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

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

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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The Author

Charlotte Pointing

Charlotte writes about sustainable beauty, fashion, and food. She spent more than 4 years editing in leading vegan media, and has a degree in history and a postgraduate in cultural heritage.

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James Felder
James Felder
3 months ago

I don’t know if this is the case, but all of these ratings should be normalized values. The most likely normalized values would be CO2e per calorie. Perhaps something even more radical could be CO2e per gram of fiber, since fiber is one thing that 90%-95% of people are highly deficient in. Probably a more meaningful normalizer would be CO2e divided by some type of “nutrition score” which would reflect total nutritional value of the dish, since the biological reason to eat is to obtain the necessary amount of nutrients to stay healthy without having to over consume calories in order to obtain them.

One potential way to develop a total nutritional score would be to divide the percentage of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of a specific nutrient by the percentage of daily calories in the dish. Then using some weighting scheme the %RDI / %calories ratios for each nutrient would then be summed together to give a single number score. Nutrients that are not consumed in adequate amounts in the general population (like fiber!) would be given a higher weighting while those that even the worst diet tends to provide adequate amounts (like protein) would be weighted less.

Such a scoring would steer diners to food that gives them the most nutritional bang for their CO2e buck. And it would have the advantage of fairly scoring all foods regardless whether they are plant or animal based so the carnist can’t complain this is all some vegan conspiracy to guilt them into giving up their steak and burgers and eat rabbit food.

3 months ago

Carbon Footprint? IPCC figures, Animal Agriculture 14.5%, Arable Agriculture 11.5%. Which foods should you Tax?

Sheeta Rai
Sheeta Rai
3 months ago

Thanks for inspiring

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