MCURC & Coolfood: A Partnership Helping Higher Education Tackle Climate Change Through Food
Maximize your institution’s climate action by taking advantage of these best-in-class communities to reduce food-related emissions
The Menus of Change University Research Collaborative (MCURC) and Coolfood share a commitment to helping colleges and universities reduce their food-related emissions by 25% by 2030. We’ve partnered to bring the latest science and robust networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities to support colleges and universities in reducing food-related emissions.
MCURC helps colleges and universities work together to reduce food-related emissions through research, education, and innovation – establishing metrics, collective targets, and a community of best practices that empower members with an enhanced understanding of the health and environmental impact of our collective purchases along with data-driven insights to help accelerate progress – while leveraging combined purchasing power toward shared goals.
Coolfood links colleges and universities with a worldwide movement of hospitals, cities, foodservice companies, and more – each committed to a science-based target to reduce food-related emissions and that receive individualized data analysis, consumer-centered menu badging and marketing, and world-class partnership support from Coolfood.
Between 2019-2021, MCURC’s cohort of universities tracked nearly 70 million pounds of protein purchases and saw a collective 11% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions per pound of food purchased among participating institutions. This represents a 40% contribution toward its 11-year target over just two years–and across 24 institutions. All together, this emissions reduction is equivalent to avoiding 45,000 roundtrip cross-country flights and saving an entire year’s worth of daily showers for nearly 218,000 people.
Early adopters of the Coolfood Pledge have reduced food-related greenhouse gas emissions per plate by 21% through 2021. The Coolfood movement now encompasses food providers serving approximately 3.5 billion meals every year. If the full group of Coolfood Pledge members hit the 25% reduction target, it would reduce annual emissions by nearly 6.4 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year – an amount that equates to removing more than 1.3 million vehicles from the road, or all of the registered vehicles in Chicago.
Starting in 2016, Stanford University and World Resources Institute’s Better Buying Lab – an ideas incubator that brought together food providers and behavior change experts that would eventually lead to the Coolfood initiative – teamed up to identify best-in-class strategies to help food providers tackle their food-related emissions.
As the co-founder of the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative (MCURC), R&DE Stanford Dining was early to recognize the power of leveraging campus dining to create change in food systems. Inspired by an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review describing the framework of Collective Impact, leaders at the MCURC wondered if they might apply that framework to drive purchasing shifts toward lower-emissions foods across the MCURC network. At the same time, WRI was working on how to create purchasing shifts across the food service sector, and began researching the environmental targets and metrics that could be used to set the right level of ambition and track progress. WRI developed a tool to measure greenhouse gas emissions related to food purchases, which would eventually become the Coolfood Calculator.
WRI and MCURC partnered during 2017 and 2018 to pilot test the annual food purchase data collection process and the prototype emissions calculator with MCURC’s growing network of member institutions. This partnership and the pilot test led MCURC to establish the Collective Impact Initiative as a permanent workstream within MCURC. WRI launched the Coolfood Pledge in 2019, and both organizations set a collective, science-based target to reduce food-related emissions by 25% by 2030.
WRI provided subject matter expertise on selecting emission factors, calculation approaches, and target-setting. MCURC provided a wealth of food purchasing data, stakeholder buy-in across pilot institutions, and demonstrated initial proof of concept for the data collection and for the emissions calculation approach that is now used by both initiatives.
Each initiative provides unique insights and value to participating organizations, and we continue to align on opportunities to advance research and networking among members. These two initiatives have gained considerable momentum since their early days, made demonstrable progress to reduce the climate impact of the food their members serve, and now encompass more than 100 institutions dedicated to advancing delicious climate action.
The MCURC is a global network of forward-thinking scholars, foodservice leaders, executive chefs, and administrators for colleges and universities who are accelerating efforts to move people toward healthier, more sustainable, and delicious foods using evidence-based research, education, and innovation. We use campus dining halls as living laboratories for behavior change. Spanning 70 institutions and nearly 300 members, and jointly led and co-founded by The Culinary Institute of America and Stanford University, together our vision is cultivating the long-term well-being of all the people and the planet—one student, one meal at a time.
Community Manager | Menus of Change University Research Collaborative
Coolfood is a ground-breaking initiative from World Resources Institute that helps major food providers use cutting-edge environmental and behavioral science to scale healthy, climate-friendly meals that benefit people and the planet. Its members span foodservice companies, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, cities, and universities predominantly across Europe and North America, but also with locations in Latin America, Asia, and Australia.
Head of Coolfood Membership Development