A climate-friendly Cool Food Meal. Image credit: Cool Food Pledge

Pepsi, UT Austin join WRI’s Cool Food initiative for climate-friendly diets

April 26, 2022

PepsiCo, the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), ISS, and healthcare organizations Providence and the Mount Sinai Health System are joining the Cool Food Pledge, part of a World Resources Institute (WRI) initiative that aims to convert consumers more climate-friendly diets.

Cool Food works with a growing number of foodservice organizations, hotels, and restaurants, as well as companies and schools hoping to bring more climate-friendly options into their canteens. The overarching goal of the program is to slash food-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25% by 2030.

How it works:

To date, 60 organizations, including foodservice giant Aramark and restaurant chain Panera, have signed up to the Cool Food Pledge. 

  • Participants commit to a collective target for a 25% reduction in diet-related GHG emissions associated with the food they serve by 2030. WRI says this number is in line with keeping global warming below the 1.5C set forth by the Paris Agreement.
  • Once signed up, organizations select from 23 “best bet interventions” that can shift diners towards more climate-friendly food, including making plant-rich dishes more visible or using language that describes the preparation methods.
  • The Cool Food team will advise organizations on how to monitor progress and the data they need on things like animal-based foods and plant proteins. 

Edwina Hughes, head of Cool Food, WRI, told AFN: “We think large food providers can do more to champion delicious climate action with meals and snacks that use fewer climate-impactful foods, and more of the climate-friendly ones. We, as NGOs, can help by keeping the message simple. We’ve launched Cool Food Meals to cut through to offer the consumer a climate-friendly meal with a simple label backed by WRI’s environmental science.”

Why it matters:

WRI says that if Cool Food Pledge signatories collectively hit the 25% reduction target by 2030, they’d reduce annual food-related emissions by 1.3 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent – similar to taking roughly 285,000 passenger vehicles off US roads, it claims.

Influencing consumer behavior is a critical component here. A recent online survey by WRI of more than 6,000 respondents found that “thoughtfully framed environmental messages on restaurant menus can significantly increase customers’ uptake of lower-carbon, plant-rich dishes.”

“The onus shouldn’t sit with the consumer alone, but it is important for people to feel engaged and empowered to take action on the climate – and choosing a climate-friendly meal is a great way to do this,” Hughes said.

“When a foodservice organization puts climate at the heart of its food offering, it is bringing the consumer along on the journey.” 

The bigger picture:

The UN Food & Agriculture Organization estimates that emissions from animal agriculture represent roughly 14.5% of annual anthropogenic GHG emissions

  • Research from WRI has found that for “people who consume high amounts of meat and dairy, shifting to diets with a greater share of plant-based foods could significantly reduce agriculture’s pressure on the environment.”
  • This echoes other research, such as findings from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which suggested a typical meat-eater’s diet requires 17 times more land, 14 times more water, and 10 times more energy than a vegetarian’s. 
  • A research paper published in PLOS Climate by Impossible Foods and PLOS founder Patrick Brown claims that if the world were to transition to a plant-based food system over the next 15 years, it would “prevent enough GHG emissions to effectively cancel out emissions from all other economic sectors for the next 30 to 50 years.”

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