Eating Better

Bristol food outlet trialing ‘carbon labelling’ on menus

By Anna Blightman

Anna Blightman

Today’s story is by Anna Blightman from The Assemblies Ltd (which includes The Canteen, No.1 Harbourside and The Old Market Assembly). We hear about how staff at The Canteen have been working to reduce the restaurant’s carbon emissions and how carbon labelling at the restaurant is contributing to positive changes in behaviour.

We, at The Assemblies, are aware of how much climate change is having an impact on hospitality. And how much hospitality is having an impact on climate change. Food production contributes around 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions which is a staggeringly high amount. This will differ, restaurant to restaurant but it is clear that as an industry we need to do something about it.

COP26 followed two years of uncertainty thrown at us by COVID. We made commitments at the tail-end of 2021, following COP26 to begin our journey into understanding our carbon emissions output across the business. As a business that adheres to sustainable and regenerative practices this felt like the next part of the puzzle. But where to begin? There is so much to consider, work through, calculate and understand and with a fast-paced three-site business run by very small teams, how do we find the time?

When we were approached by Viva! to be part of their new campaign with My Emissions we knew it was a project to get involved with. As a vegetarian restaurant, we understood The Canteen’s menu would have lower carbon emissions than other, meat-based menus.

Working closely with partners, My Emissions, our head chef Matt Harris sent off every dish on our evening menu to be analysed. Not only did he have to send the dish, but the detailed recipe including the amount of each ingredient used, where it had been sourced from, portion size and method of cooking. A hefty amount of work for a chef in a busy kitchen. Then we waited.

After three white knuckle weeks, the results came back. And we were pleasantly surprised. Every dish was either an A (very low) or B (low) rating (the best ratings). These ratings are based on carbon intensity, or the per kg impact of the food. All values are calculated in ‘CO2e’, which means ‘carbon dioxide equivalents’. This is the standard measurement of all greenhouse gas emissions released, where each gas is given an equivalent impact compared to carbon dioxide. The thresholds are based on a statistical analysis of all the 3000+ foods in the My Emissions database and were audited by external consultants

Nothing on our menu exceeded a B rating, with the highest dish being our miso and harissa aubergine, za’atar brittle, courgette baba ganoush and tabbouleh (gf) producing 675g CO2 (B), which we’ve put down to the spices travelling from further afield.

The Canteen menu with carbon labelling

This was a voluntary initiative that aligned with our values, to inform customers about the environmental impact of their choices when eating out. We’re already seeing the effects of how carbon labelling contributes to positive changes in behaviour and hopefully this level of transparency in hospitality soon becomes the norm.

Following on from the success of the original campaign, we are now speaking (independently of the campaign) to My Emissions about calculating the emissions of our next menu. This time we’ll be looking in more depth at every ingredient, process and transport method with the view to continually make improvements. Next steps are to look at our drinks offering, and further into the future, all three sites and the businesses as a whole.

By adding the carbon footprint emissions to our menus, we have opened up conversations. Both with customers in the restaurants, and also with people in their homes. What we choose to eat can be the single biggest immediate change an individual can make to reduce their carbon footprint.

Other tips and considerations:

  • Menu design can have a huge impact on a hospitality venue’s output and research from the Sustainable Restaurant Association has found that restaurants replacing 10% of their meat with plant-based options could save 350 tonnes of carbon per year.
  • The Canteen went vegetarian in April 2021. Our other two sites still have meat on the menu, but vegan and veggie dishes are always at the top of the menu! We are now looking at how to reduce either the amount or the type of meat we are serving to reduce our emissions.
  • With energy prices rising, the less energy your business uses, the less you will pay towards running it. Switching off heating and lights, insulating doors and windows and running fridges at the correct temperatures is all part of our plan.
  • Finally, avoiding food waste where possible helps restaurant’s margin as well as the planet. Since our inception we have aimed to create zero waste kitchens, using the whole of any ingredient, from Peelings Pakoras to soups made from all the good bits we usually throw away!

By setting the wheels in motion now, together we can transform the future of food in our city, building in resilience over the next decade. So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

Join the conversation

So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

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