Don't let your diet consume the planet


Many people don’t realise that the environmental and social impact of their diets can be surprisingly large, yet this can be quite easily reduced by taking a few simple steps.

Being sustainable with meatWe often take food for granted and don't look beyond the label when we visit the supermarket, a café or restaurant. We're often creatures of convenience and often tempted by food and drink that may not be very good for the planet's health or our own.

The impacts of our food from field to fork can be significant

According to studies from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 18% of global carbon emissions result from livestock consumed by humans and this could increase to 25% of global emission when we take into account impacts of deforestation, production and transport. Research from the US finds that the average American's diet has a footprint of around 2.5 tonnes CO2e per person each year. For a meat lover this rises to 3.3 t CO2e, for a no beef/lamb diet it is 1.9 t CO2e, for a vegetarian it's 1.7 t CO2e and for a vegan it is 1.5 t CO2e. 

Putting this into context 18 of the 20 lowest carbon emitters including Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe all emit less than 1 tonne of CO2 per person per year. In 2017 the average UK carbon footprint per person was 8.34 tonnes per year. By cutting back particularly on red meat then it is quite easy to cut down your carbon and have a healthier diet too.

Over packaged and many ready to eat dishes should come with planetary health warnings

Convenience can often win out but by looking at how we can make time to prepare and cook more nutritious and more sustainable foods we can do our bodies and the planet a favour. Some companies are working hard to reduce the impacts of the ingredients and the processes in making foodstuffs. 

It is worth looking at the labels on food before you buy it. Keep an eye open for logos that help give confidence in what you are buying including: Fairtrade, organic, free range, local, seasonal, Red Tractor, Food for Life, Marine Stewardship Council fish, Rainforest Alliance Certified and Certified Sustainable Palm Oil. Some food companies like Unilever have recognised that they have to themselves be sustainable and source ingredients to be sustainable if they are to trade in the future. M&S, Innocence Drinks, Leon and our own catering outlets at Greenwich strive to provide as sustainable range of food products as they can. There are leading food providers too so take some time to look for which companies you should support who can help the planet.

It's essential that we seek to reduce the amount of food waste we throw away. Waste charity WRAP found that UK households waste 4.5 million tonnes of food a year, or 13% of what we buy we throw out costing the average household £500 per year. Added to this is the amount of packaging we consume and throw away we can create a huge waste problem that can be easily reduced by avoiding overpackaged food, recycling and composting as much as possible and not contaminating the recycling stream with items that shouldn't be there including items with food still in/on them. Eating sustainably doesn't have to cost any more and is likely to help people save money overall.

Here are some suggestions you can start today:

  • Cut down on meat (especially red meat) and dairy. Buy free range meat if you can.
  • Look out for labels this helps you buy responsibly
  • Use up any leftovers – get creative!
  • Always use china mugs or your own Keep Cup when buying hot drinks in cafes (you may also get a discount for doing so)
  • Chose items with less or no packaging, use refill stores if you can
  • Avoid buying water, use tap instead and fill up a bottle
  • Recycle as much as you can and make use it is not contaminated
  • If you have a council food waste collection then use this.

As part of Green Week we have Mike Hanson Head of Sustainable Business at BaxterStorey  giving a talk "Can food be sustainable" Wednesday 25th November 2020 14.00-15.00. Check the Green Week Events list for the Teams link to join this virtual talk.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals related to food include: SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), 3 (Good Health & Wellbeing), 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life Below Water) & 15 (Life on Land).

Simon Goldsmith, Head of Sustainability

Current students; Current staff