Evidence-based, Sustainable Decision-Making for Institutional Food Service Providers

Project Team

Greg Keoleian - U-M School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) (PI)
Lesli Hoey - U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
Alex Bryan - Michigan Dining
Jeremy Moghtader - U-M Matthaei Botanical Gardens

External Partner

Rachel Bair - Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Food Innovation Center

Project Summary

Institutional food service providers have an increasing number of production options to choose from in sourcing fresh, local foods, yet very little information is available to support comparisons of the environmental sustainability of such options. For example, if the local production of salad greens in northern climates requires technological supplementation of heat and light, is it actually better for the environment than shipping those greens in from warmer climates? What does environmental sustainability mean in this context, and how can it be measured? More importantly, how can institutional food procurement incorporate environmental sustainability decision-making into an already complex purchasing and logistics setting?

A major challenge in supporting UM Dining Services and other institutional food service providers is that the data necessary to conduct a life cycle assessment (LCA) is lacking. To help overcome this barrier, the team will develop a data collection tool aimed at assisting operators of alternative year-round vegetable production systems in identifying and collecting the data necessary to inform an LCA. The tool will be field tested at the UM Campus Farm and in partnership with Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Food Innovation Center, and the team is developing relationships with additional growers interested in better data collection. Based on user feedback, the tool will be refined and disseminated widely.

This project received a $10,000 Catalyst Grant in 2018.