How to eat out sustainably: 6 ways to eat out sustainably without costing the earth

Author: Klimato

Read Time:   |  21st September 2022

Do you love treating yourself to dinner at a restaurant but wonder how to eat out sustainably or if it's even possible? Here are 6 things you need to look out for next time you dine out.

Who doesn’t love dining out with friends and family at your favourite pub or restaurant? The team at Klimato sure do. But the hospitality sector in general creates huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

That includes a food’s carbon footprint (where and how it’s made and the transport to the country of consumption), food waste, cooking methods, packaging, refrigeration and transport. We are going to break these down so that you can become a more savvy consumer and do your bit to slow down climate change.

Look for carbon labels on menus

Carbon labels is a growing movement and one that Klimato is leading. While we are actively trying to convince big corporations to join our fight against climate change, many are still a little behind with this. 

What is a carbon label? The figure below showcases our Klimato label, but there are a few others out there. Some use letters A-G, some use red colours for bad and green for good. In principle, a carbon label communicates the carbon footprint of a dish, an ingredient or a product (e.g a t-shirt).

The unit is CO2e (Carbon Dioxide Equivalents) and this is a combination of the impacts of different greenhouse gases together into one unit. 

To reach the goals set forth by the Paris agreement, WWF has developed a “guide” to how we should eat in order to reach the 1.5 degree goal. We have a very clear climate budget, where our emissions shouldn’t exceed 11 kg CO2e per week.

Based on the One Planet Plate guide, with a weekly budget of 11 kg CO2e, we have defined a dish of 0.5 kg CO2e and under as “climate friendly”.

Not all labels follow this guide however, so what is considered a climate friendly dish might be different from label to label. We are working on trying to get legislation to unify all the labels so they can be consistent but this takes time. 

Calculations made with Klimato’s carbon calculator. Image credit: Klimato

Calculations made with Klimato’s carbon calculator. Image credit: Klimato

Where possible, try and dine out at restaurants that are leading the way and have calculated the carbon footprint of their menu. This will not only help you understand the value of the carbon impact of that dish, but will also encourage other restaurants to follow consumer demand and actively reduce their food’s carbon footprint.

Here’s a fun fact for you about CO2e values: you can eat 10 vegan burgers (0.4 kg CO2e) for the same climate cost as 1 average beef burger (4 kg CO2e)1. That’s wild, right?

Some examples of high street brands who climate label their food are: Wahaca, Mowgli Street Food, Neat Burger, What The Pitta! and Ready Burger.

Avoid ordering too much food

We’ve all been there, everything on the menu looks delicious and you want to eat it all! This, however, is the worst thing you can do. Food waste is estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to contribute 8-10% of the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions emitted by human activities2.

Instead, be realistic about how much you can eat. If you are not sure on portion size then ask your waiter/waitress for help. If by mistake you order too much and are unable to finish your food, ask for a box or doggy bag to take your leftovers home in.

Look for menus that minimise food waste

As an alternative to reducing the amount you order, see if the menu itself is reducing food waste. That could be bread from yesterday’s potatoes, cheese from used coffee milk, or carrot top pesto.

Although these traditional practices are now less common, they can still be found at independent and high quality restaurants.

Support businesses with sustainable practices

Businesses need to be held accountable not only for the quality of their food but also on how they manage their business and how they treat their staff. Look for organic produce that is locally sourced, in season and grown in open fields rather than in a greenhouse. Often this information won’t be supplied. In which case, challenge and question this.

Bear in mind, however, that local produce isn’t necessarily better than imported produce. If a UK tomato is grown out of season and in a greenhouse, then we would encourage you to use a tomato grown in season at the same time of year that was grown in open fields e.g. in Spain.

Despite the Spanish tomato having more transport emissions, the overall emissions are lower as there’s no extra energy needed to heat and make the greenhouse.

Do also look out for signs of greenwashing. In 2007, TerraChoice (acquired by UL), developed and launched a study of environmental claims and thus the Seven Sins of Greenwashing were developed to help consumers identify products that made misleading environmental claims.

  1. Sin of the hidden trade-off: A claim suggesting that a product is green based on a narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.
  2. Sin of no proof: An environmental claim not substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification.
  3. Sin of vagueness: A claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer. All natural isn’t necessarily green.
  4. Sin of worshipping false labels: A product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement exists; fake labels, in other words.
  5. Sin of irrelevance: An environmental claim that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products.
  6. Sin of lesser of two evils: A claim that may be true within the product category but that risks distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole. Organic cigarettes or fuel-efficient sport-utility vehicles could be examples of this sin.
  7. Sin of Lying: Environmental claims that are simply false.
   Image credit: Klimato

Image credit: Klimato

Avoid plastic packaging

Where possible, try and bring your own tupperware and cutlery when ordering to-go meals. Even better, take the time to enjoy your meal and eat/drink on site on real plates and in real mugs.

Observe the equipment

Our last point is a more technical one; look at the lights, kitchen equipment and heating. Some restaurants will use LED lights, induction hobs, sophisticated technology to capture excess heat from fridges to power the hot water in customer bathrooms etc.

This information might not be advertised so it’s great to bring it up in conversation with the restaurant owners and see if it’s something they’d like to implement.

To conclude: when we eat out, choices often seem limited. Sustainability is a growing movement and restaurants are catching on!  As consumers we have power and we can choose the high street and independent brands that suit our lifestyle and beliefs.

So follow the tips in this article, share the article on social media to inform your friends and family, and make some noise to get corporations and restaurants to have a look at their carbon footprint!

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References

  1. WRAP (n.d.) ‘Action on food waste’ in wrap.org.uk. Available at: https://wrap.org.uk/taking-action/food-drink/actions/action-on-food-waste. [accessed: 18 July 22]

Written by

Klimato

The food industry accounts for 28% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it one of the single largest contributors to climate change. Klimato is a start-up on the mission to reduce the climate impact from food by helping restaurants calculate, communicate and report on the carbon footprint per dish they serve. Klimato’s carbon footprint calculations and climate labels guide and inspire chefs and restaurant guests to make climate-friendly choices, which coupled with a reporting function makes it easy to set sustainability goals, reduce food-related emissions and track progress to combat climate change - one meal at a time.

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