Emilie Wood

GFI Fellow - Class of 2015

Undergraduate Student, Environmental Studies
UC Santa Barbara


Reducing Post-Consumer Food Waste in Campus Dining Commons through Behavioral Science


This project addresses student food waste at UC Santa Barbara by using behavioral psychology to change individual student behavior through targeted signage. Two messages were utilized: one normative injunctive sign based in social validation and one control environmental sign. After a period of baseline monitoring of post-consumer food waste by weight, the signs were implemented into two dining facilities. In conclusion, no significant difference was found between the efficacies of the signs in the two facilities.


The primary goal of this research project is to determine whether food waste can be reduced at the consumer level by employing social validation signs as a persuasion tactic to influence student diners. This project is described as a “living laboratory” research project because we are conducting an experiment based on tested theories inside a campus operating facility. We successfully achieved the goal of managing a living laboratory experiment on the UC Santa Barbara campus by working collaboratively with UC Santa Barbara Dining Services to test our hypotheses. This achievement will make future living laboratory research projects related to food waste in the dining halls more accessible to student researchers. At this point in our research, there is still in-depth data analysis to be done. By looking at the raw data, we can determine that after employing our treatment signs there was a significant difference in food waste between dining halls, which is something we were not expecting to see. Based on the first round of statistical tests, we determined that the social validation treatment had an effect on the amount of food waste; however, this effect was not large or significant. On the other hand, the environmental treatment tended to increase food waste at one of the dining halls. More analysis is needed to better understand the raw data and confidently share an outcome.

Future Plans

I graduate on June 13, and then I will be moving up to the Bay Area. I hope to move to Seattle to work on organic farms to better understand the production side of our food system. I may be accompanying some friends to Southeast Asia this fall to also work on farms and travel, broadening my experiences and knowledge of diverse farm operations.


Matt Potoski, Patrick Callery and Katie Maynard