Food and Drink

Approximately 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions derive from the agricultural system and forestry. This rivals the contribution of the global transport and energy systems. We realise that the food and drink we consume has some of the biggest impacts upon our personal and institutional emissions.

Hands holding potatoes

We are working to make the food and drink served on our campus more sustainable. We work closely with our suppliers to ensure a fair deal for the products we buy, helping to support small businesses and individuals locally and through our international supply chains.

The University is always looking for ways to continually improve the sustainability of the food and drink it sells. Below is a selection of some of the changes we have made.

Beef and lamb

Currently, 72% of the Earth’s ice-free land is used to feed, clothe and support the Earth’s population. Land use is clearly a huge issue, leading to habitat loss and reducing our number of carbon sinks. 

The meat industry is one of the biggest polluters with cattle in particular taking up large amounts of land for grazing. Cattle are also a huge producer of methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide, producing the greatest environmental impact of any food type.   

As consumers, Sheffield staff and students are keen to limit their impact upon the environment. Recognising that mass-produced beef and lamb can be particularly environmentally damaging, in 2019 we decided we would no longer sell pre-packaged beef and lamb sandwiches in our outlets. However, we serve beef burgers and pies in our University-operated pub made from meat sourced from a local butcher. 

We already have a brilliant range of vegetarian and vegan food through our catering system and meat free options in all of our outlets. Sheffield Students’ Union, with whom we work closely, also have a brilliant vegetarian and vegan cafe which is used regularly by staff and students alike.  

We want to do more as we know that our food is a way that we can have a big impact upon our emissions. We have set ourselves tough targets to reduce the environmental impact of our food. For example, we are working with academics from the University’s Department of Psychology to look at the most effective ways of changing behaviour. This is including some nudge techniques, changing the prices of food depending on their environmental impact and labelling the impact that a foodstuff has so that a consumer can make an informed choice.  


Like meat, dairy has a huge impact upon greenhouse gas emissions. We are a large consumer of milk with our coffee consumption leading to around 430,000 pints of milk being consumed across campus every year. 

Milk bottle with coffee beans scattered around

Without the support of the University of Sheffield we wouldn't have had the confidence to invest in our new dairy and it would just have been a matter of time until the current dairy was unable to continue any longer and close.

Eddie Andrew

Owner, Our Cow Molly.

We are determined to limit our emissions from our milk. To do so, we buy all of our milk from local business Our Cow Molly, just four miles outside of Sheffield. This dramatically reduces the distance our milk needs to be transported and reduces carbon emissions. This also shows that we like to support local businesses wherever possible and that we play an important civic role in Sheffield and beyond  

We are currently discussing with Our Cow Molly ways of reducing our plastic waste from this transported milk. We will shortly be trialling the use of reusable milk churns, to replace individual plastic bottles to reduce our consumption of single use plastics. 


Research from the University of Sheffield has shown that products such as coffee, cocoa and tea have long supply chains and there are numerous possibilities for social and environmental exploitation. This is a product that the University wants to understand more about to ensure its procurement practices are having a positive impact. 

When the University's coffee contract last came up for renewal it challenged suppliers to show the sources of their product. Large producers were unable to do this, but a local company, Roastology, stepped in; not only with a great product, but one with known pedigree.

Working with a coffee-growing cooperative called CENCOIC in the Cauca region of Colombia, Roastology could tell the University exactly which farms its coffee was grown on. It would then be processed and shipped directly to Sheffield, were it was roasted only three miles from campus.

As a local, independently owned business we are extremely proud to be working with the University of Sheffield and excited as we look to forge closer links with the CENCOIC cooperative. We have already seen an impact on the additional business from the University which has resulted in one new full time position with another planned, resulting in local job creation.

Bryan Unkles

Director, Roastology

This partnership has also led to research opportunities in Columbia. One project is investigating the links between Colombia’s rich biodiversity and a sustainable bioeconomy. Another is looking at how waste coffee bean cherries can be used in anaerobic digestion for local farmers to cook with, negating the need for the smoky wood fires that are currently used.

Food packaging and single use items

A common issue found in food purchasing is the amount of single-use plastic involved in packaging. The University is always looking at ways of reducing unnecessary packaging in its food and drink offering and staff and students are actively calling on a reduction in disposable packaging. 

Sheffield Students’ Union have introduced a coffee cup levy for single-use coffee cups with funds being ring-fenced for sustainability projects in side the SU. This has shown evidence of increasing numbers of reusable cups being used. Across all University outlets, a 20p discount for reusable cups is available to incentivise their use. 

We are also working with the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures who are researching ways in which reusable cups usage can be increased through psychological techniques. These findings will continue to inform our policy moving forward.  

Zero waste shop

Another innovative initiative from Sheffield Students Union is its Zero Waste Shop. This shop demonstrates the ways in which consumers can ethically and sustainably live their lives. It has numerous foodstuffs available free of packaging from rice and pasta through to various herbs and spices. Staff and students can also purchase reusable coffee cups, refill washing up liquid and even dip into vegan pick and mix!

Community food projects

We support a number of initiatives to try to ensure unwanted, edible food is not wasted but instead goes to where it is needed.

Community fridges

Our community fridges at our halls of residences are where students, the local community and local supermarkets can donate food they don't need or would otherwise go to waste for other students and residents to use. Since launching in 2017, over 30 tonnes of food waste has been donated and taken from the fridges, diverting edible food from landfill.

community fridge in the edge

Food banks

Our residences also work closely with local foodbanks, ensuring that food left over at the end of term does not go to waste. Our staff also run regular food donation events throughout the year through our Green Impact scheme.

Save Our Sandwiches

Save Our Sandwiches is a student volunteering group which aims to collect leftover food from around campus, such as cafes and catered lunches, and distributes it to people in need across the city. Staff are encouraged to contact the group if they have leftover edible food for collection, helping Save Our Sandwiches collect and redistribute hundreds of sandwiches a week.

Our sustainability strategy

We have set the principles and direction for our sustainability strategy