Shifting from meat-centered diets to more plant-forward ones can have significant benefits for forests, fresh water, and the climate. WRI and partners are helping hotels, restaurants, hospitals and other dining facilities cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030 by championing “delicious climate action.”

The Challenge

Producing animal-based foods causes two-thirds of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions globally, is a leading cause of deforestation and accounts for more than three-quarters of agricultural land use. WRI research shows that increasing the share of plant-based foods in people’s diets is a critical step in reducing agriculture’s pressure on forests, fresh water and the climate. However, in 2018, only a handful of food providers spoke out about the issue of climate-friendly diets because of a lack of reliable guidance on how to set a meaningful target to reduce the environmental impact of the food they served and convey the right message to their customers.

WRI’s Role

Building on WRI’s Creating a Sustainable Food Future and research from its Better Buying Lab, WRI developed the idea of Cool Food – reducing global warming by making plant-based foods trendy and attractive – and brought on other environment- and health-focused NGO partners to support and help expand the program. The partnership developed the Cool Food Pledge to encourage large-scale food providers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030 – a target in line with the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) – by serving more plant-rich dishes. The group sought commitments and developed data-gathering protocols, greenhouse gas emission calculation methods and research on ways to increase consumer demand for plant-rich dishes. Providing a low-risk way to lead, with positive messaging and science-based targets, helps give food providers confidence to join and influence their peers.

Health Care Without Harm helped recruit and manage data from hospitals in the United States. Partners including the UN Environment Programme, EAT, the Sustainable Restaurant Association, the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, Practice Greenhealth and Climate Focus helped advocate for this approach to sustainable diets.

The Outcome

Food providers that serve 850 million meals annually have committed to the Cool Food Pledge. Restaurants, hospitals, hotels, universities and city governments are drawing on the latest behavioral science to help their diners choose meals with lower carbon footprints. Strategies include changing menu layouts, using more appetizing language and offering more plant-focused meals. If current Cool Food members meet their targets, they would collectively avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking more than 220,000 cars off the road and would keep nearly 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of forest standing. The Cool Food Pledge is targeting 10 billion meals per year by the end of 2023.