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Hilton, Oatly Advance Case for Carbon Labeling Food

The vocal oatmilk brand is calling for mandatory climate labeling of food in the UK; and the global hotel chain now has carbon-labeled menus at 30 UK properties.

Oatly rallies UK food industry to carbon label products

Oatly continues its campaign to increase transparency in the food industry — including challenging 'big dairy' to share its climate-impact data | Image credit: Oatly

Oatly has launched a campaign calling for all UK food and drink producers to adopt climate labeling. The company — which already makes its emissions data public and has urged the dairy industry to do the same — hopes to join forces with other companies to come up with an effective climate-labeling system and put pressure on the UK government to make it mandatory.

Oatly — an industry leader in increasing awareness of the impacts of food through transparent, data-driven marketing — has also published what it’s calling a “grey paper” (highlighting the fact that “climate labeling isn’t a black-and-white issue, where certain foods are good and others are not”) called Climate Labeling: Why Not?, to make the case for other companies to follow suit. The paper advocates for mandatory climate labeling and stresses that changes in consumer behavior can play a pivotal role in reducing these emissions.

“The food and drink we consume is responsible for a third of total UK emissions. Scientists, including the UK Government’s own Climate Change Committee (CCC), are clear that those emissions must urgently come down and that consumer behavior change is a necessary part of that,” said Bryan Carroll, General Manager of Oatly UK and Ireland. “Given the urgency of our climate challenge, we believe it should be as easy for shoppers to find the climate impact of what they’re buying as it is to find its price tag.”

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The call for transparency around the climate impacts of food comes as the UK Government establishes the Food Data Transparency Partnership, which aims to explore possible climate-labeling policies for the industry.

Mark Shayler, sustainability strategist and author of You Can’t Make Money from a Dead Planet, told Yahoo! News: “Any information that helps people make better environmental decisions and helps companies measure, and ultimately reduce, their impact is to be welcomed.”

Shayler added that, even though carbon isn’t a perfect measure of environmental impact, “it is the best one that we have” — and it may, in fact, uncover a few surprises. For example:

“Imported tomatoes can often have a lower carbon impact than those grown in heated greenhouses here,” he said. “It will also shine a light on production methods — with grass-fed beef having a lower impact than beef fed on soy beans or from areas that have been cleared of forest. Information is power; and this adds sharper focus to the food supply chain and will hopefully result in lower-impact food.”

Hilton expands carbon-labeled menus

Hilton has introduced lower-impact menu items including this gochujang cauliflower wings appetizer | Image credit: Hilton

Meanwhile, after a successful trial, Hilton has ramped up its own carbon labeling with new, low-impact menus at 30 hotels across the UK.

Developed in partnership with sustainability experts Klimato, the menus aim to show guests the environmental impact of their food choices with a simple labeling system. Each dish is labeled low, medium or high using a graduated green scale that illustrates and contextualizes the carbon footprint per serving.

According to a 2018 WWF report, an average UK lunch or dinner has a carbon footprint of roughly 1.6 kg CO2e; to align with the UN’s climate goals outlined in the Paris Agreement, this number should not exceed 0.5 kg CO2e.

To continue to rein in its food-related impacts, the global hotel chain worked with Klimato to calculate the lifecycle carbon footprint of its menu items and communicate this data with diners. Rather than confront guests with confusing facts and numbers, the system is designed to spark positive conversation, using neutral language so guests can easily compare their options — the same carbon-labeling system used at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021. Klimato’s label consists of a circle that is filled with green to a level corresponding to the emissions footprint of the dish; almost half of the dishes served at participating hotels are now identified by Klimato as low impact.

Hilton says it is the first hotel chain in the UK to introduce carbon labeling at scale to help guests to make more informed choices across almost 30 hotels in cities including Leeds, Liverpool, London and Newcastle.

Early findings by Hilton suggests the system has led to a shift in guest behavior — with low- and medium-impact dishes proving popular; as a result of the initial engagement, Hilton says for the autumn menu it increased the proportion of low- and medium-impact dishes to over 85 percent.

“Carbon labeling is an easy way to empower guests to make more informed choices, and we’re delighted to see they’re already embracing these insights — whether that’s by opting for an ultra-low emission dish or simply reducing the frequency with which they order dishes with a higher carbon footprint,” said Emma Banks, VP of food and beverage strategy and development for Hilton EMEA.

Choosing a plant-based burger over a beef burger, for example, results in a reduction of CO2 emissions equal to driving 63 kilometers in a car. An example of a low-impact three-course meal includes the new gochujang cauliflower wings appetizer, followed by a butternut squash risotto or a fish finger sandwich, with a salted caramel affogato for dessert — for a total of 1.2 kg CO2e.

“Hilton’s dedication to calculating, communicating and reducing their food’s environmental impact is commendable,” says Klimato co-founder Christoffer Connée. “By taking this important step, they are not only leading by example but also raising awareness about the crucial issue of food and sustainability.”

Outside the UK, Hilton Brussels Grand Place is the first Belgian hotel to have Klimato carbon labels — which are featured on its à la carte menu.

Image credit: Hilton Brussels Grand Place

“The daily news makes us very aware of the impact of climate change all over the world — our time to act is now, and we all need to play a part for change to happen,” said GM Ellen Deboeck. “At Hilton Brussels Grand Place, we want to offer in our main restaurant, Sentro, a delicious menu as well as helping our guests make more informed choices. That is where awareness and action starts!”