How to create a sustainable dining environment in University canteens?
Design Team of Six; Nonprofit project under Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FEON)
Research, Design Strategy, Graphic Design, UI Design
Oct 2020 - Jan 2021
Miro, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Figma, Slack
This project belongs to the POLAR Kitchen Initiative, which is an international and transdisciplinary collaboration to design an edible campus. POLAR (@polar_kitchen) is in partnership with Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FEON). Partner: Secretary of the Environment of Switzerland. Participating Institute: Bangor University, TH Köln – University of Applied Sciences, Tecnológico de Monterrey ,FHNW, Harbin Institute of Technology and University of the Arts London.
I participated in POLAR project during my MA study at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. And worked with people from engineering, psychology, graphic design, and architecture background to create a vision for the design of a future campus canteen, considering food delivery, consumption and recycling.
According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), 1.6 billion tonnes of food is lost and wasted globally every year, inflicting severe environmental and socio-economic damages. 25% of Switzerland's nutrition-related environmental impact is caused by avoidable food waste. This equates to around half of the environmental impact of the country's motorized private traffic.
POLAR Kitchen Project has put a focus on university canteens, which, as one of the forefronts of food consumption and education, undertakes a larger responsibility in efficient distribution of food and management of food waste. Our designed solution is developed based upon a standard Switzerland university setting.
Goals and Objectives
Save on energy
Improve global food crisis
Reduce financial budget
Reduce staff labor
Create a better environment
Reduce overall food waste and unnecessary consumptions
Promote awareness and foster good eating habit among canteen users
Establish a sustainable dining system
Cut down canteen running cost and elevate efficiency
As each team member was located at a different geographical area (U.K, Switzerland, Mexico, China, Germany), oftentimes we have to work and communicate with each other in an asynchronous manner. Apart from individual work time, we have setup synchronous meeting on a weekly basis to facilitate communication. Our assistive technologies mainly focus on Google Doc and Miro board.
Our design approach departs from the Double Diamond design model. We started our problem identification via divergent thinking and wide exploration to convergent thinking by taking focused actions. This Double Diamond model has been utilized throughout our co-design process and informed us of iterative design decisions.
Food waste is a gigantic topic! Even at university canteens, there are multiple factors derived from this phenomenon, and each, is corresponded with a diverse set of mentalities and rationales behind.
In order to better address the food waste situation, we need to find a small pivot that we could work our ways through and try to find a good targeted solution. To achieve that, we went through research processes including literature review, interviews and surveys to dig out the mentalities behind food waste at university canteen.
Mentality behind food waste
Just want to try certain food but does not like the taste
Unable to finish everything because of big portion
Lack of awareness on food waste as a significant global issue
Social norm: group ordering/sharing food lowers individual responsibility
Lack of consciousness/ responsibility towards food waste
Redefining the Problem
Lack of knowledge towards food waste consequences
Less awareness in the acting of consuming food in canteen setting
No penalty on irresponsible behaviour nor incentives on "zero-food-waste"
How might me raise public awareness to reduce food waste and create a sustainable dining environment in University canteens?
Iterative Diverging and Converging
As each of the team member comes from a different disciplinary background, we are equipped with a diverse set of perspectives. For the initial stage, we brainstormed altogether to come up to solutions. By picking the best three ideas, we discussed around the commonality shared by those ideas and merged into one.
Departing from the single concept, we diverged again to look for solutions on an individual basis. During this period, we worked individually and asynchronously to maximize our design thinking potentials. After this phase, we reunited with presenting our individual research and had a discussions on our findings. With that diverged explorations, we converged again to form one single solution.
The Chosen Concept
Let's create a Mindful Canteen!
After synthesizing our background research, the chosen idea was to “develop a mindful environment in a canteen”.
Various elements of the concept were further discussed and refined. The elements were split into two groups: environment and mindfulness. Some of the design refinement areas are shown in the ‘Elements of the concept to be refined’ picture.
Link Student ID
Selected Meal Plan
Search Dining Hall
Visit Dining Hall
Depart Dining Hall
* Recyclable food containers and coffee cups are suggested for take-aways and coffee station purchase; If visitor do not have recyclable containers, canteen provides free ecological lids and purchasable containers.
Architecture - Karol & Celine
The figure below shows an example of what the main dining area may look like along with a floor plan.
The pictures below show the bistro area at ground level and zen area on the second floor.
User Interface Design
IA and Wireframes
Aligning with the idea of developing a mindful environment for canteen to enhance people’s awareness when consuming food, our app design allows functions of bringing up people’s consciousness in making choices and delaying sense of satisfaction. Via a reservation system, we envision to effectively reduce the amount of food waste comparing to traditional all-you-can-eat canteens format.
Users will go through the flow of menu viewing, portion size selecting, purchasing, seating reserving, canteen visiting, dining, optional access to meditative area and final exiting. This app supports the function of table and meal reservation as part of the whole experience.
Sign in and account information page.
Dining hall information and making reservations.
This project concludes after a final presentation delivery (pitch proposal), yet there are still a lot of inadequacies with our prototype and design deliverables. We have learnt a ton from the design process and team collaboration, and with more time and support, we would strive to keep refining and iterating our designs.
As this is a collaborative project under Swiss FEON and the supervision of assigned instructors, each team member have to stay within each individual disciplinary context. Despite of the advantages brought by focused perspective and forte, it would also be beneficial if we could switch roles and view-points during the process, adding in fresh insights and non-traditional thinking.
Cross-timezone communication was a big challenge during the process, as oftentimes teamwork requires synchronous presence. With a maximum 8-hour difference, we have had limited window of time that could be used to co-work and co-develop.
This design proposal serves as an interdisciplinary solution towards constructing a supportive environment in establishing healthy eating habits. This study demonstrates how it is possible to build a mindful environment that can lead to a higher conscious approach to food. For our pitch proposal, we expect to achieve measurable food waste reduction within five years via the implementation of reservation mobile system and "atmosphere design".
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Jordan, Wang and Donatoni (2014) described in their study that mindfulness promotes healthier eating habits. Through substantial secondary research, it is suggested that mindfulness can support behaviour change. In the ten-year frame, we expect to observe significant behaviour change among canteen visitors including teaching staff and students. The usage of ecological materials and incorporation of sustainable products will "nudge" people to take actions in personal space.
Constraints and Limitations
Midterm Goal (by 2030)
Long Term Goal (by 2050)
From a long-term perspective, this system will be adjusting and refining across the period of time in relation to appropriate and effective technical support, social dynamics, school structures and business operation. However, we expect this model (combination of environmental and digital design) to be widely adopted in different school canteen scenarios and able to contribute to the bigger picture in terms of ameliorating global food crisis, food inequality, and food-inflicted environmental and socio-economic damages.
FAO (2020). Food Systems. Available under: http://www.fao.org/food-systems/en/
Fletcher (2016). What is Mindful Eating?. Available under: https://www.mindful.org/what-is-mindful-eating/
UN Environment Programme (2016). Why do we need to change our food system? Available under: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcL3BQeteCc
Mey, G. & Mruck, K. (2010). Handbuch Qualitative Forschung in der Psychologie. Wiesbaden: Springer.
WWF (2020). Foodwaste. Available under: https://www.wwf.ch/de/unsere-ziele/foodwaste?gclid=Cj0KCQiA3NX_BRDQARIsALA3fILJ8MZ8ZLTTUjAKd0uQ31lID49Szz2yCVTIN3BBh_Zo_8D6gEXsQQaAg4YEALw_wcB
With special thanks to my team members and POLAR Partnership:
C. OBREGON, K. GUTIERREZ, E. HUANG, CH. HURFORD, S.H. LEHMANN, CH. LI