UBC Climate-Friendly Food System (CFFS) Label Evaluation on behaviour food choices

How climate-friendly are your food at UBC? Labels encourage more sustainable food choices and change the way we eat, according to recent studies. 

This first UBC Climate -Friendly Food System Label research project was carried out in three main phases from Summer 2021 to May 2022 where the research teams tested different icon iterations’ impact on the UBC community behaviour.


Phase 1: The 3 tiered colour system (red, yellow, green) has been tested in the first phase (August to September 2021) at Mercante pizzeria on the UBC Vancouver campus as a first icon to indicate the climate-friendliness of a meal (Graphic design by Helen Eady, Creative Co).

Pilot 2: A traffic-light system has been developed for the second phase (October to January 2022) at Mercante pizzeria and Open Kitchen managed by Food Services as a second icon to measure impact of food choice on student behaviour. Here is the poster that has been developed as complementary information to give to inform UBC Community on the CFFS Label purpose (Graphic design by Helen Eady, Creative Co).

Phase 3: A single happy planet icon (Graphic design by Mallory Lupick) focusing only on a positive message has been selected thought 3 side-by-side concept mock-ups to represent the UBC Climate-Friendly Food System Label from February to June 2022. Two UBC dinning halls located in campus residences participated in the study. One was the treatment location, while the other was a control site.

A food meal labeled with the happy planet icon means that this food menu item has at least a 50% lower environmental footprint per 100 grams than other items.

SEEDS pilot project phase 3 tested in collaboration with Food Services at Open Kitchen dining hall, 2022 (Photo credit: Laure Dupuy).

This project shows how people from different backgrounds and expertise can work together towards the same goal, promoting the Climate-Friendly Food Systems at UBC.

In light of the climate emergency, for most of those consulted as well as the observed sales results, most of UBC community want to be more informed about the environmental impact of our food choices. 

A simple, easy-to-understand label icon showing colour range seems to be the right direction to take on UBC’s campus as a next step to expend the Climate-Friendly Food System (CFFS) Label.

Student perspective

Yu Luo,  PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at UBC

Yu Luo work under the supervision of Dr. Jiaying Zhao, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at UBC and the Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Sustainability for the CFFS Label Evaluation research.

Background and interests

Yu Luo is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at UBC. His research focuses on applying behavior insights to address environmental issues (e.g., plastic pollution, and climate change)

Yu Luo plan to continue collaborating with academic, industry, and government partners to conduct research on mitigating environmental issues.

He learned about the Climate-Friendly Food System (CFFS) Label project from his supervisor, Jiaying, since I have led many environmental projects in his lab.

The CFFS label project aligned with the topic of his PhD dissertation. His dissertation focuses on how to use Behavioural interventions to tackle environmental issues. Implementing CFFS labels to change consumers’ food choices on campus perfectly matched his dissertation.

“This project gave me a great opportunity to test out behavioral interventions in a real-world context and the findings of this project can contribute to solving a real challenge at UBC as I led the field experiments and online surveys in Phases 1 and 2 of the project” said Yu Luo.

On the phase 1 and phase 2, findings showed that the majority of survey’s participants were supporting the implementation of the CFFS Label on UBC campus and the results showed that adding a label to a menu item shifted participants’ food choices from high GHG emission food to low GHG emission food.

CFFS Label impact & next steps

According to Yu Luo: “If we implement the CFFS label at all food services locations on campus, we will see a large reduction in GHG emissions from food systems at UBC. Ideally, I hope that we can implement the CFFS Label in all restaurants at UBC, even at private food providers on campus that are not part of UBC Food services.

The SEEDS team and all our partners were very supportive throughout the project. They helped us find the key contact person for a specific request, implement the CFFS Label at various locations, and extract the sales data that we needed. It was fantastic to work with a team in which everyone shares the same vision and works toward the same goal“.

Finally, Yu Luo conclude on the following benefits he get from this SEEDS research community-based collaboration: “With this SEEDS opportunity, I had a chance to work with a large team. It helped me gain communication and team skills. Importantly, this project gave me an opportunity to test out behavioral interventions outside a laboratory context“.

UBC First Climate-Friendly Food System (CFFS) Label: Making Sustainable Food Choices across a multi-actor collaboration

This innovative multi-actor project was made possible thanks to the skills, passion, and commitment of the students and faculty members through a strong collaboration with Food Services supported by the Climate-Friendly Food System Action Team, working over the past years to develop, pilot and evaluate UBC’s first Climate-Friendly Food System (CFFS) Label in food outlets across UBC campus.

UBC aims to operate a climate-friendly, just and accessible food system which means reducing our GHG food systems footprint through food production, procurement, provision, consumption, waste and recovery.

Climate-Friendly Food System (CFFS) Research Team Meeting Big Team for a meeting at Mercante pizzeria. The researchers say the biggest environmental impact will be to wean people off meat. Photograph: Liska Richer.

Thanks to a novel methodology developed by on of the Research team, they were able to assess greenhouse (GHG) emissions, nitrogen, and water footprint associated with UBC’s food dining halls 1655 recipes during the pilot to evaluate and inform the “climate-friendliness” of food.

Why it is crucial to create a Climate-Friendly Food System at UBC?

From a global perspective, food systems are an enormous driver of climate change and contribute to more than one-third of global GHG emissions equivalent to around 34% of emission.

Based on UBC’s overall emissions (Scope 1, 2, and 3), food emissions represent 21% of UBC’s overall emissions for 2019, accounting for over 29,000 tCO2e per year.  Based on UBC’s extended impact (scope 3 emissions), food emissions represent 31% of these emissions and are the second-highest after commuting. It is anticipated that food emissions may become UBC’s largest emissions category as other sources of UBC GHGs emissions reduce.

In an effort to tackle this, UBC’s Climate Action Plan 2030 has set a target to achieve a 50% reduction in food systems emissions by 2030 (on a 2019 baseline).

How do we determine what foods are climate-friendly?
The GHG emissions, nitrogen, and water footprints of each menu item are calculated by summing up the weight of every raw ingredient multiplied by their respective footprint factors. Ingredient footprint factors are determined according to their category in the Cool Food Calculator, which provides data on the amount of GHGs emitted during the food item’s life cycle (production, distribution, processing but excluding cooking emissions and associated food waste). Following UBC’s Climate Action Plan reduction goals for food systems, the Climate-Friendly Food Label was assigned to menu items whose composite footprint is 50% of the baseline in 2019.

The nitrogen footprint factors were provided by the Food label toolkit from Allision Leach (2016), and the water footprint factors are publicly available (Poore & Nemecek (2018)). The nitrogen and water footprint factors were recalculated for each food category in the GHG emissions factors list to maintain consistency and improve calculation efficiency.

Pilot 2: A traffic-light system has been developed for the second phase (October to January 2022) and added on some menu items at Mercante pizzeria and Open Kitchen managed by Food Services to measure the impact of a label on food choice student behaviour. Here is the poster that has been developed as complementary information to inform UBC Community on this label (Graphic design by Helen Eady, Creative Co).

This project has been led by the SEEDS Sustainability Program, which catalyzes student-led applied research and interdisciplinary partnerships to advance climate action at UBC. This project is in partnership with UBC Food Services, UBC’s Climate-Friendly Food System (CFFS) Action Team, Vancouver School of Economics (UBC Faculty of Arts), Department of Statistics (UBC Faculty of Science), Department of Psychology and the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability.

Student perspectives

Silvia Huang supervised by Juan Diego Martinez have done outstanding work and most of the heavy lifting to build the framework and assessment methodology that allow the data team to evaluate UBC Food Services menu ingredients to attribute a Climate-Friendly impact score on it.

Silvia and Juan played integral roles in advancing the CFFS Label.

Juan Diego Martinez, PhD student in the Institute of Resource Environment and Sustainability (IRES) who supervised CFFS Label Silvia Huang’s work.

Silvia Huang, Climate-Friendly Food System (CFFS) Label Data Analyst in charge of the CFFS Label framework and assessment methodology elaboration and development.

Silvia Huang’s perspective

Graduated from UBC with a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Statistics, in autumn 2022, Silvia will begin a master’s degree in analytics at the University of Chicago next September.

Silvia aims to pursue a career in data science and analytics to find and execute solutions to overcome challenges brought by the increasingly digital world.

She was enrolled in the UBC Science Co-op program and chose the Climate-Friendly Food System (CFFS) Label project as her first co-op job.

This project’s goal aligns with her own interest in using data to make a social impact. She was ecstatic to be in charge of building a data analysis framework from the ground up, which was a huge challenge that greatly improved her problem-solving and teamwork abilities.

Silvia work for the CFFS Label project as a data analyst. Her main responsibility has been to build an evaluation framework that can automate the evaluation process and perform life cycle analysis for large-scale recipes’ data.

The Climate-Friendly Food System (CFFS) Label impact according to Silvia

The CFFS Label is a simple and effective method of indicating the climate-friendliness of meals that students buy on a daily basis. Students would be able to learn more about the food they eat and make more climate-friendly meal choices if we could provide more information behind the CFFS Label, such as the CFFS attributes data and their impact on climate.” said Silvia.

Her goal for the CFFS Label was to create a standardized method of menu item assessment and labeling criteria that can be used by universities and institutions across North America.

According to Silvia: “The most interesting aspect of working with SEEDS Sustainability Program is learning how people from different backgrounds and expertise can work together towards the same goal, promoting the Climate-Friendly Food Systems at UBC. Therefore, I learned to approach problems from different angles and come up with different solutions. This also poses some challenges, such as how to solve problems while meeting the needs of each team member and client.

Aside from the interpersonal skills Silvia quickly developed, working with SEEDS Sustainability Program allows her to see things from a bigger picture that does not only focus on what she does but also from the perspective of a large team.

More information: Making Sustainable Food Choices | UBC Campus & Community Planning

More questions about the project? Please send an email to seeds.info@ubc.ca

The Value of Research in Creating Bird-Friendly Campuses

Cross-posted from FLAP Canada, originally written by Dr. Krista De Groot — a Landbird Biologist and the BC Breeding Bird Survey Coordinator with Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada.

High collision mortality was documented during winter and migration spurs conservation action at the University of British Columbia.

Bird-safe window treatment featuring a Varied Thrush at the University of British Columbia. Artwork created by Derek Tan (Biodiversity Research Centre, UBC). Photo: Krista De Groot

We recorded 152 collision deaths at our 8 study buildings across 225 days of standardized surveys. However, after applying correction factors for carcasses missed due to carcass removal by scavengers (and people), and for searcher error, we estimated that 281-486 collision fatalities occurred at these buildings during the same period. Given that there are 224 similarly-sized buildings on campus, annual mortality may be as high as 10,000 birds/year at UBC. We also found that even after accounting for their abundance on campus, Varied Thrushes were 77 times and Spotted Towhee were 58 times more likely to collide with buildings, compared to average species. These western North American species are new to the list of species most vulnerable to collision mortality.

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Biodiversity for Climate Action: Upcoming CCUB Report

Although biodiversity loss and climate change are priority issues on both local and national government agendas, they are sometimes perceived as separate challenges with significant trade-offs in resource allocation. However, more often than not, they are interconnected issues that can both impact or resolve one another. As part of the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE), UBC Climate Crisis in Urban Biodiversity (CCUB) is developing a report to help illustrate some of these intersecting areas.

A draft graphic from the report, displaying the complexity of interactions between climate, biodiverse ecoystems and their human inhabitants.

Entitled “UBC Vancouver Campus: Urban Biodiversity for Climate Mitigation and Adaptation” and developed in collaboration with experts across UBC faculty and operational staff, the report will aim to showcase two key types of research that can offer insight on leveraging biodiverse ecosystems as climate mitigation and adaptation solutions.

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David Suzuki Foundation’s Butterflyway Project: A SEEDS Citizen Science Collaboration

Cross-posted from the UBC Botanical Garden’s Sustainability Blog

UBC biology student Alex Wong shares his insights from working with the citizen science project, the Butterflyway Project, and the importance of citizen science in nurturing people’s love for nature and involvement in conservation. 

In late 2020, a collaborative effort between UBC Botanical Garden, the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF), Dr. Michelle Tseng, Assistant Professor of Botany at UBC, and local butterfly enthusiasts dedicated their time to construct a citizen science framework for the DSF’s Butterflyway Project.

Our weekly Wednesday night meetings were spent developing and preparing a plan for the 2021 butterfly season. Ultimately, the team split in half, and two goals for the season were laid out: 1) launch transects across the lower mainland with the help of Butterflyway Rangers, and 2) host a bioblitz for schools across BC that joined the Butterflyway Project in 2020.

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Recovered Food Buffet

Students from an LFS 450 class helped Daniel Chiang, Executive Sous-Chef from UBC Food Services select edible food from three residence kitchens, Sage Restaurant, the Point Grill, and four retail outlets. With this, they created UBC’s first ever buffet meal created entirely from recovered food.

This SEEDS project also led to the first ever partnership between UBC Food Services and the AMS Food Bank for ongoing food recovery.

Campus Botanica

For this project, Creative Writing student, Saskia Wolsak, created 120 botanical signs for plant species across campus. Each sign features the name of the plant in Latin, English, and the species’ local language, as well as an unusual fact about that plant. The project combines perspectives from the sciences, history, anthropology, poetry and literature to create this engaging display of public art.


Student, Chris Evans, explores the concepts of “refuge”, “home”, and “identity” in this art installation that combines species-specific bird houses with narratives from UBC students who came to Canada as political refugees.

Chris hopes that his work encourages the UBC community to, “think about their own connections to the natural environment, and to engage with those around them, uncovering the stories that make each member of the community unique.”

Download the report