Carbon Footprint Labels On Menus Encourage Diners To Choose Plant-Based Foods, Says New Study

A growing body of research says that plant-based food choices are far better for the planet than meat options


2 Minutes Read

People sat at a table ordering food from menus Climate labels on menus could help people make more sustainable food choices says a new study. - Media Credit: Adobe Stock

Climate labels on menus could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, suggests a new study.

German researchers found that when menus feature clear carbon footprint labels, diners are more likely to choose plant-based foods.

Animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but plant-based foods have a considerably lower impact. In 2018, one of the biggest ever food production studies revealed that going vegan was one of the most impactful choices a person could make for the benefit of the planet. 

The new study from Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg was published in the journal PLOS Climate.

Researchers gave more than 250 participants nine hypothetical menu designs. All had the emissions impact of each option clearly labeled.

For some dishes, the label indicated a “high emission” option (i.e. a salad with beef) or a “low emission” option (i.e. a salad with falafel). There was also a third, “medium emission” choice for some (a salad with chicken, for example).

Encouraging sustainable food choices

The researchers suggested that adding climate labels to menus was one of the “easiest things” restaurant owners can do to encourage more sustainable food choices.

They stated: “If we want more climate-friendly restaurant visits, highlighting dish components on a menu can really be an important parameter because it communicates what is normal and recommended.”

Some restauranteurs have already added climate labels to menus. Lou Palmer-Masterton, who owns the small vegan restaurant chain Stem & Glory, started including carbon emission scores on menus last year.

For example, Stem & Glory’s Affogato dessert contains a shot of espresso and dairy-free vanilla ice cream. It features a “high” rating. But most of its options range from “very low” to “low” on the carbon intensity scale.

Palmer-Masterton told the BBC: “Even though all our products are plant-based, I was still curious about the impact they have on the environment. This movement is exploding right now, and it makes sense.”

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