From Cow to Conference

Deborah Tillbrook Head of Hotels & Hospitality at the University of Sheffield

‘The hospitality industry has changed greatly post-pandemic’ says Deborah Tillbrook Head of Hotels & Hospitality at the University of Sheffield. ‘Not only did Covid 19 make the distribution & serving of food very different, but it also galvanised the pace of sustainability advancements within the industry.

At the height of Covid 19 a move to all individually plated options rather than shared buffets – e.g., bowl food, plated lunches, boxed buffets for delivered hospitality were the norm although these were extremely time consuming to prepare. All fork buffets, for example, were served by University staff to minimise a multiple of people handling serving equipment. 

Now we’re moving back to shared platters but with control measures in place; hand sanitisers are available at all buffet points, tongs are in use for picking up sandwiches and buffet items. We limit the number of people queuing at buffet points and assisted service is still used at many events. 

We are committed to lead on sustainable and environmental ‘Best Practice’ in all our conference venues and we’re done this in a number of ways including-

  • Using water coolers for large conferences with delegates advised pre-arrival to bring their own water bottle
  • Shifting to circa 70% veggie/vegan with any meat used of a high welfare
  • Using electric vehicles across our delivered catering operation
  • Directing leftover food whenever possible to the Community Fridges in our student areas
  • Displaying buffet items in phases to prevent waste

We have 17 cafes and bars and challenge the team regularly to find ways of trading more sustainably. Our latest initiative saw us return to having milk delivered in milk churns, courtesy of Sheffield Dairy – ‘Our Cow Molly’. The milk is pumped from the churns using very discrete counter top dispensers.  A super successful initiative direct from cow to campus as it were and our retail outlets are well on their way to the initial goal of removing the use of 30,000 single use plastic milk containers in one year.

Our Cow Molly

Next is tackling power consumption- a topic that is on everyone's mind right now. We are looking at chiller units that use 50% less energy than the existing equipment.  As refrigeration is the single largest consumer of electricity in the kitchen this will drive immediate benefits. 

Whilst we are operating a huge hospitality machine including external conferences and events we don’t miss out on the close proximity of great academic minds across the University.  As part of our University Sustainability Group, the academic team support and assess the buying decisions through the application of a Life Cycle Analysis which assesses the whole life impact of buying foods, disposable products or equipment.

And with Sheffield recently voted as the UK’s greenest city, you can rest assured that your choice of destination and venue can deliver some real sustainability wins for your next event.’

Read more about The University of Sheffield’s Sustainability credentials in its hospitality business here: