State of the Planet

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Columbia Event Management Brings Sustainability to the Table

Samples of the new Sustainable Living menu. Source: Columbia University, Facilities and Operations

Columbia Event Management will now be offering a Sustainable Living menu. This initiative is the result of the ongoing work with the Earth Institute and will present customers with the possibility to choose a delightful meal with the added value of reducing the environmental impact. This new offer is mainly vegetarian and features sustainable, locally produced ingredients and products and will vary depending on product availability and seasonal tendencies.

The Sustainable Living menu was examined by a student capstone project from the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program, and the results were presented as part of a set of tools and recommendations outlined in the final report. The student group evaluated the overall sustainability of the operations at Faculty House, which included the food consumed at different events hosted by Columbia departments. The menus that are currently offered by University Event Management were compared against the Sustainable Living menu. The analysis was done through greenhouse gas accounting, which considers the impact of a product in terms of its carbon footprint throughout various stages of its life. The study found the Sustainable Living menu to be 63 percent less carbon-emitting than the other menus.

Modified from student capstone project “Advancing Sustainability at Faculty House.”

Sanjay Mahajan, executive director of Event Management, recognized the role and responsibility of UEM in adopting more sustainable practices and highlighted the effect that small actions can have on change. Natalie Unwin-Kuruneri, associate director of education at the Earth Institute and faculty advisor for the capstone project, reflected on the importance of looking at food as a relevant topic in sustainability and how smarter choices can significantly contribute to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Animal products are generally more resource-intensive than plant-based products because they have larger processing and land-use requirements. Seafood has a smaller carbon footprint compared to other animal products as it does not require farmland, care, or livestock. As the capstone project report reveals, a significant amount of the emissions from the menu alternatives come from the inclusion of beef, poultry, tuna, other fish, and eggs. The Sustainable Living menu is mostly plant-based and will only include one fish option. In addition to the new ingredient selection, the Event Management culinary team will also work with local distributors and producers to curate the Sustainable Living menu for each event, minimizing the emissions related to product transportation while supporting local businesses.

Columbia departments now have the option to choose a Sustainable Living menu for their events at comparable prices to other menu options. The team will assess the acceptance and customer preference for this new alternative and remains open to putting together additional sustainable catering options. The Sustainable Living menu is now one of two options on the Event Management menu that supports initiatives in line with the university’s values; the Blue Menu donates a portion of the bill to Columbia Community Service.

Ana Contreras is a student in the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program at Columbia University. 

This post was originally published by Columbia University’s Facilities and Operations.

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