Pillars of Sustainability – Addition of the Life Cycle Analysis

While analyzing the past HTM*3090 course curriculum for potential improvements, the three pillars of sustainability were consulted for inspiration.

History Lesson:

The three pillars of sustainability stem from the theory of sustainable development, which was said to be founded by Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland. Dr. Brundtland was the former Prime Minister of Norway, and during her time in leadership, the office’s mandate was to:

  1. Re-examine the critical issues of environment and development and to come up with innovative, concrete, and realistic action plans for resolution.
  2. Strengthen international cooperation on environment and development, measure and propose new forms of cooperation that can break out of existing patterns and influence policies and events in the direction of the change that is needed within society.
  3. Increase the level of understanding and commitment to the action plan on an individual basis, also through voluntary organizations, businesses, institutes, and governments.

Dr. Brundtland focused the main attention of the study on areas of population, food security, the loss of species and genetic resources, energy, industry, and human settlements. She realized that all of these areas are connected and cannot be treated separately from one another. From this examination came the Brundtland report which focused on the change that was needed and how government and politics needed to guide the concepts listed below.

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:

  • the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”

Three Pillars of Sustainable Development:

The three main pillars of sustainable development include economic growth, environmental protection and social equality.

  • Economic Growth is the pillar that most groups focus on when attempting to obtain more sustainable efforts and development. In trying to build their economies, many countries focus their efforts on resource extraction, which leads to unsustainable efforts for environmental protection as well as economic growth sustainability.
  • Environmental Protection has become more important to government and businesses over the last 20 years, leading to great improvements in the number of people willing to invest in green technologies.
  • The Social Equality pillar of sustainable development focuses on the social well-being of people.

Three Pillars of Sustainable Development

PJ’s & the Three Pillars of Sustainable Development:

In terms of the curriculum already provided in past classes of HTM*3090, the economic pillar had already been covered with the food costing exercise. Each group in the restaurant had to create their menu and then complete a full purchase order, right down to the required salt and pepper. In addition to the purchase order, students were asked to come up with the exact food cost of each menu item and present them to instructor, Simon Day, for review and pricing. As many have experienced, food costing is not such a simple task, especially for first timers. This exercise allowed students to determine what menu items would be economically sustainable for a student-run restaurant, all while ensuring entrees were priced under $10.00, and that food cost remained around 40%.

In fall of 2011, the nutritional analysis of all menu items was added to provide a social benefit, as well as new learning dimensions for students. The Esha system was used to generate the correct information in terms of calories from fat, sodium levels and other nutrient levels. As many individuals are becoming more health conscious, it was important to provide guests with health information on what they were consuming.

The Final Pillar:

At this point two of the three pillars were accounted for: economic and social. But how would the environmental pillar be effectively integrated into the course curriculum, in a way that was measurable by the students?

The Assignment:

The answer to the above question was determined to be through a food life cycle analysis (a.k.a. LCA). When creating their menu items, students were asked to keep in mind where the main ingredients were coming from around the world. For their final report, students had to complete and submit a life cycle analysis of the main ingredient from the two specials on their menu. The analysis was to be completed on areas such as; production, processing, distributing, retail, cooking, and consumption.

  • Production – how the ingredients are grown, raised or produced, the origin of the ingredient, and finally, whether or not any pesticides were used during production.
  • Processing – where the ingredients are processed and what methods are used.
  • Distributing – are any transportation and fuel costs incurred, packaging materials and cost, the distance to the distributor from processing, and finally the distance from the distributor to PJ’s.
  • Retail – what company or supplier provided PJ’s with the ingredient, what was the purchase price from the supplier, and how was the ingredient stored once inside PJ’s kitchen.
  • Cooking – how was the ingredient prepared, what method was used, list of added ingredients, the timing and storing process.
  • Consumption – where was the item consumed, number of people it fed, how much waste was produced, what parts could be recycled, composted or saved.

Students were also asked to summarize and analyze their research finding through a series of questions, including:

  • What did you learn about the Life Cycle Analysis of your product?
  • Did you find this activity made you more aware of food and where it comes from?
  • What surprised you most by completing this exercise?
  • Was the information you learned in the exercise useful for moving forward in the industry?

The Results:

The LCA assignment involved more research than anything, but after reading 20 reports with each approximately ten pages in length, it is evident that the students really got involved in the report. Many of the students went over and above the basic requirements, including photos of plantations and map of travel distance. What could have been a long, black and white reading process, turned out to be quite interactive and informative for the reader.

Some students chose to go more in detail than others, including things such as the product code and ID number for reference; others included products additives such as nutrients and vitamins. The products used in the LCA’s ranged from Ontario to Texas to Costa Rica, and beyond.

Farrah, a student in the winter semester of HTM*3090 said, “Having the LCA as part of our final assignment was a really interesting way to get us to fully understand where our food comes from. Nowadays, most people do not consider where food comes from, past the shelves of our local grocery stores. This thought process and research made us re-evaluate what we choose to eat in our daily lives and the impact our choices have on the environment.”

While completing the LCA for each main ingredient, the goal was to demonstrate all that was involved behind getting the product to the restaurant and the impact that this process has on the environment. The learning outcomes that were provided to the students included; the value of using locally sourced ingredients, the expense behind certain international ingredients and how each ingredient in a dish can have a very different impact on the environmental sustainability of our planet.

After the initial LCA, students were asked a few questions to summarize the findings of their research and describe what they actually learned from the assignment. The feedback was overall very positive and a few said that they wished more classes discussed the environmental impact that the studied subject matter has. A few students mentioned in their learning outcomes the importance of school programs such as Garden2Table, and how it is essential to keep the younger generations informed about food production and processing. As Farrah said during her interview, many individuals do not know where their food comes from; all they know is where they can buy it. Students also reported that this assignment made them more conscious of their own consumption habits at home and decided to change habits and research alternatives such as the Guelph Farmer’s Market.

Some students found that as they did research on specific large food production and distribution companies, many refused to provide information regarding the processing of their products and was said to be due to privacy policies. Certain teams actually called the specific production and distribution companies to inquire about their practices and found many to be unresponsive. There was an overall lack of awareness from these companies in regards to what an LCA was and none of the interviewed companies had every conducted an LCA on any one of their available products. Many food production companies readily use popular buzz words, such as green and sustainable, without having the facts to back up these claims.

Moving Forward:

Students were also asked how these findings are implicated in PJ’s and what we can do to make a difference. The following is a list of the student suggestions:

  • No longer do business with distributors who do not share the same values.
  • Encourage University of Guelph Hospitality Services to do the same.
  • Encourage all distributors to complete LCA’s on their products prior to doing business with them.
  • Encourage distributors to re-use cardboard boxes, to reduce waste and tree usage.
  •  Begin an LCA campaign across campus to increase awareness of where our food comes from and in an effort to reduce the environmental impacts.

Students were also asked in conclusion, to explain why we should continue with LCA’s and investigating the impact our food has on the environment. A summary of the responses are listed below:

  • To be good citizens of the world.
  • To protect future generations.
  • As leaders in the hospitality and tourism industries, it is essential and our obligation.
  • Consumer awareness is not a growing trend; it is serious and must be address for short-term and long-term effects.
  • Importance of education through Farm to Table programs, such as Garden2Table.

Success of the LCA Assignment:

Overall the students were able to gain a completely different perspective on food production that they had previously been exposed to. All learning outcomes were achieved and students generally were excited about the assignment and made suggestions to continue it as a requirement in future years. As we are a project based on sustainability, our focus over the past year has been to complete the three pillars of sustainable development within one academic course. Finally, after much hard work and deliverance on the students’ part, we have been successful in completing our goal. Now on to the next project… Stay tuned!

One thought on “Pillars of Sustainability – Addition of the Life Cycle Analysis

  1. Very provocative exercise. Yes “green” and “sustainability” need to become more than hollow jargon

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