Social Innovation Programme – Report

For the past six weeks we’ve had a fantastic group of Cambridge students working with us as part of the Cambridge Hub’s Social Innovation Programme. We set our team the task to determine what the potential impact could be of implementing the Food Hub’s distribution system, in terms of reducing emissions both by sourcing more food locally and without the need for a chilled supply chain. We’re very proud of all the work that they’ve put into this task.

The report focuses on a selection of food products supplied to six Cambridge colleges. The University of Cambridge, as a significant institutional buyer in the city, is one of the institutions we hope the Food Hub will work with in future. The University has recently implemented a Sustainable Food Policy in recognition of the University’s responsibility to provide healthy and sustainable food to staff, students, and visitors. It sets out the ways in which the University intends to minimise the impact of its catering operations on the environment and to promote sustainable practices and consumption. The Policy is not currently applicable to Cambridge colleges,  but it does apply to outlets run by the University Catering Service. Specific aims include reducing meat consumption, promoting vegetarian and vegan foods, reducing food wastage and sourcing products locally.

The task we’d set was not a simple one. The team have rightfully noted the limitations in studying just one element of a food system (food transport). A substantial source of carbon emissions is farming practices; the Food Hub hopes to address this by careful selection of suppliers, and emphasising the importance of seasonal produce. A more extensive life-cycle assessment would be needed in future to fully determine the impact the Food Hub brings, which would require considerable expertise in this field.

They also experienced difficulty in tracking the actual transportation routes of food suppliers, and in obtaining accurate data on carbon emissions for each supplier. One benefit of a smaller, local supply chain will be greater transparency with regards to where food is sourced – this is something we actively want our food buyers to know.

Despite these difficulties, the report gives us a valuable insight into the sourcing practices of a number of Cambridge colleges, including revealing which produce is already sourced locally, and the areas where the Food Hub could bring further benefit. Through discussions with stakeholders, including Nick White, author of the University’s Sustainable Food Policy, and Ivan Higney, Chair of the College Catering Managers Committee, we’ve also been given a better idea as to the priorities and targets the University of Cambridge is setting itself with regards to sustainable food procurement.

Overall, the team concluded that the Food Hub has the potential to help Cambridge colleges better adhere to the Sustainable Food Policy by providing sustainable infrastructure for local food supply and reducing the carbon emissions from the transport of food.

You can read their full report here: Final Report Cambridge Food Hub

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