With support from WRI’s Coolfood initiative, 23 hospital systems in the United States reduced their per-plate food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 21%.

The Challenge

The food and land use system is responsible for one-third of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions fueling climate change. Agriculture is also a major driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss.

Reducing these impacts while increasing production to feed a growing population requires radical shifts in how the world grows, distributes and consumes food. As large-scale food providers and stewards of health and wellness, hospitals are well positioned to help drive this transformation.

WRI’s Role

WRI’s Coolfood initiative supports healthcare providers, cities, companies, restaurants and universities in tracking and reducing the climate impacts of the food they serve. Through the Coolfood Pledge, organizations commit to cut food-related emissions by 25% by 2030 — a level of ambition in line with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) and averting some of the most dangerous impacts of climate change.

WRI helps Coolfood members set actionable, science-based emissions-reduction targets and track progress annually. It also provides members with hands-on training, marketing guidance and research-based approaches to encourage more climate-friendly diets, such as the Playbook for Guiding Diners Toward Plant-Rich Dishes in Food Service.

The Outcome

Research shows that through 2022, U.S. hospital systems committed to the Coolfood Pledge — which serve 31 million meals per year in total — reduced their greenhouse gas emissions per plate of food by 21%. This is faster than the pace needed to achieve their 2030 target.

GHG reductions were largely driven by a shift away from emissions-intensive animal-based foods and toward plant-rich dishes. Across the pledge’s 23 healthcare members in the United States, the share of beef and lamb on plates decreased by 28%, while the share of all animal-based foods fell by 16%. The same period saw a 27% increase in plant-based foods on the average plate.

The benefits extend beyond the climate, too. Plant-based foods require far fewer resources to produce than meat and dairy. Beef production, for example, requires 20 times more land per gram of protein than beans, peas and lentils. Plant-forward diets are also healthier, shown to reduce risks of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other issues. Healthcare facilities are in a unique position to embrace and promote these benefits throughout their diverse communities.

These hospitals now serve as a model for how the healthcare sector can contribute to an equitable, healthy and sustainable food future for all.