Can making one menu change, one day a week, make a difference in our effect on the environment?
Seems so. And MDining staff working, with the University of Michigan Sustainable Food Program, are making it happen. According to a study conducted by University of Michigan first-year Sustainable Living Experience students, taking a break from serving meat just one day a week significantly reduced carbon emissions produced from the university’s MDining halls.
In fall 2018, MDining launched the Sustainable Mondays program in every dining hall, providing an opportunity for all students to learn about the campus’ sustainability initiatives. The program highlights sustainable initiatives, success stories, student initiatives, and collaborations with the campus community to enhance the student dining experience. Sustainable Mondays menus offer more plant-based options so students have a chance to try things they might have not experienced in the past.
The student group examined lunchtime data from Mondays and Wednesday to see if Sustainable Mondays had any impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Members of the group were first-year students Javier Contreras, LSA; Madi Foster, LSA; Stephanie Ganzi, LSA; Jillian Haas, Engineering; Alyza Hogston,LSA; Lily Johns, LSA; Paige Lighthammer, Engineering; Henry Pochini,LSA; and Brianna Roest, Engineering.
Guided by Alex Bryan, University of Michigan Sustainable Food Program Manager, who provided expertise on how to accurately measure food sustainability, the students focused on the types and amounts of foods that are used in the East Quad dining hall. Two Mondays and two Wednesdays were compared for the observational study to examine the effectiveness of Sustainable Mondays.
Lunch hours were studied because they had the most consistent amount of students eating across the days examined. This made it possible to compute the average greenhouse gas emissions per person, according to the study. After contacting East Quad dining staff for the ingredient amount and swipes per day, the data was put into multiple websites that calculate greenhouse gas emissions based on food types. With these computed values, the data was analyzed in terms of pounds of carbon produced across various food groupings.
Rachel Lowry, Sustainability intern, explains that MDining works diligently to monitor the best methods for dining needs, "This report aligns with our future research and work in Michigan Dining. Over the last year, we've had two UROP students analyzing and compiling data on our local and sustainable spend as well as overall meat and fish purchases so we can begin to benchmark and track our improvements over time."
Through the investigation, the students found:
- On average, Sustainable Mondays produced 779.9 carbon per pound as opposed to the 1962.6 carbon per pound on Wednesdays.
- When the dining halls do not focus on sustainability, they produce approximately 2.5 times more carbon.
- The most significant cause of greenhouse gas emissions was overwhelmingly from meat, which totalled 2,219.17 pounds of carbon from the two Wednesdays combined, whereas on Mondays it accounted for 236.29 pounds of carbon.
- The only categories of food that saw a noticeable increase in pounds of carbon produced on Mondays compared to Wednesdays were vegetable and dairy. There was an average increase in 16.6 pounds of carbon for vegetables and 204.7 pounds of carbon for dairy, primarily due to the increased amount of these products offered to replace the meat.
- If the cost of the greenhouse gases were to be distributed evenly per person who came to lunch, it would be approximately 0.433 pounds of carbon per person on Monday and 1.033 pounds per person on Wednesday.
“The students’ study shows that Sustainable Mondays do have a positive effect in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions at the university,” says Bryan. “We are very proud of their work. The results of this student-run study will help educate dining hall customers about the effects of the food choices that they make -- and encourage them to take that knowledge outward to the community. It can be the first step in making a significant impact on the environment.”