“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F). Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.” – IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea
In April 2022, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasised that the only hope of ensuring a "liveable future" for humanity is to slash carbon emissions almost in half within less than a decade. What we eat has an enormous role to play in this turnaround; in fact, the food and beverage industries behind the global food system contribute to a whopping 30% of climate change. The production of meat alone is responsible for more than twice the pollution of fruits, grains and greens.
It is not just about what we eat: massive change is also needed when it comes to food loss and food waste, both of which are major contributors to climate change. In addition, the IPCC report shows that a global shift to balanced, sustainable diets offers substantial potential to reduce net emissions by 2030. In this article, we examine what this type of diet might actually mean in practical terms, and how best to encourage this way of eating within your food business.
To date, much of the messaging has been around the importance of veganism and plant-based diets. However, as more research is completed, numerous studies suggest that the required solution may not require us all to follow this route. What is needed (and urgently) is the widespread adoption of a climate-friendly diet — one that’s achievable for everyone.
So what does a climate-friendly diet look like?
The optimal sustainable food system will vary amongst specific regions, due to differences in local climates, indigenous plants and natural ecosystems. (For one example, see The Sustainable Food Trust’s June 2022 report, Feeding Britain From the Ground Up, which outlined what this might look like for the UK.) However, there are general guidelines that could apply across the globe, the particulars of which can be adapted to suit specific localities. The most straightforward of these? More plants, less meat.
“Encouraging a dietary shift away from ruminant meat is associated with a large projected decline in GHG emissions, and is one of the most important food-related solutions available to us.” – WRI, 2020.
In 2020, the World Resources Institute released their ‘Playbook For Guiding Diners Towards Plant-Rich Foods’, a report which examined the most effective ways to encourage people to eat less meat. This emphasised that one of the most important ways to lessen the environmental impact of food production is to reduce demand for ruminant meat and encourage a shift to ‘plant-rich’ diets that revolve largely around vegetables, legumes, fruits, grains, pulses, nuts and seeds. However, unlike a vegan or vegetarian diet, small amounts of meat, eggs, dairy and fish can still be included. This is also known as flexitarianism.
“A sustainable food future is only possible, though, if diets in high meat-consuming countries such as the United States and in Europe move toward less resource-intensive foods like vegetables, legumes, grains and pulses. WRI’s research has found that even small reductions in people’s meat consumption can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of their diets.” – WRI, 2020.
One approach would require a worldwide consensus on, and implementation of, global dietary guidelines on healthy eating, called Healthy Global Diets (HGDs). Again, the overall focus is on more plants and less meat: this 2016 study suggests a 25% increase in fruits and vegetables consumed and a 56% reduction in red meat. The study found that bringing diets in line with these standards could reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 29-70% — and cut global mortality by up to 10% — compared to a reference scenario in 2050.
Consumers need guidance towards climate-friendly diets
While consumers are increasingly attracted by healthy and sustainable dietary choices, decisions made at an individual level are unlikely to be sufficient to effect the drastic change needed. One of the strongest conclusions in the WRI Playbook was that decision-making around what to eat “is rarely a rational and carefully thought-through process”. People crave familiarity and are influenced by a range of factors in their immediate environments.
The onus to make significant changes in the global food system, then, lies on industry. A concerted effort from growers, producers, manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, workplaces and government is needed to make plant-based foods convenient, enticing and tasty — to make them an easier and more attractive choice for the consumer.
How can we achieve this?
The Playbook lists 57 “behaviour change interventions” designed to nudge foodservice customers toward more plant-rich options, along with scores for the feasibility and potential impactfulness of each intervention. The following interventions were shortlisted as being both highly impactful and feasible for food businesses to implement. Why not set a goal of introducing a fixed number of these practices into your business each quarter?
- Reduce the amount of meat in a dish while increasing the amount of plants
- Improve the flavour and texture of plant-rich dishes
- Increase the variety of plant-rich dishes on offer
- Improve the appearance of plant-rich dishes
- Increase the variety of plant-rich dishes on offer
- Increase the relative number of plant-rich dishes on offer compared to meat- based dishes
- Introduce plant-rich alternatives to popular meat-based dishes
- Make self-service plant-rich food displays (e.g., buffets, shelves, food carts, or stations) more engaging
- Increase the amount of a self-service display (e.g., buffets, shelves, food carts, or stations) that is dedicated to plant-rich dishes
- Use language on menus to emphasise the positive attributes of plant-rich dishes
- List plant-rich dishes in the main body of a menu, not in a separate “vegetarian” box or “specials” section
- Use language on menus to recommend plant-rich dishes
- Remove unappealing language from menus
- Offer diners free samples or taste-testing events for plant-rich dishes
- Publicise the environmental benefits of plant-rich dishes using marketing materials like posters, leaflets, or TV screens
- Run cross-product promotions on plant-rich dishes and selected drinks, side dishes, or desserts
- Allow diners to add meat to a plant-rich dish for a surcharge
- Provide chefs and food preparation staff with information about the health and environmental benefits of plant-rich dishes
- Train chefs and food preparation staff in how to cook and prepare plant-rich dishes
- Encourage front-of-house staff (e.g., waiters, hosts) to try plant-rich dishes themselves
- Give chefs and food preparation staff access to the right tools, equipment, and ingredients to prepare plant-rich dishes
- Reward chefs and food preparation staff who create popular plant-rich dishes
- Provide front-of-house staff (e.g., waiters, hosts) with talking points to promote plant-rich dishes to diners.
Join the LIFE Climate Smart Chefs project
The LIFE Climate Smart Chefs project aims to contribute to the development and implementation of the EU Climate Policy and the Farm to Fork (F2F) Strategy, and to aid the shift towards a low carbon economy by nurturing a climate-smart cooking and eating culture across the EU food system. Its objectives are:
- to increase awareness of the relationship between food and climate change at the EU level, and
- to engage chefs as active changemakers and promoters of low emission, nutritious and affordable diets in the EU.
These will be accomplished through actively involving European chefs as promoters of low-emission, nutritious and affordable diets that reduce environmental impacts, improve public health and tackle food waste. The project hopes to kickstart a mainstream discussion about food as a key factor in climate change mitigation.
The Network of Life Climate Smart Chefs is made up of chef associations, restaurants, hotels and caterers who are passionate about reducing carbon emissions, water consumption and food waste. For everyone engaged in the hospitality industry, the project offers an opportunity to effect real, sustainable change for the benefit of our planet. For more information or to join the network, click here.
As part of this project, Nutritics have created a high-quality digital tool, Foodprint, which allows food businesses to design climate-smart and circular menus. Sustainability experts from Fondazione Barilla, the Italian culinary school ALMA (La Scuola Internazionale di Cucina Italiana), JAMK University of Applied Sciences and training specialists ENAIP NET were involved in developing Foodprint. The system will be validated across Europe, with Nutritics responsible for designing and carrying out several high-level training courses for chefs.
Nutritics will also be involved in developing a strategic policy paper, “Climate Smart Chefs Vision 2030,” for integrating the outputs from this project into EU policy on food systems. Published in July 2023, this Vision 2030 paper will be used to engage with EU policymakers and to contribute to transforming food systems within the European Union, as outlined by the Farm to Fork Strategy.
Read more about Foodprint and how it can directly benefit your business here, and drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.