FAQ

Why do food and restaurants matter for climate change?

  • Approximately 30 percent of global emissions are related to food production and distribution. That is to say, almost a third of greenhouse gases are a result of growing, shipping, cooking, and disposing of food.
  • Eating is the most significant interaction most of us have with the environment. Even if we remain cloistered in air-conditioned rooms in front of keyboards and monitors for most of the day, at some point we must eat—and whether it’s a carrot stick or a Big Mac, with our first bite we implicate ourselves in the food system.
  • Cooking and eating provides us with a daily opportunity to think about our impacts and make choices that can reduce that impact—either by eating something different or offsetting the impact of your choices. 

What is a Foodprint?

  • A Foodprint is our term for the amount of carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions (CO2e) produced by a restaurant or diner. A Foodprint can be calculated for a restaurant’s annual operations or just one meal, but it includes all of the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with that activity, including ingredients, energy use, transportation, and waste. 

Why carbon? Why climate change?

  • To assess the full environmental impact of a meal is incredibly complicated—there are too many moving pieces. Assessing greenhouse gas emissions or CO2 equivalents (CO2e) is a proxy for a broader suite of environmental impacts relating primarily to the effects on global warming. It also happens to be a strong indicator of overall energy consumption hotspots. 

How does ZFP calculate a foodprint?

  • When it comes to assessing environmental impact, scientists often employ a life-cycle analysis. A full LCA examines the total environmental impact of a product, from raw material to used item. For instance, if we were to analyze an egg, we’d look at everything that went into the care and raising of the chicken that laid the egg (what it ate, how the feed was grown, how the feed got to the farm); the transportation of the egg from the farm, to the distributor, to the store, to the consumer; and whether the shell was composted or deposited into a landfill. Such a lifecycle analysis can run hundreds of pages, the product of thousands of hours of research.
  • ZFP uses an LCA-lite approach; focusing just on GHG emissions, not complete environmental impact. We are specific where possible—looking at actual power and gas bills, and real delivery schedules—and generalizing where necessary. To build on the egg example, we look not at a particular egg, but eggs in general, using publicly available information about emissions from eggs.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies the environmental impacts arising from the production, use and disposal of products. LCA provides a mechanism for investigating and evaluating such impacts all the way from the extraction of basic materials from nature, through production, processing, distribution, product use and end-of-life management (which may be disposal, reuse, recycling or recovery).

 

What emissions sources do ZFP include in their assessments?

  • Deliveries, including the frequency and size of trucks bringing food and supplies to each restaurant.
  •  Electricity use.
  • Other energy use, specifically natural gas.
  • Waste breakdown and hauling.
  • Ingredient production, meaning the emissions associated with the cultivation and/or production of the raw vegetables, meat, and pantry items used in every dish.

 

What does the life cycle of an ingredient include?

  • Let’s take milk as an example. An LCA of a gallon of milk would start at the production of feed for the cows, continue through the processing of the milk, and end in a restaurant or a home. A gallon of milk has a carbon footprint of 6.9–9.4 kg of CO2, with variability coming from geographic differences and farming practices. 20.3 percent of that footprint comes from feed production, 51.5 percent from milk production, and the remainder is distributed across the rest of the value chain from processing the milk (pasteurization), to refrigeration in the consumer’s home.

Source: Source: Innovation Center for US Dairy, U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment Progress Report: Sustaining the Dairy Industry for Future Generations, accessed January 9, 2011, http://www.usdairy.com/Public%20Communication%20Tools/USDairy_Sustainability_Report_12-2010%20(4).pdf.  

Source: Source: Innovation Center for US Dairy, U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment Progress Report: Sustaining the Dairy Industry for Future Generations, accessed January 9, 2011, http://www.usdairy.com/Public%20Communication%20Tools/USDairy_Sustainability_Report_12-2010%20(4).pdf.

 

What are the biggest emission sources in a foodprint?

  • The production and distribution of ingredients are the largest single contributor to a restaurant’s foodprint.
  • Feedlot-raised red meat dominates the ingredients from a carbon-intensity perspective.
  • Food handling and preparation is energy intensive, with ovens, stoves, refrigerators, and other appliances drawing large amounts of energy. The energy sector is the largest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. 
  • Beverages can also rank high on carbon intensity, especially any beverage high in sugar.
  • Waste, including food waste, creates emissions through its removal and disposal, not least from the methane emissions generated by landfills. 

 

What’s the deal with red meat? Why is it so carbon intensive?

  • Beef production requires significant amounts of feed, land, and water. Inputs, such as fertilizer used to grow feed in many commercial beef operations, have a significant impact on emissions. And cows themselves contribute a huge amount of GHG through methane produced from their digestive process and the manure that they produce. 

  • Enteric fermentation is a natural part of the digestive process for many ruminant animals, including cattle. A resulting byproduct of this process is methane (CH4), which has a global warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Source: Bailey, R., Froggatt, A. and Wellesley, L. (2014) Livestock - Climate Change's Forgotten Sector: Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption, Chatham House.

Source: Bailey, R., Froggatt, A. and Wellesley, L. (2014) Livestock - Climate Change's Forgotten Sector: Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption, Chatham House.

How do you get to a “zero” foodprint?

  • Restaurants can mitigate their foodprint, particularly in their operations, by improving energy efficiency and reducing food waste. Beyond that, ZeroFoodprint utilizes offsets to balance out the emissions from restaurants. Those offsets [link] support food-related carbon projects around the world, including efficient cook stoves in Ghana and livestock methane capture in the U.S.

What is a carbon offset?

A greenhouse gas (GHG) or “carbon” offset is a metric ton of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) that is reduced, avoided, or sequestered to compensate for emissions occurring elsewhere.

 

Why become a ZeroFoodprint restaurant?

  • Simply put, because it doesn’t take that much time or money, and it matters.
  • Imagine if a huge group of restaurants agreed to:
    • 1) open themselves up to understanding their respective carbon footprints, and
    • 2) commit to reducing their carbon footprints to zero through on-site improvements and offsets. Not only could we redefine dining out as a way of helping the environment, but we could have a significant impact on global carbon emissions. 

 

[1] Quantities of non-CO2 greenhouse gases are often converted to the “CO2-equivalent” tons denotation, calculated based on the strength of their atmospheric forcing effects per ton (as compared to CO2).