2020: AYA Guide for Sustainable Meetings


AYA Guide for Sustainable Meetings

AYA project leader: Umberto Olcese

Eating and drinking are – surprisingly but also obviously – an integral part of scientific and work meetings. Holding a cup of coffee or sitting down for a good lunch provides the social context where ideas can be shared informally and new collaborations can originate. But why do most catering choices have such a significant ecological footprint? Just think, for example, of how far the coffee beans have had to travel before ending up in that delicious cup of coffee. Do we really have to socialize over hamburgers, Brazilian coffee or plastic tea bags or can we put our scientific knowledge about climate change into practice and develop sustainable catering?

At AYA we have developed a guide for organizing sustainable meetings, with the goal of reaching the lowest possible footprint that is compatible with achieving the objectives of a proper scientific meeting (sharing knowledge, networking, etc.). We have developed both a practical guide for organizing sustainable meetings in Amsterdam, as well as a quantitative assessment, based on a life-cycle assessment of how much our choices can reduce the footprint of an event.

The guide identifies three key principles that must be followed to reduce a meeting footprint, with a focus on catering:

  1. Keep it local
    Locally produced foods & beverages score significantly lower in terms of their emissions related to transportation. We found a 96% reduction in CO2-equivalent emissions for a locally produced tea and a 60% reduction for a locally produced beer.
  2. Circularity and recyclability
    The higher the reusability of a product, the lower the associated environmental impact. For example, we found that up to a 99% reduction in water usage can be obtained with a circular approach in the production of tea.
  3. Plant-based foods
    Shifting towards plant-based catering has significant potential to reduce the environmental footprint. Not only does the livestock sector contribute to around 14,5 % to total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, but also vegetarian foods generally require less land and resources for production than meat products.

Our project shows that a great reduction in our ecological footprint can be obtained by switching to sustainable catering options. These results have led us to formulate the following goals, to which – we believe – Amsterdam Universities should commit:

  1. Universities should offer sustainable catering as an option, and make it available at all restaurant/bar locations as well as during events. This would allow to greatly reduce the footprint of all instances in which food and drinks are consumed on campus.
  2. All products offered on campus and in events need to be quantitatively assessed not only in terms of cost, but also of sustainability. Therefore, each supplier must be asked to provide a life-cycle assessment of the impact of the products they provide.  This must be made available (at least in terms of key indicators such as CO2-equivalent emissions and water usage) to allow researchers, students and decision makers to make an informed selection of their food and drink choices.
  3. The same data-driven approach, based on a life-cycle assessment, needs to be expanded beyond catering (e.g. travel, printing, furniture, etc.). This would enable to make choices not only based on costs, but on the measurable ecological footprint of all aspect of academic life.

This project was developed in collaboration with CIRFOOD, the catering company at the UvA. We are currently aiming to make sustainable catering the standard option at both the UvA and the VU.

Do you plan to organize a meeting in Amsterdam? Download our leaflet for a list of local suppliers of sustainable products.

Are you interested in more details, and on a quantitative assessment of how to reduce the ecological footprint of a meeting? Download our detailed report with the environmental impact assessment of a regular vs. a sustainable meeting.

For more information about the project, or to learn how to organize a sustainable event at the UvA, you can contact Umberto Olcese (u.olcese@uva.nl).

Interested in organizing a sustainable event at the VU? You can contact AYA member Martijn Stronks (m.c.stronks@vu.nl), who is leading the development of a sustainable catering option at the VU.


title page report sustainability
leaflet sustainable meetings AYA