Sustainability in catering

Photo of assorted salads in coloured bowls on a table

We are introducing dishes which increase the proportion of vegetables to meat


We believe that combining the various catering operations has produced an excellent opportunity for the University to take appropriate action and responsibility for this issue. In fact, sustainability in catering was one of the key objectives in establishing our catering agreement, accounting for 15% of the overall contract tender.

We therefore work closely with stakeholders from across the University including the Sustainability Steering Group, the Environmental Sustainability team and Student Union to drive change. We are continuously exploring commercially viable ways to achieve increased sustainability and standards in both the ‘Beyond Ordinary Cafes’ and hospitality service managed by Compass, which accounts for around 75% of the University's food services. In 2019, all cafes received 4 and 5* on Oxford City Councils Scores on the Doors – a national UK food hygiene inspection. 

Cutting down on waste, using local suppliers, promoting vegetarianism/veganism and reducing our use of single-use plastic are just some of the ways we are promoting and improving sustainability in catering across the University.

Better for us and better for the planet!

What we are doing


With 8,000 member sites in the UK, the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) aim to assess the sustainability of every part of a food service business. They have awarded our ‘Occasions’ hospitality operations the highest possible level - three stars - and all ‘Beyond Ordinary cafe’ operations have been awarded two out of a possible three stars. The accreditation assesses a number of key areas including where food is sourced from, our impact on society and how we can improve our environmental footprint by using less energy, reducing food waste and recycling. A detailed report has been produced for every café which celebrates the good work which has been done and provides a useful benchmark for further improvements. While formally re-assessed every two years, we will being reviewing progress annually. 

Gallery of Sustainable Restaurant Association, Refill, Too Good To Go, Good Food Oxford, Sugar Smart Oxford and CanO Water logos

Other initiatives

Refill Oxford is part of City to Sea’s national campaign to promote the use of free tap water to reduce plastic waste. Refill Oxford has been introduced into all visitor facing cafes and the University Club. This is one of the Good Food Oxford initiatives, reducing single use plastics.

Visit Refill Oxford

Too Good To Go is a sustainable app which Compass at the University have joined. The app lets you buy and collect fresh food from the cafes that hasn’t sold in time - at a great, reduced price - so it gets eaten instead of wasted. A brilliant way to pick up something on your way home!

Visit Too Good To Go

Good Food Oxford Limited is the local ‘Good Food’ campaign. There are a series of cities across the UK engaging with communities around good food habits, this helps the University support local communities. 

From the University this is attended by the Head of Environmental Sustainability, Bart Ashton from Lady Margaret Hall and Veryan Palmer, Head of Operations, Compass Group.

Visit Good Food Oxford Limited

Sugar Smart Oxford is a campaign run by Sustain. They support local authorities, organisations, workplaces and individuals to reduce the amount of sugar consumed. Compass at Oxford University have implemented a traffic light system for drinks in association with Sugar Smart, leading to a first ‘golden teaspoon’ at the University Club in April 2019 following an inspection. The campaign has now been launched across all Compass cafes.

CanO Water was created in response to the impact that plastic bottles have on the environment. CanO Water is a recyclable alternative to plastic bottles. Can O Water is available as a sustainable offer should individuals wish to not use plastic.

Visit CanO Water


We are working hard with Compass to become more sustainable at every stage of the supply chain with initiatives including the following: 

  • The University has gained Fairtrade certification – something it has sought for some time and the new catering agreement has provided the opportunity to achieve this. Visit Fairtrade.
  • Only responsibly sourced MSC fish is provided through Compass to University cafes and hospitality. Visit MSC.
  • Only Red Tractor meat is provided through Compass to University cafes and hospitality. Visit Red Tractor.

Did you know?

  • 50% of most Compass cafe menus (excluding the sites where three main courses are available) are meat free, ie 50/50 meat/vegetarian or vegan.
  • 68% of the Compass hospitality brochure is meat free.
  • 100% of the Compass 'Only at Oxford' bespoke hospitality menus use products purchased through three local suppliers: Aldens, Roots and Mayfield.

What's next? 

Areas of focus include: 

  • extending the Fairtrade product range.
  • continuing to increase the proportion of vegetables in the dish to meat.
  • running regular 'Meat Free Mondays' and vegetarian 'pop ups'.
  • assessing all products containing palm oil, to ensure that full visibility is reported.

We will continue to promote 'flexitarian'/plant based eating, by encouraging healthy eating and sustainable initiatives. These include 'Chefs adopt a school', which encourages apprentices from local schools and engages the local community in reducing the volume of unwanted food going to anaerobic digestion. 

Find out more about our approach to sustainable food and other engagement programmes by visiting Environmental Sustainability.


Single use plastics is a topic at the forefront of sustainability conversations. We know it is an issue that requires tackling and are taking steps to improve our performance in this area.  Any plastic items must be end-of-life recyclable and we are continuing to work on the removal of all single use plastics in cafes. 


Did you know? 

  • glass jugs are available for hospitality and non-plastic crockery/cutlery is available in the majority of cafe outlets.
  • there are no more plastic straws. Juices are now placed into recyclable containers with paper straws.
  • sandwiches are packed in fully recyclable packaging.
  • all bottles are fully recyclable. Some, in fact, are both recycled and recyclable.

Oxford KeepCup

Next steps

As a first course of action we are implementing the following: 

  • sustainable and reusable 'KeepCups' for sale in the cafe outlets for hot and cold beverages. Bins for recycling disposable cups are also on hand.
  • sharing of data on plastics consumption quarterly in each cafe, raising awareness and offering alternatives.
  • introduction of recycled takeaway boxes to replace the existing plastic takeaway boxes.

Get in touch

We believe there is the potential for us to make even more improvements over the term of the Compass contract. So we encourage the remaining University foods services operating outside of the Compass agreement to get involved and deliver similar significant changes. 

If you have any questions regarding sustainability in catering at the University of Oxford please contact Richard Alexander on

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Contact us

Richard Alexander

Head of FM Contracts