Sustainable and Healthful Food Standards

Launched in April 2019, Harvard’s Sustainable and Healthful Food Standards were developed by a multi-disciplinary faculty committee with input from the Office for Sustainability, the Council of Student Sustainability Leaders, and experts in the field. They were informed by research (including the 2019 report by the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health) and existing programs (including Menus of Change and the Good Food Purchasing Program). They are designed to measurably increase access for students, faculty, staff, and visitors to sustainable and healthful food offerings. In addition, they aim to enhance food literacy and to optimize the impacts of food choices on people, animals, and the planet.

Within Harvard University's decentralized system, each School makes its own decisions about vendors, so there are multiple food vendors on campus. These standards seek to align these food providers around a shared vision for a sustainable food system. This is an opportunity for Harvard to be a test bed since programs can be piloted at different locations and much can be learned from the innovations that our food vendors are implementing. The food standards will apply only to the major food vendors on campus that primarily serve the Harvard community. Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) has multiple locations on campus, including all of the undergraduate dining halls, some cafeterias, and catering. Restaurant Associates (RA) manages the cafeterias and catering at Harvard Medical School, Harvard Law School, Harvard Business School, and Harvard Graduate School of Design. Rebecca’s Café manages the Commons at Gutman and catering at  Harvard Graduate School of Education. Jules Catering manages catering and the Rock Café at Harvard Divinity School. Clover Food Lab has a location in the Science Center.

The standards are focused on the supply-side of the campus food system, but we are also teaming up with students, faculty, and staff across the University to create tools and resources that can affect the demand-side (see below).  



Multidisciplinary Faculty Food Standards Committee

  • Committee Chairs:
    • Walter Willett (Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
    • Ari Bernstein (Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
  • Committee Members:
    • Gary Adamkiewicz (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
    • Jose Alvarez (Harvard Business School)
    • Emily Broad Leib (Harvard Law School)
    • David Ludwig (Harvard Medical School)
    • Robert Paarlberg (Harvard Kennedy School of Government)
    • Eric Rimm (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
    • Elsie Sunderland (John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science, Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health)
  • Coordinated by:
    • Heather Henriksen, Managing Director, Harvard Office for Sustainability
    • David Havelick, Sustainability Manager, Harvard Office for Sustainability

Inspiration for the Standards

  • Menus of Change
    • A ground-breaking initiative from The Culinary Institute of America and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health that works to realize a long-term, practical vision integrating optimal nutrition and public health, environmental stewardship and restoration, and social responsibility concerns within the foodservice industry and the culinary profession.
  • Good Food Purchasing Policy
    • A local-national initiative that harnesses the power of procurement to create a transparent and equitable food system, which prioritizes the health and well-being of people, animals, and the environment.
    • An ordinance was passed by Boston City Council in March 2019, committing to the Good Food Purcahsing Policy. 
  • EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, and Health
    • The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health brings together more than 30 world-leading scientists from across the globe to reach a scientific consensus that defines a healthy and sustainable diet. The Commission delivered the first full scientific review of what constitutes a healthy diet from a sustainable food system, and which actions can support and speed up food system transformation.​​
    • Walter Willett, co-chair of the Multidisciplinary Faculty Committee, was the first author of this report.
    • “Food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth.” 

Focus areas

Climate and Ecosystems

  • Reduce impact on climate change by increasing proportion of foods that have a smaller emissions footprint and are less resource-intensive. 
  • Obtain and retain Green Restaurant Certification for major locations. 
  • Track proportion of produce items that are certified USDA Organic, and prioritize other sustainable farming practices.
  • Prioritize fish and shellfish purchases that are certified by Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, Best Aquaculture Practice, and Aquaculture Stewardship Council. Prioritize other sustainable practices related to seafood, as well.
  • When possible and appropriate, use reusable foodservice ware. When reusable items are not possible, use BPI-certified compostable items that do not contain PFAS chemicals.

Consumer Well-being

  • Food Safety
  • Nutrition
    • Implement effective strategies to emphasize and promote foods with safe amounts of salt and sugar. 
    • Replace refined grains with whole grains and unhealthy fats (e.g., trans and saturated fats) with healthy fats (unsaturated fats), wherever possible and appropriate.
    • Limit red meat and processed meat (e.g., sandwich meats), and replace with healthier alternatives.
    • Use the Healthy Eating Plate to guide healthy food choices and labeling.
      • The Healthy Eating Plate, created by nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health and editors at Harvard Health Publications, was designed to address deficiencies in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s MyPlate. The Healthy Eating Plate provides detailed guidance, in a simple format, to help people make the best eating choices.
  • Reduce antibiotic use and consumption
  • Track and eliminate chemicals of concern

Education and Food Literacy

  • Implement a comprehensive food education campaign that enhances food literacy on campus, including strategies like peer-to-peer education, signage, and labeling.

Reduction of Wasted Food

  • Implement practices and motivate patrons across the Harvard campus to divert wasted food from the landfill and incineration. 
  • Maintain a system to track wasted food, and report at least twice/year.
  • Create and maintain a formal relationship with a local food donation partner.
  • Students and staff from the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic wrote the standard on reducing wasted food based on a semester-long research project that focused on policies, tracking systems, and best practices; these standards are based on the Clinic’s longstanding work as a national leader in food waste research and policy analysis. The Clinic also created an interactive resource, the Global Food Donation Policy Atlas to inspire long-term policy solutions to food waste, hunger, and climate change. 

Welfare of Animals

  • Prioritize purchase of plant-based products and products from suppliers who implement more humane practices approved by a third-party animal welfare certification. Work with Farm Forward to create a baseline of animal welfare for all animal products, set goals, and identify new suppliers.

Well-being of Workers and Communities Throughout the Value Chain

  • Through transparency, collaboration, and third-party verification - enhance well-being of workers and communities affected throughout the value chain with the goal of setting institutional standards.
  • Prioritize healthful and sustainable foods grown in the region near Harvard University, as defined by Farm to Institution New England, when possible.
  • Continue to follow Harvard’s Wage & Benefit Parity Policy for food service workers, approved in 2002. 
  • Continue to ensure safe foodservice worker conditions, especially around excess heat, repetitive stress injuries, cuts, burns and air quality – in coordination with the Occupational Safety Program at the Office of Environmental Health & Safety. 

Reporting framework

  • Food providers will submit reporting once/year, and the Standing Food Standards Committee will analyze the reporting, and create a set of recommendations annually to ensure continuous improvement based on the standards. Over time, specific goals and targets will be set in certain areas.  
  • By incorporating some reporting requirements, we are able to track progress, ensure accountability and transparency, and learn from the process.


Sustainable Meeting and Event Guide

Take your meeting to the next level by checking out this Sustainable Meeting and Event Guide, developed by a team of students and staff from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Office for Sustainability.

Eating Green Guide

Harvard College student and Resource Program Efficiency Representative Meaghan Townsend (Class of 2021) created this simple guide to start a conversation about sustainable eating to encourage her peers to explore plant-based diets at Harvard.

Learn more here. 

Harvard University Dining Services

Harvard University Dining Services has adopted purchasing and operational practices and menu choices that sustain the health and well-being of the environment, communities, and the people producing and eating food. 

Sustainability at HUDS

  • 32% of HUDS' food budget is spent on local goods. Menus are seasonal to take advantage of locally sourced ingredients.
  • Working with the Center for Health and Global Environment HUDS' participates in a sustainable seafood program in dining halls. 
  • Depending on the season, 20% to 70% of produce in a dining hall is grown locally.
  • HUDS purchases from approximately 250 local farms. View the map
  • Beginning in Fall 2015, marinara sauce served in residential dining is made from locally-sourced, gleaned tomatoes, typically fruit that has dropped from the vine or is otherwise not resalable due to imperfections. Read the story
  •  Undergraduate dining halls are all 2- or 3-star Certified Green Restaurants®. Certification recognizes ongoing efforts to operate efficiently and source sustainable products.
  • Educational outreach programs also discourage food waste in dining halls—as a result food waste in undergraduate dining halls has dropped 46% since Spring 2005. 

Learn more

Food Donation Program

In the Fall of 2014, Harvard University Dining Services launched an effort to address chronic hunger among its neighbors in Cambridge and Boston by partnering with the local nonprofit Food for Free to donate nearly 2,000 nutritious meals each week to families in need. The initiative builds on Harvard’s long commitment of community engagement, which includes extensive partnerships with local schools and creating and preserving affordable housing. Learn more

Harvard Business School, Harvard Medical School, the Graduate School of Design, and Harvard Law School, all who contract with the food service vendor Restaurant Associates, also participate in food donation programs with Food For Free. 


Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have calculated the carbon, nitrogen, and water foodprint of a standard serving of each of HUDS’ menu items and assigned them to one of three categories: high, medium, or low impact.

Find out more here.

Farmers Markets

The annual Harvard Farmers' Market provides our community and neighbors with access to fresh, local food. 

Learn more about Harvard Farmers' Market


  • The Food Literacy Project (FLP) at Harvard University Dining Services cultivates an understanding of food from the ground up. Education focuses on four integrated areas of food and society: agriculture, nutrition, food preparation and community. Ultimately, the project goal is to promote enduring knowledge, enabling consumers to make informed food choices.  FLP strives to have Harvard students leave campus well-equipped to grocery shop knowledgeably, identify fruits and vegetables, master cooking basics, and lead a healthy & sustainable life. The project hosts cooking classes, educational tours, events and movie screenings, and blogs about students’ experiences.

Office for Sustainability

Food Policy

When hosting events and meetings, the Harvard Office for Sustainability serves plant-based meals by default, giving diners the choice to opt-in for meals with animal products. DefaultVeg is inclusive, reduces our carbon footprint, and increases the healthfulness of meals.


Community Food Resources

Community Gardens

Four community gardens have been established across Harvard’s campus, the result of a collaborative effort between students and staff. Together, the network of gardens serve to engage the community in growing healthy, organic food and herbs, and each garden represents the unique character of its host School.

The Countway Garden grows medicinal herbs and educates people about their use, the undergraduate-run Harvard Community Garden hosts weekly work parties for students, the Faculty Club Garden grows fresh herbs and vegetables for use in its meals, and the Harvard Divinity School Garden donates its harvest to Faith Kitchen, a local food kitchen.

  • Harvard Community Garden, relocated to the Radcliffe Quad during Lowell House renewal, is managed by a team of undergraduate students.
  • The Countway Community Garden, located outside the Countway Library, was created by a group of staff, students, and faculty from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School to provide the Longwood campus with opportunities for education, hands-on gardening experience, and research.
  • The Harvard Divinity School Community Garden, located on the grounds of the Harvard Divinity School between the Women’s Studies in Religion Program and the Center for the Study of World Religion, serves the needs of the HDS community, broadly conceived, for local, organic food, while educating community members on the ethical issues, individual, communal, and global, that surround sustainable food production and consumption.
  • The Harvard Faculty Club Garden was established by employees to provide fresh herbs and vegetables for use in the Club’s meals.

Gardening saves money, our food is more flavorful, and we’re slowly reducing our carbon footprint.

Harvard Faculty Club banquet chef Joseph Santos Santos

Food-related Centers, GROUPS, and Programs

  • The Harvard School of Public Health’s Nutrition Source website provides timely, evidence-based information on diet and nutrition for clinicians, allied health professionals, and the public. The Healthy Eating Plate helps you create healthy and flavorful meals. Created by nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health in conjunction with Harvard Health Publications, The Healthy Eating Plate addresses key flaws in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate.
  • Crimson Crave is a student group and blog on campus providing, recipes, dining hall hacks, reviews, and Boston-area food information. 
  • The Center for Health and Global Environment’s Healthy and Sustainable Food program informs consumers and institutions about how our choices for diet and menus can promote healthier people, more secure food supplies, and thriving communities.  The program aims to advance improvements in our food system by providing multiple industries with a common framework for creating a positive impact on human communities and the environment. 
  • The Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic is the oldest food law clinical program in the United States. It was established in 2010 to address growing concern about the health, environmental, and economic consequences of the laws and policies that structure the current U.S. food system. Harvard Law students get hands-on learning experience by conducting legal and policy research for individual and organizational clients working to increase access to healthy foods, prevent diet-related diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, and assist small and sustainable farmers in breaking into new commercial markets.