In 2022, NYC’s Mayor Eric Adams signed Executive Order 8, reaffirming the city’s commitment to combat the climate crisis by reducing emissions created by the foods we eat. It holds city agencies accountable for procuring, preparing, and serving healthy and nutritious food to promote food justice, reduce health inequities, and achieve sustainability goals. The NYC Food Standards and Good Food Purchasing (GFP) Program both regulate and set core values to measure city agencies’ procurement impact relating to 1. local economies, 2. environmental sustainability, 3. a valued workforce, 4. animal welfare, and 5. healthy nutrition. ​​

A new report shows that 20% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from food consumption, making it the third largest source of emissions behind buildings and transportation. This commitment to values-based procurement and using our city’s purchasing power to align with health equity and sustainability goals presents itself as a response to higher incidents of climatic shifts. Just this past summer, many New Yorkers had first-hand experience of the air-quality crisis resulting from the Canadian wildfires. Many experts believe that this will not be the only event our city will see in the foreseeable future, but is more of a warning of what’s to come if we don’t make any changes.

With the imminent effects of climate change at our doorstep, action is needed immediately! Executive Order 8 offers solutions that institutions can adopt immediately to begin changing their procurement practices and start putting their money where their mouth is. Currently, the goal is to reduce city agencies’ food-based emissions by 33% by 2030. Though CUNY is not obligated to comply with the NYC Food Standards or Good Food Purchasing (GFP) Program because it is not considered a city agency, the Order encourages community organizations, hospitals, and other private sector parties to participate and cut their emissions by 25% by 2030. 

As a public university and national leader in urban higher education, CUNY has the opportunity to set an example for how a university can best promote the health of its students, faculty, and staff. As a public agency, CUNY should also support the goals of other city and state agencies. By considering how CUNY can leverage its purchasing power to reduce health inequities and achieve sustainability, the university will be able to better serve its community and contribute to the overall well-being of the city’s population. This is especially important considering the large marginalized population CUNY serves who are disproportionately impacted by disparities. 

Prioritizing a values-based approach to on-campus food and beverage procurement is one way the school can illustrate that commitment. CUNY’s exclusive and decade-long pouring rights contract (PRC) with PepsiCo as the campuses’ official beverage distributor is set to expire this year in 2023. CUNY now has a chance to end their partnership with PepsiCo and adopt a values-based approach to on-campus food and beverage procurement, aligning itself with the standards set forth in Executive Order 8. Researchers at the Center for International Environmental Law suggest that the overconsumption of plastics threatens the ability to keep up with the earth’s current carbon budget due to their lifecycle. Highlighting the ongoing threat and impact on our climate begs us to ask how CUNY’s partnership with PepsiCo contributes to the climate crisis and what small changes can we begin to implement to reverse those negative impacts.

Over the last year, CUNY Campaign for Healthy Food (CHeF) has been raising awareness about CUNY’s pouring rights contract (PRC) with PepsiCo across the 25 campuses and its impact on our health and the planet. In an unpublished 2022 interview with NYU Clinical Associate Professor and Co-Founder of Desert Bloom Foods, Hans Taperia breaks down a potential strategy for CUNY to phase out their PRC with PepsiCo, which focuses on eliminating monopoly power and replacing bottled or canned beverages with dispensing technology to reduce plastic waste.

Professor Taperia delineated the importance of creating a competitive market for beverages of all types to replace the current exclusive partnership. He suggested that the $21 million sponsorship that PepsiCo paid CUNY over the duration of the 10 years could be replaced by creating new avenues of revenue from advertising and aligning with brands that promote values of health, equity, and sustainability. Additionally, as part of the PRC, PepsiCo provides CUNY with all of the vending machines, which lets CUNY off the hook from investing in its own infrastructure, which would allow the university more control and flexibility over who they want to work with and what products they want to sell, ensuring that both align with the city’s standards and values set in Executive Order 8. 

As city agencies move toward updating their procurement practices to achieve health equity and sustainability goals, it is important to ask if CUNY’s food environment also reflects those values. It is time to challenge the status quo and think about the long-term impact of the university’s purchasing power and how we can leverage these resources to make a positive change. Do CUNY’s current partners and vendors reflect the values of our communities? Do they align with the cities’ longer-term goals? Adopting a values-based approach in our procurement would be a significant step toward committing to building a healthy and supportive campus food environment.

Article by: Julissa Valerio, CUNY SPH student and CUNY CHeF organizer