EPFL restaurants commit to sustainability

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Since the beginning of the school year 2020, the food on the plate at EPFL restaurants has changed… and the catering unit is just getting started!

When Bruno Rossignol took over as head of EPFL’s Catering and Shops Unit (RESCO) in April 2019, he had a bold idea – to rethink the entire food supply chain, from producer to consumer. His vision included revamping the menus on offer, turning EPFL’s empty plots of land into vegetable gardens, reducing or even wiping out food waste, measuring the carbon impact of our catering services, banning single-use cutlery, creating a network of local producers and suppliers with the help of the caterers, and offering seasonal products.

He put these goals together into an ambitious ten-year strategy that he unveiled in January 2020 and, together with EPFL President Martin Vetterli, he drafted a charter outlining EPFL’s commitment to sustainable catering.

Healthier choices

EPFL caterers stopped using foods containing palm oil and glutamates – often found in sauces, stock and soups – in the spring of 2020. They also stopped importing poultry from Brazil; all meat is now Swiss-sourced; and half of all fruits and vegetables are certified, seasonal and produced in Switzerland.

Our restaurants began offering more vegetarian options this semester – meatless dishes now account for half of their menus. In late September, the chefs began applying what they had learned from their training on nutriMenu – a scientific tool that evaluates and corrects the nutritional quality of meals according to national recommendations. It helps avoid dishes that are high in salt, fat and sugar. Campus restaurants also developed a new calendar of seasonal produce to help ensure that their menus comprise only the products available during that time of year.

« RESCO also introduced the requirement that half of the dishes offered at EPFL restaurants must be vegetarian, in response to the fact that meat and fish account for 26% of the carbon footprint from food. The School will open an entirely vegan/vegetarian restaurant in 2021. »

Updating our caterers

Our Lausanne campus currently has over 30 catering points. As part of the strategy to overhaul EPFL’s catering services, RESCO issued an invitation to tender in order to gradually update the School’s service providers. The invitation is taking place in phases between June 2020 and 2022, and the first set of new service providers will begin working in 2021. RESCO also introduced the requirement that half of the dishes offered at EPFL restaurants must be vegetarian, in response to the fact that meat and fish account for 26% of the carbon footprint from food. The School will open an entirely vegan/vegetarian restaurant in 2021.

Local produce

RESCO is working with EPFL Sustainability and local farmers to enhance its partnership with the Bassenges farm, located in front of the SwissTech Convention Center. This farm – now fully organic – started holding a farmer’s market on 21 July 2020. It will begin supplying produce to EPFL caterers in November; talks are also under way with vegetable growers.

Smaller carbon footprint

With 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions coming from the food industry, EPFL has made a commitment to reduce its food-related carbon footprint. The School’s food sustainability laboratory – the first of its kind in Switzerland – has developed a platform for research on catering, food, water and food-waste management. The lab regularly analyses EPFL’s catering- and food-related carbon footprint, with the support of three partner companies: Beelong, which looks at the environmental impact of food purchases, Quantis, which measures products’ carbon footprints, and Kitro, which offers innovative food-waste solutions.

The initial results of the lab’s work came out in June 2020, and a more granular assessment based on the campus running at full capacity will be available in February 2021. The full analysis is scheduled to take place over four years. RESCO will use the findings to update the list of food products available at EPFL.

Updated services for the EPFL community

Starting this semester EPFL restaurants are offering meals, consisting of three items, for students at reduced prices – between CHF 5.50 and CHF 7.50 each. And to help eliminate food waste, which accounts for 8% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, the School has rolled out the Too Good To Go app. With this app, anything left unsold at our catering points is given away to the EPFL community.

All vending machines selling candy bars and soft drinks will be removed from campus by 2023. They will be replaced with “Localomates,” or machines offering local, healthy, fresh, certified and sustainable products. The Localomates will be tested in a pilot project at the Rolex Learning Center in January 2021. The goal is to offer products that are economically viable, socially responsible, environmentally friendly, well balanced and culturally diverse.

The Localomates initiative is being carried out jointly by RESCO, the Prométerre association and the Canton of Vaud, and will be implemented by Dallmayr, a local gourmet-food provider. Suppliers for the new machines are still being selected, although some have already been chosen: Léguriviera (80% of whose products come from Vaud), Kambucha, and Vivi Kola (a producer of Swiss-made colas). The Localomates will offer baked goods, dairy products, takeaway dishes and a range of drinks – but not bottled water, as more water fountains will be installed around campus.

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