And the Green Challenges winner is... the Canteen Labelling Scheme

In April 2021, 15 UU teams applied to the UNI-ECO Green Challenges campaign, which also received submissions from four other universities across Europe. The aim of the challenge was for campus users to come up with projects that would support their university’s sustainable development. 

After months of developing their projects, the UU students that came out on top were Joël Beuerle and Gergő Sütő. This dynamic duo – both MSc Sustainable Development students - came up with the Canteen Labelling Scheme. Having come just short of first place in the wider Green Challenges, they will get €2000 to further develop their pilot. The Green Office will guide them throughout the process and help them see if the project can be implemented.

A positive spin on labels

The Canteen Labelling Scheme aims to score dishes in the UU restaurants based on their environmental impact. This way, the UU community can make better-informed decisions while learning more about the impact of their food. 

Flipping the script on how such initiatives can be perceived, the key detail that makes this project stand out is the emphasis on positive rather than negative communication. “There is a subtle, but important difference in communication when you choose to put a red cross on something, compared to giving it one out of three stars” says Gergő. Joël adds even more emphasis to this point. “What we had in mind when designing the labelling scheme is that we wanted to encourage the use of more sustainable products, rather than punish the use of ones that were not doing well. As people choose more sustainable products, they will take up more of Eurest’s income distribution, which will help them in their own goal to reduce their impact. 

Gergő Sütő

Coming up with the indicator

Joël and Gergő drew from several sources of inspiration to come up with this idea. As Joël puts it, “we simply put our brains together, used knowledge learned from our master’s, makes certain indicators effective, and placed emphasis on developing a good communication style”. Joël even brought in prior experience from when he worked with the Green Office in Maastricht, where a similar project was almost implemented. When asked about how confident they felt about the label’s deployment, Gergő lit up. “During the UNI-ECO Summer School, which we attended online as part of the Green Challenges, one of the organisers contacted me and shared this article from Independent magazine. It turned out that UNILEVER wanted to add a very similar label to their products. We could nearly see ourselves giving the same answers to the questions posed to the UNILEVER spokesperson, and so we felt like we were on the same level as them. Their example is a convincing argument that can help us get Eurest and the university onboard”.

Joël Beuerle

What this will mean for the future

The ultimate goal of the system is not for it to start out perfectly, or for the calculations of the products’ environmental impacts to never require any refining. “Ultimately, what we are trying to do is to set up a labelling system that people can get familiar and comfortable with. A lot of institutions and governments are aiming to have more transparent supply chains, and once the system is in place, the methodology behind it can always be perfected”, says Joël. The next steps, according to Gergő, are to set up a pilot study with Eurest to see how the label will work in real life. “First, we will want to learn about how the label will affect consumption behaviour, then we will try to grasp how difficult the system will be to maintain, especially when we are not around”. 

The idea that got 2nd place among the UU submissions to the Green Challenges is the Recycling game: where do you throw it? An online game that would guide UU staff and students on how to separate their waste. This idea will also get help from the Green Office to reach implementation.

We’d like to thank all project teams for participating in the Green Challenges campaign. We also thank the UNI-ECO jury, and the UU jury who participated in the campaign - consisting of 4 UU-colleagues and an external jury member from Utrecht4GlobalGoals - for providing the teams with thorough feedback and choosing a winner.

The Green Office is where fresh hearts and minds come together to support Utrecht University's sustainable development.