Sustainable Catering at the University of Basel, Switzerland: Urban Food Policy Snapshot

by Cameron St. Germain

Part of the Urban Food Snapshot Series

Food Policy: Sustainable Catering at the University of Basel, Switzerland

Location: Basel, Switzerland

  • Population: 169,916 persons (2015)

The University of Basel

  • The oldest university in Switzerland
  •  12,852 students and doctoral students

Food Policy Category: Food Services

Program Goals:

  • For the university to not only shape the future through academia and research, but also engage in its job as a role model for other educational establishments.
  • To create events which are more sustainable on campus.
  • To make the general public and student body more aware of sustainability as a practice in catering.

Program Initiation:

  • In 2012, the Sustainability office was created, which “integrates sustainability as an interdisciplinary topic into all areas of the University of Basel. Founded to take on the role of a catalyst, the Sustainability Office supports and coordinates sustainability initiatives at the University of Basel and implements its own projects in close cooperation with other faculties and departments.”
  • The Living Lab was implemented in 2013, which helped in the creation of this idea of sustainable catering.
    • They worked closely with the university’s caterer, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the climate protection programme.

How it works:

  • The sustainability department works to create a sustainable eatery at the University through the following methods:
    • Buying from local areas where transportation via planes is not needing and also sourcing the during the season to which it is fresh.
    • Increasing the availability/choices of vegetarian meals and also including vegan meals regularly on the menu.
    • Reducing the impact that food waste can cause through careful regulation.
    • Reducing the amount of energy used in cafeterias and kitchens.
  • The sustainability office developed guidelines on how events can be more sustainable by encouraging sustainable catering and the reduction of food waste. The guidelines include a quick guide for smaller events, outlining the most important sustainability actions, sustainability actions for all planning steps, relevant contacts within the university and tips specific to Basel (eg. catering providers offering sustainable services).
  • The University gives individuals the ability to experience this sustainability by opening its doors to the general population for special events, one of which includes the University Night of Science.
  • Since 2015, event organizers at the University of Basel can borrow up to 1750 reusable cups in the Uni’s corporate design that are stored in the University’s cafeteria.
  • Students can engage with the idea of creating a more sustainable campus through the following ways, some examples including:
  • BOOST- A program that allows students to create their own projects which   have the possibility of creating a campus which is more sustainable. In April 2017, one of the BOOST projects is going to implement a “veggie day” in the cafeterias on campus.

Progress to Date:

  • The Sustainable Catering program achieved savings totaling 155,965 kg of greenhouse gases at the University of Basel’s cafeterias between 2012 and 2015. This corresponds to a reduction of 7.82% CO2 equivalents. However, this only includes savings of greenhouse gases based on changes in food selection by the customers. Not included are the savings of greenhouse gases based on improvements in processes in the kitchen and improvements in lightning and air-conditioning in the mensa and the kitchen.
  • More vegetarian meals were selected. All in all, the consumption of meat fell by almost 3%.
  • The quantity of products that arrive in Switzerland by air freight was reduced from 939 kg to 185 kg. It now constitutes 0.18% of total products purchased (2015). Purchases are mainly fresh herbs.
  • Waste from leftover food has been reduced to under 27g per main meal.

Why the Policy/Program is important:

  • It allows the University to focus on long-term sustainability allows the University to educate the general public about sustainability.


Every year goals are revisited by the caterer and the University together. Achievements of the previous year are evaluated and goals for the next year are accordingly revised or newly set.

Learn More:

Point of Contact:

Arne Menn, Sustainability Office

Similar Practices:

  • University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, USA
    • Through campus dining, Notre Dame’s works to create a more sustainable options. Information is kept up with regarding sustainability, including factual information pertaining to local sourcing, sustainability and employee education. They provide vegan/vegetarian options and locally sourced products. Also, recycling and energy conservation play a large role in the efforts to create a more sustainable environment.
  • University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, USA
    • They have created a catering service that is centered on sustainability, including non-breakable coffee mugs and plates which are available for no extra money on the part of the customer. This option is more sustainable because it creates less waste in pertaining to paper cups and plates. They are also cheaper than some other options, including glass mugs and china plates. For now, this option is only available for catered events of 24 people or less, but the catering services are hoping to expand this initiative.
  • The University of Queensland in Queensland, Australia
  • The University works to allow individuals to reduce the carbon footprints of their events through the utilization of sustainable (1) supplies, (2) food, (3) waste and (4) event practices.



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