Sustainable Food

Back in May Cara Nicholson, an undergraduate student at the University of St Andrews, shadowed the Environment Team for a day, collaborating with the team on communications. Have a read through what Cara and Mariya had to say on the topic of sustainable food

We often don’t think about where our food comes from, and even if we do, it can be hard to know what we’re looking for. We’ve all been there, running around the supermarket getting distracted by the special offers and forgetting what we even came in for. But it’s important for us to take a minute just to reflect on what we are actually doing. Are we buying sustainable, fairly traded food? Or are we buying non-organic produce, and sending most of it off to landfill? Well fear not, because here are a few tips on how to make sure that the food on your plate is as sustainable as can be.

So what do we need to consider?


The first thing is Fairtrade and ethical food. There are a lot of different labels, and claims of fairly traded food, but we need to know what they actually mean. Fairtrade food has the well-known label on the packaging: the Fairtrade Mark. It applies to the specific product being sold, and the fairtrade premium you pay goes to disadvantaged workers who are often from developing countries. Fairly traded often means the products are produced ethically and workers are treated well, however the producers are small-scale and can’t afford the fairtrade certification. Even better is to try and buy direct-trade products – meaning the company (e.g. a coffee or a chocolate brand) works directly with the coffee and cocoa producers, cutting out the middle man and providing better value for farmers and workers. Ethical, fairly traded and direct trade food has no universal label, so it can be hard to spot, but is still important to know about. It is focused on protecting workers’ rights throughout a company, instead of just the specific product. So why should we worry about this? It’s important to ensure the food we buy and enjoy does not come at the cost of other people’s suffering and all it takes is a check of the label for the Fairtrade mark.



The next thing to consider is organic food. To be labelled organic, 95% of the ingredients in the food product must be from organically produced plants or animals. This means that it must be produced without the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, animal feed additives or growth regulators. It also rules out most genetically modified foods. This is important to consider for two main reasons. The first is that they are better for your health, with more nutrients and less artificial chemicals. The second is that they are much better for livestock and for the environment, causing a significantly lower environmental impact than non-organic equivalents. So a quick glance at the label to spot the word organic can help you and the environment!



Of all the food that you eat, meat and dairy have the most significant carbon footprint. Eating meat can worsen your health, contributing a lot to ageing. It also has a very harmful effect on the environment, not least because of the land that needs to be deforested to keep the livestock on. The amount of animal feed that needs to be produced is also a huge burden. And it’s expensive to buy meat! Even if you don’t want to give up all your meat to become vegetarian, or even become vegan, simply cutting down on the amount of animal-based protein you eat, buying animal welfare-certified meats such as Red Tractor, and opting for local butchers over big chains can still have a great impact.


But what about the actual foods we choose to buy? Buying vegetarian and vegan options is much better for the environment, but we can still be a little bit careful with our choices. The less processed the food, the more natural and, therefore, the better for the environment it is. Probably the most important thing to consider is for fruits and vegetables – buy seasonal! Know your fruits by the season they grow in. If you buy strawberries in winter, it’s likely that they’ve been shipped in from abroad, harming the environment along the way, and taking lots of intense farming to grow them. Which brings us to another important point – buy local!

Packaging and Waste

Even if we buy all the right foods: Fairtrade, organic, seasonal, vegan food, it is not without its carbon footprint. The majority of food items come in plastic packaging, which can be greatly harmful to the environment – accumulating in fish, birds and sea mammals and ultimately in humans. Trying to buy foods with reduced packaging, such as loose fruits and vegetables, can significantly reduce carbon emissions and pollution. The other issue is food waste. We often buy more than we need, with around half of the food produced in the UK not being eaten. While it isn’t nice to run out of food, splitting your shop into two isn’t so bad given the amount of food – and money- it could save in the long run.


So how can we do this affordably? Fairtrade and organic food can be quite expensive, so what is our best bet for keeping the cost low? Cooking meals from scratch can be cheaper than buying readily prepared options. If you have any garden space, or access to a community garden, growing your own food can be a great option, and can also help as you know exactly how it was grown and prepared. Although buying more than you need can contribute to waste, buying cheaper seasonal food in bulk can be a good option – as long as your remember to portion it and freeze it. That way it lasts a lot longer, and saves you a bit of money along the way. And finally, opting for ‘wonky veg’ – vegetables that don’t conform to specific aesthetical standards, but are just are delicious and nutritious – is significantly cheaper than the conventional ones.

It can sometimes seem daunting to start checking for sustainable food, but just remembering a few simple things can help your health and can have a positive impact on the environment. Look out for the Fairtrade Mark, check whether food is organic, buy less meat, buy local seasonal food and try to only buy what you need. That way, you can make a real difference.

University of St Andrews’ Carbon Footprint

Every year the Environment Team calculates the University’s carbon footprint for the previous fiscal year. Below you can find the data for 2016/17 academic year.

University of St Andrews’ Carbon Footprint

Under the 2009 Climate Change Act all public organisations have a duty to report to the Scottish Government annual carbon (CO2) emissions from business operations. This is why every year we spend a good amount of time pulling up all the information requirewd to calculate our institution’s carbon footprint. But first let’s take a look at what carbon footprint actually constitutes in.

What is a carbon footprint?

Carbon footprint stands for the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted into the atmosphere and is a metric used to estimate the impact a process, a person, or an organisation has on climate change. Carbon, in this case, represents the sum total of all the greenhouse gases, which trap heat into the Earth’s atmosphere, thus causing global warming.

A persons’ footprint translates into the amount of resources she or he uses. This includes the modes and frequency of travel; the type of diet they adhere to; the amount of energy they use; the amount of waste they produce, the products (clothes, electronics, etc.) they buy. In short, every action and purchasing decision we take has a carbon footprint associated with it.

University of St Andrews Carbon Footprint

As well as each person having an environmental impact, so do organisations. Here are the major sources that contribute to University of St Andrews’ carbon footprint:

  • Energy – our energy demands are ever-increasing as the University seeks to grow the number of students and further develop St Andrews as a research focused institution – labs and halls of residences are very energy intensive
  • Water – similarly to our energy demand, the growth of the University results in more water consumption, with the highest demand in halls and labs. How does this create carbon? The water and sewage has to be pumped and treated and that uses electricity.
  • Waste – as landfill waste decomposes it releases methane (CH4) which is 25 times more potent than carbon in trapping heat [1]. Further, there are carbon emissions associated with waste processing and transportation. We want to reduce this as much as possible – moving to zero waste to landfill.
  • Business travel – as an international institution lecturers, researchers and staff are travelling around the UK and the rest of the world. We are also just starting to measure and report our emissions from commuting to and from St Andrews. We do this on an estimate, based on car emissions from University-issued car parking permits and travel surveys. Tell us in the comment section – how do you get to class/work each morning?

Pie chart showing the proportion of carbon emissions from each operation.

For the 2016/17 academic year the University’s carbon footprint amounts to 25,692 tonnes of CO2. This represents a 16% reduction in our carbon emissions from the previous year and 27.7% from our baseline in 2012/13!

Emissions from Electricity (43%) declined from 11,970 to 11,018 tonnes – an 8% saving.

Emissions from Heating (31%) – declined from 10,711 to 8,010 – a 25% reduction.

The overall share of emissions from Travel also fell from 24% to 23%.

These savings occurred thanks to:

  • Greener electricity being supplied by the grid, leading to fewer emissions
  • Fewer travel emissions thanks to fuel and aircraft efficiency improvements
  • The commissioning of the University’s BIOMASS DISTRICT HEATING at Eden Campus, Guardbridge. The biomass boiler went online in the beginning of January 2017 and during its first seven months of operation resulted in a 25% decline in CO2 emissions from heating.

How can staff and students contribute to reducing emissions?

Heating and electricity can both be big sources of emissions savings if used in a smart manner. Keeping radiators at medium to low temperatures and turning the heating off when opening a window would both result in fewer emissions overall. Turning off lights and plugging out electrical appliances further add up to emissions savings. Using LEDs  will both save you money and reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and waste disposal, since LEDs use less energy and last much longer than conventional bulbs. Just over the course of 2017, LEDs worldwide have saved 570 million tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere [2]! Lastly, if you are a University staff member, you can find out your office building’s energy profile by emailing asking for access to the energy monitoring system. Knowing your office building’s profile would allow you to identify any energy intensive areas and make changes accordingly.

If your job involves a lot of business travel, opting for the greenest transportation mode will significantly contribute to our emissions reduction targets. When travelling around the UK – choosing rail over domestic air travel will have the single biggest effect on reducing emissions. The University offers first class rail travel for any business trips outwith Scotland as a way of encouraging more sustainable travel. If you have to travel for business within Scotland, rail, bus, or car share are all less carbon intensive than driving to a destination alone. And in the event there is no other suitable option than driving on your own – you can still bring your emissions down by opting for an e-car from our local car club. For more details on how to book an e-car for business travel, have a read through this information leaflet – E-Car for Staff.




Where are they now? Part 3

Every year the Environment Team gains a new Sustainability Intern whose position lasts for a year. This internship provides the incredible opportunity to work for the University of St Andrews Estates Environment Team, helping to support, develop and implement the sustainability agenda across the campus. Over a series of blogs we have invited some of our interns to answer a few questions about their time as Sustainability Intern and what they have being doing since finishing the position. Meet Lindsay Mackay who was with the Environment Team from 2016 -2017, and whom we spoke with in late January. 

What was your favourite part of your role as Sustainability Officer?

This is a really tough question. If I could I would say the whole job, but I don’t think that would be particularly interesting. My overall favourite part of the role was the fact that it allowed me to work with some fantastic people across the university. As a student in St Andrews I severely under estimated the amount of work that goes into making the university the fantastic place that it is. I know this might sound a little bit obvious, but the amount of work that I was fortunate enough to be exposed to, and the number of dedicated people who are passionate about the university and the students that study there, really overwhelmed me. It was a great privilege! I also loved the engagement and training that I did with students and staff. This part of the role allowed me to utilise my creative side whilst combining those skills with my passion for sustainability. 

Was there a particular highlight of your year within the Environment Team?

The biggest highlight for me of the year within this position (apart from meeting so many fantastic people!) was finishing the Environmental Facilitator training module for staff members. This module is open to any staff member within the university who is interested in the environment and how they, and their department, can be more sustainable. This required a huge amount of work and time, but it provided great insight into many different areas of the university and the work that is going on behind the scenes to embed sustainability throughout the whole institution. 

Do you think you were particularly sustainable before the role? How did your attitudes to the environment and your own behaviours change over the year?

Having studied Sustainable Development as part of my degree in St Andrews I knew the effects that humans are having on our precious world, but I wasn’t 100% practicing what I was being taught. Over the past two years, through my work experience and personal research, my eyes have been opened to the true impacts of mankind on our environment, and that has really challenged me. Before this position I did things including, cycling or walking to work, recycling and trying to reduce food waste as much as possible. Now I’m focusing on how I can be more of a responsible consumer through the things I buy and reducing how much I purchase. My role at the university also inspired me to pursue a career within the sustainability sector and I’m so thankful for the experience I had and all that was given to me. My one regret is that I didn’t get involved with groups including Transition during my undergraduate career and I would strongly encourage anyone to join the fantastic and inspiring community of people that Transition is! 

Tell us what you have been up to since finishing your position as Sustainability Intern!

Since finishing my position in St Andrews I have moved to London! A rather big change going from a small harbour town to one of the largest capitals in the world! I am now working for a company called JLL as a Sustainability Analyst within the Upstream Sustainability Services team. We work closely with clients (mainly within the property sector) to become more sustainable in their businesses across a wide range of environmental, social and economic topics. We aim to help our clients achieve their sustainability vision for their business, and to help them pursue ambitious and sector leading targets. I am loving the position and have learnt so much over the past 4 months that I have been apart of the team, and I’m looking forward to seeing what 2018 holds!

Any green New Year resolutions?

Over the latter end of this year I have been doing a lot of reading around sustainability within the fashion industry and the social, economic and environmental issues that run throughout supply chains. One of my New Years resolutions will be to buy more sustainable clothing from ethical companies who strive for transparent supply chains so I know that my money is going where I want it to go, and not fuelling issues like slave labour. Another New Years resolution is to reduce the amount of packaging I purchase and use, and to use my keep cup for coffee whenever possible! 


Fairtrade Fortnight 2018

Monday saw the start of the annual Fairtrade Fortnight – a festival originating with the Fairtrade Foundation. University of St Andrews has been a Fairtrade University since 2007 and as such partakes in the celebrations at the end of February and beginning of March every year.

The 2018 Fairtrade Fortnight runs from Feb 26th until Mar 11th and University of St Andrews’ Environment Team, along with a few student societies and Transition, have an extensive programme of events open to both staff and students, as well as to the public.

What does Fairtrade actually mean?

Fairtrade comprises of “social, economic and environmental standards that are set for both companies and the farmers and workers who grow the food we love. For farmers and workers the standards include protection of workers’ rights and the environment, for companies they include the payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and an additional Fairtrade Premium to invest in business or community projects of the community’s choice.” (

Fairtrade, as a certification body, conducts independent audits, ensuring those standards are met along a product’s supply chain. When all of the ingredients that can be Fairtrade in a given product are confirmed to comply with standards (e.g. sugar and cacao powder in chocolate chip cookies), the product is issued the FAIRTRADE Mark – a logo widely recognised by consumers, which signals the product’s sustainability credentials.

In previous posts we have covered Fairtrade in much detail, and if you would like to learn more about the cause and certification criteria, have a read through our blog posts or visit the Fairtrade Foundation website.

Fairtrade in action

University of St Andrews continues to expand its fairtrade product range and 2017 saw the introduction of fairtrade bananas across campus. Currently 100% of bananas, sugar, coffee and hot chocolate, served on campus are fairtrade-certified, with 100% of tea, served in student accommodation and sold in University-owned retail outlets, also fairtrade certified. Our chefs are constantly experiment with different fairtrade ingredients such as rice in order to find the best fit for needs of such a large institution as ours.

What events can I attend this year?

A few of the events we have lined up for the first week of Fairtrade Fortnight include:

  • A Fairtrade Tea and Coffee afternoon – Wednesday (Feb 28th), 4:30 – 6pm, Byre Theatre. This is a LiftShare Meet & Greet event – promoting the University’s car sharing scheme – and if you are in need of some caffeine and would like to learn more about LiftShare, stop by and don’t worry about staying for the whole event as it is a drop-in session!
  • Another exciting event happening in the Byre is the screening of the documentary ‘The Chocolate Case’A group of journalists become aware of child slavery in the cocoa industry and, since slavery is a crime, they idea is to get convicted for eating chocolate. When the big companies refuse to cooperate by producing a slave-free chocolate bar, the team decides to do accept the challenge and make their own. If you are curious to see how well they managed and would like to try the slave-free chocolate bar, head over to the Byre Theatre on Friday (March 2nd) at 6pm. This is a FREE ticketed event and you can get your ticket either at the door, or pre-book online at
  • Thirdly, we have a Fairtrade Vegan Bake-off taking place in the Mansfield building on Sunday (March 4th). You can enter the competition or simply attend and enjoy the finished result. We still have a few spaces left for competition entries and VegSoc are offering a prize for the winner (for more information, contact VegSoc directly). Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite.

We have many more events planned for you, most of which are FREE and include fairtrade goodies GIVEAWAYs, so please check out the event programme below!

Links to Facebook events:










All events tagged with a star (*) are free of charge and will be accompanied by a fairtrade chocolate giveaway!

[1] Source:

Fairtrade Christmas

As the holidays approach we are flooded with consumer adverts, deals and sales, finding it hard to resist spending on things we may not even need, or end up never using. However, we could use the this time of the year to vote with our wallets on more sustainable and ethical gifts and products. Read on to find out what the University of St Andrews does to promote ethical food and consumer products.

With the Christmas holidays and Boxing Day upon us, it is a good time to consider the things we purchase beyond their monetary value.

Sometimes the reason why a product is very cheap is due to someone else baring the cost along the production value chain. And when the goods we purchase are produced in countries, where labour protection laws are either non-existent or weekly enforced, it is the workers who are deprived of something, in order for us to have the cheaper option.

University of St Andrews recognises this problem and tries to correct for it by supplying fairtrade-certified products, where possible. At the time of writing all of our bananas, sugar, coffee, hot chocolate and the majority of our tea is fairtrade, with all non-fairtrade tea being supplied by a non-profit, the proceeds of which fund educational charities.

Our catering and procurement departments constantly look to expand the University’s fairtrade product range, educating staff and students about its importance, but also listening to their feedback. For instance, after a University-wide student survey in spring 2017, where the majority of students indicated a preference towards fairtrade bananas, all of the bananas offered on campus are now fairtrade. Further, our chefs regularly try out new fairtrade products and brands, trying to find a good fit for their catering requirements, while procurement works hard to identify fairtrade suppliers able to meet the demand from a large institution such as ours.

Building up on this good record, the Museum of the University of St Andrews (MUSA) has introduced a fairtrade product range in their gift shop, as part of the exhibition – Encountering Africa: Henri Gaden’s Life and Photography in Colonial French West Africa, 1894-1939.

This temporary exhibition showcases the photographs of Henri Gaden (1867-1939), a French colonial officer who lived in West Africa for almost 45 years. An ethnographer, linguist and gifted photographer, Gaden captured on camera a rich variety of encounters with Africa. His photographs provide an important pictorial record of military campaigns, colonial life at French outposts, local communities and portraits of individuals he met in West Africa.

As MUSA’s Visitor Service Team wanted to be respectful of the culture and people, represented in the photography exhibition, they decided to source fairtrade merchandise, in support of African producers.

In MUSA’s gift shop you can find a range of fairtrade bags made from recycled plastics – a big environmental issue around the coast of Ghana where clean water is routinely consumed from non-biodegradable plastic sachets which are then discarded on the streets.








In addition to the bags, the shop offers wooden hand-made decorations and olivewood beaded coffee spoons, carved in Kenya. These products are made by people who previously carved in ivory and have had to adapt their trade due to the ban on poaching. All of the products are sourced from Tilnar Art, which is a BAFTS-certified supplier.


Buying more ethically-sourced products is a great New Year’s resolution, and if you are considering this, make sure to stop by MUSA for some great ethical and environmentally-friendly gifts when it opens again on January 4th!

Meanwhile, if you still haven’t done your Christmas shopping and are looking for some last-minute gift ideas, why not have a look at this Fairtrade Foundation gift guide or browse through their website?

And for more sustainable gift-wrapping options such as Japanese fabric(furoshiki) or newspaper wrapping check out this interesting blog post.

Happy Holidays from the Environment Team and keep on being sustainable!


Encountering Africa is on display at MUSA until 25 February 2018.



Welcome, class of 2021!

With the academic year fast approaching we are excited to welcome a new cohort of students to University of St Andrews. It could be overwhelming for some when moving to a new place and learning your way around town. This is why as a recent graduate our sustainability intern, Mariya Simeonova, is here to offer some advice about how you can foster a low-carbon way of living as soon as you arrive in St Andrews.

Hello and welcome, class of 2021! I know you must be equal parts excited and terrified about starting this new chapter of your life, and I would try to ease the load a bit by providing you with some handy and very concise information about everything sustainable in St Andrews.

Grocery Shopping and Cooking

Many of you will be in catered halls, however, in case of getting tired of take-aways on weekend nights, here are some tips for grocery shopping and food preparation.

Most grocery shops in town offer a variety of organic, and fairtrade products at affordable prices, so you are spoiled for choice. There also are many locally-owned shops offering regional and local food with minimal packaging, resulting in a lower carbon footprint. Further, Transition University of St Andrews runs a non-profit online and pop-up shop for affordable local, organic and fairtrade produce called The Tree, so make sure to check their website.

When it comes to food preparation, chopping the produce into small pieces, allows for a faster cooking process and less energy consumption. Transition also offer various Skillshare events on how to cook and prepare food staples such as bread, chocolate and hummus, which you would otherwise buy from the store with all the packaging they come in.


Moving on to the topic of commute, most University halls and buildings are within a walking distance from each other and the town centre. Yet, if you are based at DRA or Albany Park, you might be tempted every once in a while to call a taxi. Yet, there are so many cheaper and more sustainable options for you to consider.


Walking is not only a great exercise but it also stimulates creativity and mindfulness. Plus the beautiful wildlife and architecture you come across when exploring St Andrews on foot is worth the walk! If you live in DRA for example and would like to do some grocery shopping, why not take a short cut through Lade Braes and head over to Aldi, Morrison or M&S?


Cycling is a great way to travel carbon-free, and we work hard on ever-improving the cycling infrastructure in and around St Andrews. You can purchase a bicycle at some of the bike sales organised during Freshers’ Week, and cycling lights and robust bike locks can be found at a cost-price form the University Shop – just go in and ask for them as they are not on display. And if you miss the bike sale at the beginning of the academic year, fear not! Transition runs a bike hire scheme, lending bicycles equipped with everything you might need.

Longer distance

If you would like to explore North-East Fife or even further, why not take advantage of your student discount and buy a week pass for public transport. The bus station is very central, the route network is good and you get free WiFi on board! And, in case you need to travel further afield, Leuchars railway station is just 20 minutes away by bus.

Electric vehicles

Our university has partnered with E-car to create our very own car club! If you want to explore a route,not serviced by public transport, are moving house, or need a car for any other reason, we’ve got you covered! Our car club has a fleet of ten all-electric vehicles and a network of charging stations across campus, all at your disposal for an affordable price.

How to get involved

There is such a wide variety of environmentally-themed student societies and local organisation, that we even have our very own Green Fayre at the start of Fresher’s Week. If you would like to meet our team and the rest of the ‘green’ societies and organisations, on Monday 11th September come along to the lawn, located between the University Library and the International Relations Building. There will be lots of friendly people to meet and chat with, live music, lots of freebies and maybe even some delicious food!

In conclusion…

For the purpose of brevity, this post doesn’t even begin to cover all the sustainable initiatives taking place across campus and the opportunities and amenities you have at your disposal. Hopefully I didn’t overwhelm you and will get the chance to chat about sustainability with some of you at Green Fayre!

The New Sustainability Intern

This week the Environment Team welcomed their new Sustainability Intern, Mariya Simeonova, to the team.

Mariya recently graduated from the University of St Andrews with Geography and Management (BSc JH). She is looking forward to taking over and developing the projects that Lindsey Mackay, the previous Sustainability Intern, has been working hard on over the past year. Having spent four years studying about sustainability and environmental management, Mariya is keen to apply that knowledge to her new role and contribute to the University’s sustainability agenda.

Over the next year, Mariya will be concentrating on outreach and engagement with the student community, university staff and local residents. Mariya’s main role consist in collaborating with university departments and units on sustainability initiatives such as the Environmental Facilitators Network, Fairtrade and the annual Travel Survey. Further, she will be working alongside Transition and student societies to deliver a calendar of environmentally-themed events including Green Fayre, Green Week and Fairtrade Fortnight.

She will also support the other members of the team: David Stutchfield (Sustainability Manager) and Barbara Aitken (Environment Officer) on their projects and the development of the university’s wider sustainability agenda.

You can stay up to date with what the Environment Team are working on through their Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram.

If you would like to get in contact with Mariya directly please don’t hesitate to send her an email at

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