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UCL: Powered by Plants

The UCL community has launched the campaign ‘UCL Powered by Plants’ to raise awareness of the environmental and health benefits provided by plant-based diets.

The campaign began when the Sustainability Champions within the Psychology of Language Division (PALS) raised the question of whether the department could provide 100% vegetarian catering across events and meetings. They felt this would enhance the health and wellbeing of staff and students and would be a positive action in face of the Climate Emergency.

Following this a number of divisions have followed suit, including: UCL Finance, UCL Neurology, the Bartlett School of Environment Energy and Resources (BSEER) and VP International.

It has additionally spread to other Psychology departments, including the University of Auckland, Bath and Royal Holloway.

Why are departments going vegetarian?

Better for our climate

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which UCL researchers made significant contributions to, calls for ‘rapid and far-reaching’ transitions in policies on agriculture and dietary change. The meat and dairy industry produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions(2) and it is considered to be the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, habitat destruction and land desertification(3). If all departments switched to 100% vegetarian catering, UCL’s food emissions would be reduced by 40%, saving ~5,000 tonnesCO2 per annum, equivalent to taking 1,000 cars off the road(4).

Better for our health

There is now compelling scientific evidence that reducing meat consumption improves health (5) and reduces the risk of some of the leading causes of death today including cardiovascular disease, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer(6).

There are also significant health benefits to addressing climate change; twelve UCL departments contributed to the Lancet Countdown which concluded that "tackling climate change could be the greatest opportunity for global health in the 21st century"(7).

“There is an increasing evidence-base to support the enhanced wellbeing of those who do not consume meat. It is our strategic objective in 2019 as a Division to improve the wellbeing of our staff. The decision to exclude meat products from Division-funded functions is in line with this objective." Professor Peter Fonagy (Head of UCL PALS) 

The campaign was endorsed by UCL’s Sustainability Director, Richard Jackson:

“We are delighted that the UCL Division of Psychology and Language Sciences are leading the way in sustainability by going 100% vegetarian. The meat industry is one of the least sustainable sectors, emitting 51% of annual greenhouse gas emissions and clearing 88% of rainforests for grazing. We’re overwhelmed with the commitment that the UCL community has shown in pushing sustainability to the front of UCL’s agenda and leading us towards a sustainable future.”

UCL Sustainability are working with UCL’s caterers to improve the range and quality of vegetarian hospitality choices and to ensure meat is not simply replaced by cheese, as this would limit the environmental and health benefits. Plant-based options are now clearly labelled and appear first on the hospitality booking pages.

Who will be the next? Ask your department to pledge to be powered by plants! Contact us to get involved.

For further tips on running a sustainable event at UCL, see our Sustainable Events resources page.