and subsequently ESRC IAA awards.

Professor Tregear said,

Up to one third of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to agriculture and food supply chains. Public food procurement and catering can play a big role in addressing this, they have the buying power and can help educate the next generation on making more sustainable dietary choices by setting an example. Our research has found that relatively small changes can make sizable reductions in emissions, and through using the tool we are spreading that knowledge to catering practitioners”.

In the UK, public sector catering services (such as schools, hospitals, care homes and universities) serve an estimated 2.1 billion meals per year. Changes to practices in these services, in terms of food procurement, meal planning, and waste handling, have huge potential to drive down emissions and move towards more sustainable food supply chains.

The Meal Analyser allows catering managers running meal services to understand which parts of their service and supply chain create the most carbon emissions, and how adjustments to those activities can reduce their total carbon footprints. Uniquely, this tool calculates the full 'life cycle' of the emissions emitted, collating data from the procurement and transport of the food right through to the kitchen preparation and ultimate waste disposal.

To date, 19 school meal service providers have purchased the bespoke services of the Meal Analyser, ranging from local authorities in Scotland to school academy trusts and private catering providers south of the border. A free demo of the tool will shortly be available on website and costs for the services will be provided on a case-by-case basis, depending on the complexity of analysis required.

Image shows Professor Angela Tregear

Professor Tregear has used data extracted from the tool to paint a picture of where the sector is regarding climate change challenges to the annual conferences of both the Association of School Caterers in Scotland) and the Local Authority Catering Association of England and Wales.

Widening the impact of this research further is the £3 million Wellcome Trust project led by Professor Mary Brennan to bring the ‘Good Food Nation’ Bill onto the Scottish Government statute and to explore how it can best be implemented. Professor Brennan is Chair of the Scottish Food Coalition and was co-Investigator with Angela in the Horizon2020 research project 'Strength2Food', which developed the methodology later refined in the Meal Analyser.

Discover More

Read more from Professor Tregear

Strategic Guide for Public Sector Food Procurement (PSFP) (PDF)