Eco-Conscious Carbon Footprint Scores Are Coming to a Fast-Casual Menu Near You

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There was a time—not terribly long ago—where calorie counts on menus were a novelty, not the norm. (In 2006, New York City became the first city to adopt calorie labeling on chain restaurant menus and menu boards and in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration required all chains to include it.) While we now know that counting calories it is not a perfect measure of health or nutrition, movement still made a little easier for people to make more informed health decisions when eating out. Now, Panera Bread is hoping to make the same level of change, this time with the environment in mind.

In October, the restaurant chain (which has over 2000 locations in the U.S.) announced its new carbon footprint labeling program, It offered a seal of “Cool food meals” that indicates which menu items have a low carbon footprint. (Carbon footprint, FYI, refers to the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted to create a product at all stages of production.)

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“About a year ago, we started having a conversation about what is issues related to consumers about climate change, and it was a great one that happened,” says Sara Burnett, Vice President of Food Values, Sustainability and public affairs of Panera. “It was something we had not [previously] been able to translate to what is in the dish of someone and the impact it has on the environment.”

To do so, Panera Bread partnered with the non-profit World Resources Institute, which calculates the carbon footprint of every single menu item, and will continue to anything new added to the menu. As with anything new, the numbers of carbon footprint is likely to be confusing for most consumers, few people know what constitutes a “good score.” And given the mixed success of calorie labels at spurring healthy changes, will noting carbon footprint “scores” truly impact what and how people eat? Here’s what to know about the new system.

How carbon footprints on menus are calculated

Daniel Vennard, director and founder of Best Buy Lab and Fresh Oath food WRI says how they calculate the carbon footprint for each menu item Panera was by calculating the carbon footprint of each ingredient on each plate. (For example, calculating the carbon footprint of avocado toast requires investigate avocados themselves, as well as bread, condiments, oils added finished, a poached egg extra on the top, and literally anything else of the final product.)

But things get complicated quickly, which is why Vennard says the results are not perfect. IRG says does not consider emissions of greenhouse gases that can occur during the cooking process because it is a small part of global emissions of any food. It is also virtually impossible to calculate emissions of greenhouse gases to transport food to each specific Panera Bread location. (In contrast, foods are given a regional score to account for the emissions of greenhouse gases from transport.) Vennard said that the large amount of greenhouse gases impact comes from the supply chain in the cultivation and transport food. So that’s what calculations focus on.

“In terms of what is considered una’buena’puntuación, this is based on the standards established by the Paris Agreement Climate of what should be our carbon footprint everyday food [that will not increase heating global], “says Burnett. WRI calculated what this threshold should be for each meal of the day. For breakfast, this is 3.59 kg CO2 eq / lot, and for lunch or dinner 5.38kg CO2e / lot. Both AT and Panera recognize that these results are strange to most people, so a cold Food Food stamp designed to indicate which menu items are below these thresholds. And it is not meant to be just a Panera thing. Both Burnett and Vennard expect other restaurants start using them, too.

Will carbon footprint scores on menus actually make a difference?

Include a carbon footprint on the menus is certainly something that sounds like a good idea, but part of me wondered if it was just a marketing strategy. About BPD me so Kyle Gaan, a research analyst at the Good Food Institute, and Laura Timlin, director of Carbon Trust, two organizations committed to sustainability that were not part of the new initiative of Panera.

“Of course, I do not see anything negative to adding the scores of menus,” Gaan says. “Anything that can raise awareness of what we eat and the effect it has on the environment and climate change is positive.” Still, wonders how much will really change the food choices of consumers. “When you look at various studies on the behavior of the consumer, the first factor that comes into play when figuring out what to eat is the taste. The second is health, then environmental concerns or concerns of the animal welfare are what people think about the next one. ”

Gaan makes a good point: A seeing a gold star (or seal) to the side of a menu item indicates that this is a sustainable option can not be the main factor in terms of what most people ordered. But he also notes that many of the same foods that are sustainable are also rich in nutrients. “For example, we know that animal products have a high carbon footprint because it requires a lot of land not only for animals, but also to feed them,” he says. “And at the same time, there is increasingly evidence showing that a lifestyle based plant has many nutritional benefits.”

Timlin, meanwhile, is the inclusion in the menus. “It’s shocking,” she says. “Sharing information on the carbon footprint for different food choices helps building awareness with consumers about the effects of climate change decisions. For those consumers who want to reduce their carbon footprint, this information will help them make informed purchasing decisions. We also know that successful behavior change, consumers need clear and simple information and businesses have a role to play in providing this “.

But Timlin also says the carbon footprint restaurants are not the only factor and brands must consider in terms of sustainability and social responsibility. Water use, plastic use, and Fair Trade practices are also important to consider, she says, though they may take more digging than just glancing at the menu.

Will other restaurants follow in Panera’s footsteps?

As Burnett and Vennard shared their hope is not that Panera will remain the only restaurant by adding the scores carbon footprint menus; They expect to become an industry standard. While we’re definitely not there yet, some other restaurant chains join the conversation.

Vennard says that WRI has also worked with Just Salad to calculate the carbon footprint scores of menu items; as of June 2020, that score is included on every salad or bowl it sells. On October 26, Chipotle debuted its “Real Footprint” feature, which shows the environmental impact ingredients have, taking into account greenhouse gas emissions, water use, impact on soil health, organic land supported, and antibiotics used or avoided. (Here’s a Tiktok of Bill Nye the Science Guy explaining how it works.) “Through real Foodprint function, Chipotle expects conscious consumers will understand more clearly their personal impact on the planet. On the confirmation screen order in the application and [online], guests receive data on the five metrics, “the brand in a press release.

Including carbon emissions in the menus is certainly not something that is the mainstream yet. But as more chains make an effort to educate consumers about food has an impact on climate change, is not a strange idea that will become the norm. “Consumers need to point to brands that want low-carbon alternatives,” says Timlin. “The most effective companies will participate with customers, listen, learn and make every effort to be transparent about their approach to climate change.” It is progress that can start with one step and one score.

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