Opinion

The Sydney Declaration: Could Shifting Away from Animal Based Foods Promote a More Sustainable Campus?

Understanding what a sustainable campus could look like.

Universities have increasingly taken an interest in developing policies and practices that respond to climate change and promote sustainability. The University of Sydney is no exception to this: in 2015 the University unveiled its sustainability policy, making commitments to a sustainable built environment, to better transport and mobility planning and to substantially reduce the carbon footprint of its investment portfolio.

However, food practices are curiously absent from the environmental policies of many institutions, including the University of Sydney’s own sustainability policy. As Fiona Probyn-Rapsey highlights, there is in particular a lack of commitment to address the climate change impacts and sustainability implications of animal derived foods. This is despite growing international evidence that reducing animal based food consumption would be a highly effective strategy in promoting a transition to a low carbon society.

In February 2016 the Human Animal Research Network and the Sydney Environment Institute hosted a three day workshop to explore how to promote increased campus sustainability through better food practices. The workshop brought together a range of researchers including international contributors  Sue Donaldson, Annie Potts and Richard Twine, sustainability expert Stuart White, and dietitian Kate Marsh.

The results of the workshop have now been published, with an accompanying video.

A Sustainable Campus: The Sydney Declaration on Interspecies Sustainability from HARN Human Animal Research Netwk on Vimeo.

The research draws attention to the growing evidence on the environmental impacts of large scale animal agriculture, including the influential 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Report Livestock’s Long Shadow, as well as less recognised problems, such as phosphorus security.

Asking consumers to change their personal practices inevitably involves shifting attitudes and deeply held beliefs. The research also explores the social and cultural barriers to change, including challenging beliefs that plant based diets are unhealthy, or associations between masculinity and meat.

There are lots of opportunities for change on campuses, including developing policies on campus catering that prioritise plant based foods, using contracting arrangements with vendors to increase the proportion of plant based foods available at campus food outlets and providing more knowledge to staff and students on the environmental benefits of plant based diets.

Other universities are already making commitments to increase the availability of plant-based foods, including  Yale University, which has made commitments to increase the purchase and preparation of plant-based foods.

Importantly, addressing food practices on campus not only highlight the University’s relationship to environmental sustainability, but also to interspecies ethics. Reducing our reliance on animal based foods not only helps to make campuses greener, but also reduces the number of animals that we use for food.