Diners choose greener meals when each dish’s carbon footprint is printed on the menu

How restaurants can step up their fight against climate change: Diners choose greener meals when each dish’s carbon footprint is printed on the menu, study finds

  • The researchers created two versions of each of the restaurant’s nine hypothetical menus
  • One version simply had the dish name, description and price
  • The other version also showed the carbon emissions for each plate
  • They tested the menus with 256 participants and found that people chose more climate-friendly dishes when carbon labels were present.

Whether it’s switching to LED bulbs or choosing to walk to work, many of us are already doing things to limit our carbon emissions.

Now, a new study by researchers at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg has highlighted how restaurants can step up the fight against climate change.

The researchers found that diners choose greener meals when each dish’s carbon footprint is printed on the menu.

‘Designing restaurant menus has a considerable effect on the carbon footprint of meals,’ wrote the researchers in their study, published in PLOS Climate.

Diners choose greener meals when the carbon footprint of each dish is printed on the menu (archive image)

One version of the menu simply had the dish name, description and price

The other version of the menu also showed the CO2 emissions of the dish

In the study, the team created two versions each of nine hypothetical restaurant menus from different cuisines

What are carbon footprint labels?

Carbon labels show the carbon dioxide emissions created as a byproduct of manufacturing, transporting and packing and disposing of a consumer product.

They are like an environmental version of nutrition labels that show the fat, salt and sugar content.

Measurements are displayed in CO2e, or carbon dioxide equivalent, the standard unit for measuring the carbon footprint.

Previous research has shown how our food choices substantially affect our personal carbon footprint.

However, until now, little research has focused on how restaurant menu design affects our climate-related choices.

“The goal of our study was to investigate how to reduce the carbon footprint of dish choices by using climate-friendly components as default options and providing information on greenhouse gases. [greenhouse gas] emissions for each dish, ‘explained the researchers.

In the study, the team created two versions each of nine hypothetical restaurant menus from different cuisines.

One version simply had the dish’s name, description and price, while the other also showed the dish’s CO2 emissions.

For example, one of the menus listed a couscous salad with the option of beef (high CO2), chicken shawarma (medium CO2), or falafel (low CO2).

In an online study, 256 volunteers were randomly shown the CO2-labeled or unlabeled version of menus before being asked to select a dish.

Carbon labels show the carbon dioxide emissions created as a byproduct of manufacturing, transporting and packing and disposing of a consumer product

Carbon labels show the carbon dioxide emissions created as a byproduct of manufacturing, transporting and packing and disposing of a consumer product

The results revealed that participants chose more climate-friendly dishes when carbon labels were present.

“On average, greenhouse gas emissions per dish were 13.5 percent lower when carbon labels were present than when they were absent,” the researchers said.

Gender also seemed to play a role in the choice of dishes: on average, male participants chose high-emission dishes more often than females.

The team hopes the findings will encourage restaurant owners to consider adding carbon labels and low-carbon options to their menus.

“If we want to visit more climate-friendly restaurants, highlighting the components of dishes on a menu can really be an important parameter because it communicates what is normal and recommended,” added the team.

“It might also be one of the easiest things restaurant owners can do.”

In follow-up studies, the researchers hope to study the impact of personal habits, such as vegetarianism, on menu choice.

Unilever will add carbon footprint labels to its products later this year

British consumer goods giant unilever is set to add “carbon footprint labels” to its products by the end of this year, it announced.

Carbon footprint labels show the carbon footprint of certain products – the total greenhouse gas emissions they are responsible for – from ‘factor to table’.

Unilever’s 75,000 products include Hellmann’s Pot Noodle, Marmite, Cornetto, Magnum and Mayonnaise, as well as non-edible items like toothpaste and bubble bath.

The company will add carbon footprint labels to up to two dozen of its products “in North America or Europe” as part of a pilot project, he told MailOnline, but wants to distribute carbon dioxide labels to all of its products within about 2026.

However, he conceded that the data on which the labeling system would be based could not be 100% accurate.

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