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Student Demand for Low-Impact Meals Increases After Climate-Labeled College Menus

Results from first year of Chartwells Higher Education’s exclusive partnership with HowGood show positive correlations between climate labels on menus and sustainable choices.

Last year, millions of US students started seeing the social and environmental impacts of the food they ate through an exclusive climate labeling partnership between Chartwells Higher Education — foodservice provider to over 300 colleges and universities across the US — and sustainability intelligence company HowGood, which has the world’s largest database on ingredient and product sustainability. Today, the companies shared initial results from their partnership — revealing a significant increase in student demand for lower-impact meals after HowGood’s climate labels were introduced.

In May 2022, Chartwells partnered with HowGood to measure the overall sustainability of its menu items based on eight core social and environmental impact metrics: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, processing, water usage, soil health, land use, working conditions, biodiversity and animal welfare. After Chartwells added climate-impact labels to dining hall menus, student demand for low-impact recipes increased — with Chartwells recording a 37 percent rise in the production of recipes that received positive ratings from HowGood. Furthermore, in Fall 2022, less than a third of Chartwells’ recipes menus nationwide received positive HowGood scores. One year later, nearly half (44 percent) of recipes on Chartwells’ partner school menus nationwide received a positive rating. Chartwells plans to increase this number moving forward by integrating GHG emissions-reducing potential as a criterion in recipe development and innovation along with nutrition, taste and cost.

Image credit: Chartwells

“We were thrilled to be the first and only foodservice provider to introduce holistic climate labels to university dining halls,” said Monalisa Prasad, Director of Sustainability at Chartwells Higher Education. “The feedback so far from students and campus partners has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re continuing to improve the program by offering a broader range of low-impact menu options and making positive impacts easier to understand through measures like simplified iconography.”

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Conscientious eaters are increasingly cognizant of the climate impact of food items — recent research suggests that consumers are willing to pay more for food products that exhibit a lower carbon footprint; and in restaurants, carefully reframing menu language can successfully nudge diners toward more climate-friendly food options. Forward-thinking foodies have embraced carbon-labeled food items from brands including Oatly, Quorn and Strong Roots; and on menus at Chipotle, Just Salad and Hilton hotels.

Chartwells’ culinary team is using Latis, HowGood’s proprietary digital platform, to continually improve recipes based on their GHG emissions-reducing potential. The platform allows Chartwells to test and innovate menu items with comprehensive, ingredient-level insights across all eight impact metrics for over 33,000 ingredients. These measures will help Chartwells and its partner campuses advance their sustainability goals by increasing the inclusion of more sustainable meals and helping guests make more informed choices.

“When Chartwells brought us the idea of adding climate labels to the dining halls, we were immediately sold; it was the exact kind of innovative and sustainably focused thinking we’ve

come to expect from Chartwells,” said Julie Bannister, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Auxiliary Services at The University of Pittsburgh. “Our university’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2037, and we’re thankful to have a food service partner that not only helps us achieve that goal but empowers our students to make their own decisions that are better for the planet.”

"We have been continually inspired by our partnership with Chartwells," said Christina Lampert, Director of Growth and Innovation at HowGood — a leader in helping brands carbon-label their products. "Their commitment to sustainability can be seen not only in their transparent communications with students, but also in their carbon reduction- focused recipe development work. It has been a joy to enable them with the tools they need to do both, and we are so pleased to see such clear results one year into our partnership."

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