Cool Food Meals FAQs.

What impact does food have on the climate?

Agriculture and related land-use change (e.g., deforestation) account for nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As the world population approaches 10 billion by 2050, emissions from agriculture and land could grow to take up the majority of the “carbon budget” for limiting global warming to acceptable levels. Tackling the climate crisis requires not only reducing fossil fuel use but also changing how we grow and eat food.

How do climate impacts differ by food type?

Not all foods have equal impacts. Animal proteins—especially beef and lamb—are generally more resource-intensive to produce than plant-based foods, increasing pressure on forests, freshwater, and the climate. Helping more people shift away from meat-centered and toward more plant-forward diets can have tremendous climate and other environmental benefits. By choosing a Cool Food Meal, we can all help to build a better, more sustainable future.

How are Cool Food Meals identified?

Using a dish’s ingredients list, World Resources Institute (WRI) calculates a dish’s carbon footprint by analyzing the agricultural supply chain and land used to produce the meal. If the carbon footprint meets an established per-meal GHG emissions threshold and nutritional standards, the dish is approved as a Cool Food Meal.

What does Cool Food consider a “meal”?

Cool Food uses the definition of “main dish” from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which states products must satisfy the following criteria:

  1. They should weigh at least 6 ounces (oz) (170 grams [g]) per labeled serving, and contain not less than 40 g of food(s) from at least two of the following food groups: bread/cereal/rice/pasta, fruits/vegetables, dairy, and meat/fish/eggs/beans/nuts.
  2. They should not be sauces or other types of condiment or garnish.
  3. They should be commonly understood by consumers to be a main dish, and not a snack/beverage/dessert.
How is the maximum threshold for GHG emissions per Cool Food Meal determined?

WRI has established a maximum recommended daily carbon footprint for a person’s diet, which is 38 percent smaller than the average diet in Cool Food’s base year of 2015. This is in line with a level of change needed by 2030 to help avoid the worst impacts of climate change. This carbon footprint is then shared across meals in a day. A breakfast’s carbon footprint must be no more than 20 percent of the recommended daily carbon footprint of a person’s diet, and a lunch or dinner no more than 30 percent. In the U.S. and Canada, the maximum threshold for breakfasts is 3.59 kg CO2e/portion and for lunches and dinners it is 5.38 kg CO2e/portion. Further details can be found in WRI’s Cool Food Meals Technical Note.

 

What are the nutritional standards for Cool Food Meals?

Health is also an essential part of dietary sustainability. To screen out less healthy meals, WRI uses the Nutri-Score method, which is already used in several countries including France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany. The method accounts for four “unfavorable” components which are considered unhealthy when consumed in excess (calories, saturated fat, sugars, and sodium), and three “favorable” components (protein, fiber, and fruits / vegetables / pulses / nuts / oils). Dishes that score a D or E (on an A-B-C-D-E scale) are excluded and cannot be a Cool Food Meal. Further details can be found in WRI’s Cool Food Meal Technical Note.

 

Who is offering Cool Food Meals, and how can my company participate?

Panera Bread is the first company with menu items to receive the Cool Food Meals certification on qualifying menu items. If your company would like to explore offering Cool Food Meals, please email us at coolfood@wri.org.

What GHG emission factors are you using?

We use agricultural supply chain emission factors from a global life cycle meta-analysis by Poore and Nemecek (2018) and carbon opportunity cost emission factors from Searchinger et al. (2018). Additional detail on these data sets and calculation methods are available here, and the Cool Food Calculator is available here.

How do you account for land use in your GHG emissions estimates?

Life cycle assessments of food production commonly either do not account for emissions from land-use change (e.g., deforestation), or only account for very recent land-use change. However, all agricultural land use has an opportunity cost. Vast areas of forests have already been cleared for agriculture, and most pathways for stabilizing the climate require not only halting deforestation but also reforesting large areas of farmland, even as global food demand grows. “Carbon opportunity costs” is a metric that estimates the missed potential carbon sink if the land used to produce the food sourced by a food provider were instead able to return to its native vegetation such as forests—and this metric is also an estimate of the likely potential additional carbon losses to clear forests to produce another unit of that food. Shifting consumption toward plant-based foods, which have lower land requirements and lower carbon opportunity costs, can help prevent future deforestation as the population grows—a key reason why Project Drawdown ranks plant-rich diets among its most effective climate solutions. Further details can be found in WRI’s Cool Food Meals Technical Note.

Cool Food Pledge FAQs.

How much does it cost to participate in the Cool Food Pledge?

There is a small annual fee that supports the secretariat in aggregating food-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data, advising members on strategy, communicating with and convening members, and external outreach.

What happens if I hit my target and everyone else does not?

The Pledge is a shared target, so accountability is collective.

What happens if the collective target is hit and I don’t hit mine? Will I get named and shamed publicly? What happens if the collective target is hit and I don’t hit mine? Will I get named and shamed publicly?

No. All external GHG emissions reporting will be aggregated (unless you decide otherwise). If a member does not make progress during a given year, the Cool Food team will discuss how progress can be brought back on track.

What happens with the target if I am growing quickly? Is it relative or absolute?

Cool Food’s collective target is a 25 percent absolute reduction in food-related GHG emissions by 2030. However, some members expect to grow quickly, even while they shift to serving lower-emissions foods. Individual members should aim for at least a 25 percent absolute reduction in food-related GHG emissions or a 38 percent relative reduction in food-related GHG emissions per calorie. The Cool Food Calculator helps you track both trends (absolute and relative) year-over-year.

What data do you need from me and when?

Members confidentially share food purchase data on an annual basis. Data is required on all animal-based foods, as well as plant proteins (which, collectively, tend to make up 80-90 percent of an entity’s food-related GHG emissions). Additional data is optional. Data collection should be done, though, in a consistent way each year.

Is there a specific template or format I should use to report data?

Members receive an easy-to-use template to help with identifying and collecting the necessary food purchase data.

How will the data be protected/stored to maintain its confidentiality?

Our team enters into a simple agreement with each Cool Food member, which includes a confidentiality clause stating that individual members’ food purchase data (and associated emissions data) will be stored securely on WRI’s server. Only aggregated data is reported externally.

What results will you report back to me?

You will receive a report after you submit your food purchase data which shows annual GHG emissions by food type, as well as a relative emissions measure, trends year-over-year, and comparisons to aggregate group performance. You can see an example of the metrics calculated by downloading the Cool Food Calculator.

How can the Cool Food Pledge support progress toward multiple sustainability goals?

Although Cool Food’s goal is to reduce food-related GHG emissions, sustainability managers deal with many other important goals related to their food purchases, including social and ethical, economic and financial, and other non-climate-related environmental goals. Our technical note, “Tracking Progress Toward the Cool Food Pledge,” offers advice for navigating synergies and trade-offs across multiple goals.

What GHG emission data are you using?

We use agricultural supply chain emission factors from a global life cycle meta-analysis by Poore and Nemecek (2018) and carbon opportunity cost emission factors from Searchinger et al. (2018). Additional detail on these data sets and calculation methods are available here, and the Cool Food Calculator is available here.

How do you account for land use in your GHG emissions estimates?

Life cycle assessments of food production commonly either do not account for emissions from land-use change (e.g., deforestation), or only account for very recent land-use change. However, all agricultural land use has an opportunity cost. Vast areas of forests have already been cleared for agriculture, and most pathways for stabilizing the climate require not only halting deforestation but also reforesting large areas of farmland, even as global food demand grows. “Carbon opportunity costs” is a metric that estimates the missed potential carbon sink if the land used to produce the food sourced by a food provider were instead able to return to its native vegetation such as forests—and this metric is also an estimate of the likely potential additional carbon losses to clear forests to produce another unit of that food. Shifting consumption toward plant-based foods, which have lower land requirements and lower carbon opportunity costs, can help prevent future deforestation as the population grows—a key reason why Project Drawdown ranks plant-rich diets among its most effective climate solutions.

Resources.

Publications

Publication: World Resources Report - Creating a Sustainable Food Future

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Publication: Playbook for Guiding Diners Toward Plant-Rich Diets in Food ServicePlaybook for Guiding Diners Toward Plant-Rich Diets in Food Service

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Publication: Tracking Progress Toward the Cool Food Pledge

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Publication: Cool Food Collective Greenhouse Gas Emissions Baseline and 2030 Reduction Target

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Publication: Identifying Cool Food Meals

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Articles

Article: Without Changing Diets, Agriculture Alone Could Produce Enough Emissions to Surpass 1.5°C of Global Warming

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Article: It’s All in a Name How to Boost the Sales of Plant-Based Menu Items

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Article: 23 Behavior Change Strategies to Get Diners Eating More Plant-Rich Food23 Behavior Change Strategies to Get Diners Eating More Plant-Rich Food

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Tools

Tool: Cool Food Calculator

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