CHarting Emissions from Food Services (CHEFS) Serves Up Insight Into Scope 3 Emissions

September 5, 2012

By Christie-Joy Hartman, Executive Director, Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability, James Madison University; Linda Petee, Sustainability & Risk Management Coordinator, Delta College; Jennifer Andrews, Director of Program Planning & Coordination and Tim Ryder, Undergraduate Climate Fellow, Clean Air-Cool Planet; Rita Alison, National Senior Manager Sustainability & Environmental Stewardship, ARAMARK

(This article appears in the September, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

Food consumption is a potentially significant Scope 3 source not currently included in many universities’ emissions inventories. Faithful readers of The Implementer, may recall an article from 2010 discussing the development of the CHarting Emissions from Food Services (CHEFS) calculator that estimates food-related climate impact. CHEFS is a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) tool that accounts for emissions associated with the production, use, and disposal of campus food-related products. The CHEFS tool, developed by Clean Air-Cool Planet with initial support from ARAMARK, is currently completing a beta test following successful pilot testing in 2011. The beta test entails four campus sustainability coordinators working with ARAMARK staff to collaboratively detail and tally a semester’s worth of campus choices in menu planning, purchasing, and dining-related operations.  The data is entered into the CHEFS web-based interface, producing the food-related carbon dioxide equivalent emissions for each campus.

With finite resources and a myriad of environmental project possibilities, campus sustainability coordinators need to consider and often justify measuring and reporting yet another set of metrics. The intent of CHEFS is to help determine the relative significance of Scope 3 food-related emissions by quantifying the magnitude and effect of the food product lifecycle. For example, preliminary results from one of the beta-testing schools indicate that meat represents 55% of that campus’ total food-related carbon dioxide equivalent emissions and removing one day’s worth of meat reduces approximately 8% of those emissions.  These kinds of results could provide valuable information for prioritizing institutional and individual food purchasing actions. James Madison University (JMU) and Delta College, two of the higher education institutions who are participating in the CHEFS beta test, are investing time in CHEFS with the goals of not only enhancing institutional decision making and informing consumer choice, but also enhancing education.

Delta College, which has a self-run dining service program, has collaborated with pilot projects in the past and found them to be mutually beneficial, and it approached the CHEFS project with the goal that it would serve as the campus food operations base year data.  Delta’s institutional strategic planning leads it to benchmark its programs, to assess progress, and to set measurable goals for continuous improvement.  With the purchasing data Delta collected through the CHEFS pilot, it now has a solid foundation of information from which to identify objectives toward more sustainable dining.  As a start, Delta’s office of sustainability is now developing data entry forms so their food service staff can more easily capture their inventory for a seamless transfer to the CHEFS software moving forward.  They found that CHEFS provided them a template and pointed them in the right direction to start tackling the climate impact of their dining services!

Delta College administrators can utilize the results in the context of their broader institutional emissions profile.  For example, the purchasing data that Delta collected for the beta test, while still quite preliminary, suggests that in some instances food purchases alone have more impact than the total of Scope 1 emissions and nearly half of all Scope 2 emissions.

JMU’s dining services is using CHEFS to obtain a preliminary estimate of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from food-related operations for 2011. A JMU graduate assistant is exploring employing CHEFS to analyze a variety of possible future paths, such as adding more vegetarian dishes, developing seasonal menus, and simply operating more efficiently.  Ideally, the results would be used by ARAMARK in combination with cost and feasibility information to reduce emissions.

JMU’s Office of Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability also hopes to use the results to help achieve one of its main goals–challenging citizens to think critically about their roles as environmental stewards. Dining is a focal point at JMU (where on campus dining is ranked by The Princeton Review in the top 10 in the nation) that presents an opportunity to connect with consumers not necessarily already actively engaged in sustainability conversations. JMU is exploring conducting a second scenario analysis in CHEFS that focuses on individual behaviors such as throwing away less food, utilizing less take-out packaging, and eating less meat. Results could then be communicated to consumers via methods such as the qualitative labeling system that is being developed as part of CHEFS. The analyses itself could provide opportunities for scholarly articles by students and faculty members as well as material for interdisciplinary undergraduate environmental issues courses.

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