Protecting the climate over lunch

Menu 1 in Villagio restaurant in Technopark Zurich is climate-friendly: sea bass fillet with a herb crust accompanied by spinach and steamed potatoes.
© Yvonne von Hunnius

Eating is a question of taste. But CO2 doesn’t have a taste. The clever combining of ingredients can help to achieve significant reductions in emissions of this harmful climate gas. Restaurant and canteen operators in Switzerland are now offering their customers the option of making conscious climate-friendly food choices.

Yvonne von Hunnius, 13.10.2015

It’s coming up to midday in the Technopark Zurich technology transfer centre. The first of the hungry hordes are already heading to the staff restaurant Vilaggio – there are always more of them when it rains, and it’s raining today. Menu 1 is going down extremely well. It includes a sea bass fillet with a herb crust accompanied by spinach and steamed potatoes – the “KLIMA freundlich” (“CLIMATE friendly”) label is displayed next to the description of the dish on the menu.  “We have at least one climate-friendly dish on our menu every day, and sometimes even three,” says staff restaurant manager Philipp Gloor. This not only appeals to our customers, it is also a lot of fun for the cooks. And it is a source of pride for Gloor: in August, the Villagio staff restaurant, which belongs to Compass Group (Switzerland), emitted 34 percent less CO2 than the average volume emitted by Compass restaurants in the same category. So his customers are saving the climate over lunch. Could it be as simple as that?

Philip Gloor, Manager Eurest/Restaurant Villaggio in Technopark Zurich.
© Yvonne von Hunnius

Enormous potential at the dining table

Every person in Switzerland generates around 12.5 tonnes of greenhouse gases annually; the amount that would be compatible with the climate is just one tonne. Food consumption accounts for 31 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. This makes food a powerful lever. “If we all selected a climate-friendly menu three times per week, we could save a billion tonnes of CO2 emissions every year without any need for technological wizardry.” This information is provided by Manuel Klarmann who, with his start-up Eaternity, is behind the programme being implemented by the international catering concern Compass Group (Switzerland) since spring 2014. The programme is currently running in 44 of the concern’s staff restaurant operations like the Zurich Technopark and Siemens. It is planned to introduce CO2 management into as many Compass Group restaurants as possible throughout Switzerland and in this way contribute to reducing the Compass Group (Switzerland)’s CO2 emissions by around 20 percent by 2020.

The chefs are trained in low-CO2 cooking and work out their weekly menu plans using Eaternity’s CO2 calculator. They exchange tips about recipes in online forums. A recent success involved the reduction of the CO2 content of béchamel sauce by 90 percent. Because this sauce is used a lot, this can make a big difference: while a regular menu generates around 1200 grams of CO2, the average climate menu is only responsible for 529 grams. “These emissions can be halved without sacrificing quality,” says Klarmann explaining his philosophy.

Manuel Klarmann, co-founder of Eaternity, a spin-off built up at the ETH Zurich university.
© Yvonne von Hunnius

Enjoyment the main priority

Catering companies running canteens and staff restaurants have responded to the CO2 logic with enthusiasm. They are well aware of the economies of scale that result when weight-based calculations come into play. Moreover, emissions are an important topic for many of the companies, for which they provide catering services. The SV Schweiz catering company also initiated a CO2 reduction programme three years ago. However, as Peter Lutz, Chief Marketing Officer of SV Group stresses in the separate interview below, it only works if it does not affect the customers’ enjoyment of their food. Concrete CO2 values are not indicated on the menus of either Compass Group (Switzerland) or SV Schweiz canteens and restaurants. When the customer chooses a climate-friendly dish, they should be able to sit back and enjoy their food with confidence. Furthermore, they should not be dictated to about how they should eat.

Vegetables the order of the day

Nonetheless, Eaternity aims to increase awareness: the plan is to make climate-friendly eating a mainstream affair. And Klarmann has a very easy recipe for achieving this: “Just eat more seasonal and local vegetables – you can achieve the greatest savings in CO2 emissions by doing this.” Moreover, people who avoid products delivered to Switzerland by air and are sparing in their consumption of meat and milk products are already climate heroes.

The exact process for calculating the emissions generated by bread and bananas is complicated. It involves breaking down the lifecycle of the food so that the production, transport and further-processing stages are clearly identifiable. Klarmann explains that, as a spin-off of the ETH Zurich, Eaternity has been able to compile the world’s second biggest database for this purpose, which has been loaded with data from studies about greenhouse gas emissions. Using an ingenious methodology, it provides information about the impact that may be expected for every food item and expressed in the currency of CO2. Despite this, Eaternity had to research the values of around 4,500 food items with Compass Group (Switzerland) before launching the programme as the story of every single ingredient – for example palm oil – counts.

Organic not always low-CO2

The focus on CO2 turns certain ideas we have about good and bad food on their head. Coca Cola is more climate-friendly than orange juice. Methane emissions drive up the CO2 balance of all animal products. Fruit from Swiss greenhouses heated using fossil fuel falls short compared to fruit arriving by ship from sunny regions. Organic beef performs worse and organic potatoes better than their non-organic equivalents and, according to the CO2 calculator, a chicken dish is better than cheese fondue.

“CO2 emissions are a problem that requires urgent action,” says Klarmann. At the same time, the CO2 approach has positive impacts on the entire resource footprint.: “If we reduce emissions significantly, we also reduce our consumption of oil, water and land and cause less air pollution.” This can only be consistently achieved by vegans or vegetarians, at best. But that is a private matter according to Klarmann.

Recipes for home cooking

The founders of Eaternity want to create a gigantic online collection of recipes for climate-friendly dishes. Anyone can contribute to the collection already by submitting their favourite low-CO2 recipe.


Compass Group and Eaternity say: “I eat for a healthy world!”

Compass Group (Switzerland) AG is part of Compass Group International, a global provider of catering and food services. It has around 228 operations in Switzerland. Together with the ETH start-up Eaternity, Compass Group (Switzerland) launched the pilot project “I eat for a healthy world” in spring 2014. The aim is to reduce the CO2 emissions of meals by 20 percent by 2020. Forty-four catering operations are currently involved, however the plan is to extend the programme to all of the Group’s Swiss restaurants. The CO2 balance for each menu is recorded on a seasonal basis via a centralised system. The project has also established cooperation with the ZAWH Institute of Natural Resource Sciences.


Switzerland shines the spotlight on cattle farming

With its responsibility for 11 percent in all greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland, agriculture is a crucial sector. The Federal Office for Agriculture’s (FOAG) climate strategy aims to reduce these emissions by at least one third by 2050. Cows are an important contributory factor here: as ruminants, they produce methane, whose global warming potential is 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. There is no desire to dispense with cattle farming entirely: cows make an important contribution to maintaining Switzerland’s cultural landscape. Some experts advise that farmers dispense with high-yielding cows as they require concentrated feed. Species that feed on pasture grass rather than specially imported or specifically cultivated arable crops are recommended instead. In addition, pastures are better for the carbon exchange between soil and the air than ploughed arable soil.

Link: Landwirtschaft: Wiesenmilch für den Klimaschutz (only in German and French)


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Last modification 13.10.2015

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