Sustainability – selected projects

Centre for Sustainability and Energy

Food for the future [EFZU.CH]

An interdisciplinary research project currently being undertaken by the ZHAW is designed to determine the best approaches to promoting sustainable food consumption within Switzerland.

It is well understood that our eating habits have a direct impact on our health. An unhealthy diet can lead to obesity, diabetes type 2 and cardiovascular diseases and result in health costs running into billions of Swiss Francs. It is less well understood that our eating habits also affect the environment. In Switzerland, our diet is responsible for 28% of the total impact of households on the environment. Eating outside the home in restaurants, cafeterias and canteens is increasingly common. However, it is often impossible for consumers to make informed choices about their meals based on environmental and nutritional considerations in such eating establishments, as either the necessary environmental and compositional information is not available or suitable meals are simply not on offer.

Impact of food on health and the environment
 "Food for the future", which is a collaborative project between ZHAW's  Department of Life Sciences and Facility Management and the School of Management and Law, is enabling researchers to determine how information on the sustainability of foods can best be provided to consumers wishing to eat "outside the home", allowing them to make appropriate meal choices based on both their dietary requirements and their desire for foods which are healthy and have minimum environmental impact.

Decision support for the choice of menu dishes
The aim of the project is to develop a decision support system enabling the selection of menu items based on their sustainability and health benefits. To this end, the Menu Sustainability Index (MNI) will be further developed into a tool that enables consumers in restaurants and similar catering establishments to choose between menu items based on environmental and health impact criteria. Communicated and implemented correctly, this science-based guidance system will support both consumers in making their meal selection and those responsible for preparing a range of nutritionally-balanced and environmentally-friendly dishes, which appeal to consumers.

This project, which was launched in February 2016 and is funded by the Mercator Foundation Switzerland, will be completed by September 2017.

Information: Dr. Claudia Müller, Centre for Sustainability and Energy; Verena Berger, Institute for Marketing Management

Menu Sustainability Index (MNI)

For many consumers the issue of sustainability plays a critical role in their food choice. But it is rarely possible to obtain information on the origin, processing and transport of the food on offer, particularly in the catering sector. Furthermore, there is often no information provided on the nutritional and health aspects of the dishes available.

To provide consumers with a basis for decisions in their menu selection and to raise customers' awareness of the issue of sustainability, the Centre for Sustainability and Energy has developed the so-called "Menu Sustainability Index". This provides a means by which a menu on offer in a community catering situation can be assessed in terms of its sustainability (health and environmental aspects).

The environmental impact of the relevant foodstuffs over their entire lifetime is measured in eco-points [Umweltbelastungspunkte, UBPs]. The Centre for Sustainability and Energy, working together with the Institute for Applied Simulation, has used this methodology as the basis for a model that rates the health aspects of menus in terms of “nutritional impact points” [Ernährungsphysiologische Belastungspunkte, EBPs]. The model is currently being revised and optimised.

It is intended that a menu should be assessed using the Menu Sustainability Index tool and the outcome, in the form of a label, should be visible at the point-of-sale. The label should be comprehensible and read by the consumer in just a glance, despite the system being based on a complex, scientific basis.

The sustainability issues of food in the areas of environment and health are thus presented in a transparent manner 

Sustainability barometer for the catering sector

The issue of sustainability has an ever increasing value in the food and grocery industry. What food is produced and how it is eaten, has a significant impact on the environment, the economy, society and the health of the consumer. The provision of food is responsible for almost 30% of the total environmental damage in Switzerland. Across Europe, the provision of food and the basic need to provide living space form the central foci in the area of environmental protection.

Many consumers are aware of their personal contribution to a sustainable development and in the future will change their behaviour accordingly. Demand for sustainably-produced food will increase and food producers and companies in the catering sector should adapt to this trend. In addition to the incentive to remain competitive through sustainable action, companies are offered the chance to work efficiently reducing the energy resource and thus saving costs.

The development and improvement of businesses in the food and nutrition industry in the various areas of sustainability requires that information on possible courses of action, and corresponding optimisation measures, are available. Since this is not the case in many businesses, an online tool that enables industry-specific self-assessment in the area of sustainable development and highlights optimization potentials within the shortest time, is of great benefit.

For this reason, the Centre for Sustainability and Energy developed the so-called “Sustainability Barometer” which provides a means for companies from different industries in the food and grocery sector to check their production and services free of charge and while spending relatively little time on sustainability issues. This barometer is based on a questionnaire, which is divided into the four dimensions: environment, economy, society and health. The list of questions, which can be answered by companies themselves, is based on common criteria certification and sustainability reporting systems (GRI, EMAS, ISO, etc.). The possible response options and the evaluation of the responses vary depending on the latest scientific evidence and benchmarks. The list of criteria was tested at several pilot companies, refined in collaboration with ÖBU (Swiss Sustainable Business Network).