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‘Cool Food Meals’ Badge Helps Diners ID Climate-Friendly Restaurant Meals

Now, just as diners can make decisions based on nutritional information, they can also decide what to eat based on the climate impact of a dish.

As the food industry works to rein in its impacts globally, the food-service and restaurant industries are beginning to do their part to lower the impacts of the foods they serve — and calling out these changes to their customers. In Europe, Max Burgers got the ball rolling in 2018 with the world’s first climate-positive burgers, and its continually expanding menu of plant-based options; and last month, US-based Just Salad began carbon-labeling its menu items to nudge customers toward lower-emissions choices.

And today, World Resources Institute (WRI) is adding to the mix with the launch of a new certification to help diners identify climate-friendly menu items. The new “Cool Food Meals” badge identifies dishes with a lower carbon footprint, in line with what WRI research finds is needed by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement. Now, just as consumers can make decisions based on nutritional information, they can also decide what to eat based on the climate impact of a dish.  

Animal-based foods account for two-thirds of agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions, making shifting diets toward less resource-intensive foods such as legumes and vegetables an important priority. It’s an issue that consumers are starting to tap into, with one recent report finding that 6 in 10 US consumers say it’s important to them that the food they consume is sustainable. In another report, half of those surveyed said they would be willing to choose more sustainable, plant-based foods if they had more information about their environmental impact. And research done by Sustainable Brands™’ Brands for Good collaboratory revealed that eating more plant-based foods is one of the nine most impactful behaviors that consumers can engage in to help create a healthy, equitable future for all.

“People are becoming more aware of climate change and its effects, but many still don’t know what they can do about it. Cool Food Meals helps people understand that taking action is as simple as what we eat,” said Daniel Vennard, Director of Sustainable Diets at WRI. “A busy parent or a college student — absolutely anyone — can now go into a restaurant; and by choosing a Cool Food Meal, they are part of a growing group of people who are building a climate-friendly lifestyle.”

Image credit: Panera Bread

Panera Bread is the first company with menu items to receive the Cool Food Meals certification. Starting today, Panera will label Cool Food Meals across its entire digital menu on the Panera Bread website and mobile app. The more than half of Panera’s entrees qualifying as Cool Food Meals include customer favorites such as the Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt, the Mediterranean Grain Bowl (pictured)  and Broccoli Cheddar Soup

“With 55 percent of Panera entrees certified as Cool Food Meals, our guests have many choices for delicious food with a lower carbon footprint, making it possible to help impact climate change through the food they eat in our bakery-cafes.  The Cool Food Meals certification is giving Panera another way to give our guests information to make choices that align with their values, which is something we’ve always believed in,” said Panera CEO Niren Chaudhary. “We’re thrilled to partner with WRI to spotlight Cool Food Meals, and show that eating well for the planet can be not just easy, but delicious.”

Using a dish’s ingredients list, WRI calculates the dish’s carbon footprint by analyzing the emissions from the agricultural supply chains and the land used to produce the meal. If a dish’s carbon footprint falls below an established per-meal threshold and meets a nutrition safeguard, it is approved as a Cool Food Meal. The per-meal threshold is based upon a maximum recommended daily carbon footprint for a person’s diet, which is 38 percent smaller than the current average. For breakfast in the US, this is 3.59 kg CO2e/portion and for lunch or dinner it is 5.38kg CO2e/portion. This is in line with what WRI’s research has found is needed by 2030 to help meet the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Cool Food Meals badge is just the latest initiative from WRI to help increase the sustainability of the food-service industry. In January, it launched a playbook to give companies across the food service industry pointers on how to encourage diners to choose more plant-rich meals. The playbook highlights 23 behavior-change strategies that have emerged in recent years — designed to shift diets for those dining out. They are presented in five categories: productplacementpresentationpromotion and people – the 5 ‘P’s.

Through its Cool Food initiative, WRI also leads the Cool Food Pledge — which helps restaurants, hospitals, hotels, universities and cities tap the latest behavioral science to cut emissions from the food they serve. Strategies range from changing menu layouts and using appetizing language to help consumers more often choose low-carbon options, to offering more plant-focused meals. 

BrownsCambridge University, the city of CopenhagenHarvesterNestléNew York University and the city of Toronto are the newest members to sign on to the Cool Food Pledge, which launched in 2018. Together, Cool Food Pledge members are already making 940 million meals more sustainable each year. Preliminary data for 2019 show that Cool Food Pledge members have already reduced their food-related emissions by 3 percent collectively, which is ahead of the pace needed to meet the group’s target of reducing emissions by 25 percent by 2030.   

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