Carbon footprint labelling trials in University of Surrey food outlets


A significant amount of UK carbon emissions come from the production and processing of food. However, this is an area where consumers have little control over the environmental impact of the food they buy. The aim of this project was to raise awareness among staff and students at the University of Surrey of the environmental impact of food, and to run trials to analyse how greater awareness may change consumers’ behaviour and choices.

This project started as a student-led initiative and evolved into a Living Lab pilot project, led by Dr Lirong Liu. Key partners included the Centre for Environment and Sustainability, student representatives and staff at the Lakeside and Hillside cafes.

The Carbon Footprint of different sandwiches was calculated and a traffic light labelling system was set up in the Lakeside café during June 2021. Information posters were produced to highlight the relative carbon footprint of different sandwiches and explain the traffic light labelling system. During the trial, sales and survey data was collected and analysed.

The top-line findings from the trials showed that customers continued to prioritise taste when choosing their meal, but most participants relayed that they wanted to see the carbon footprint labels used in University cafes permanently. In addition, the trial encouraged the head chef to change the recipe of the high carbon footprint meatball marinara sandwich, to a lower carbon footprint recipe.

Further trials were held at the Hillside restaurant and the results revealed that the labels appeared to have a modest impact. Consumption of red-labelled sandwiches reduced by 3.1%, and consumption of yellow labelled sandwiches increased by 5.1%. Further trials are planned for the hot food counters in future.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

This collaboration is part of Surrey’s work to support the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

3 - Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

12 - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

13 - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.