As Veganuary draws to a close, we crunch the numbers to explore the climate impact and opportunities created by this growing tradition.
Today is the 1st of February - for a sizeable slice of the population that means freedom from the self-imposed shackles of a month without alcohol, meat or both! While some may be looking forward to a rare rump and a glass of red tonight, others may be reflecting on a month that was less of a deprivation and more of a revelation. Speaking from personal experience, it turns out that ditching (or at least radically reducing) meat and dairy for a month was not that big a deal. However, the climate implications of a collective shift in diet will be a big deal.
The food system is responsible for between 25% and 33% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The production of meat, despite providing only 20% of all dietary calories, is responsible for 60% of emissions and occupies a massive 80% of all farmland.
Not all meat is equal of course - carefully managed cattle on natural pasture are an entirely different proposition, (from a climate, biodiversity, and welfare perspective), to their rainforest-cleared and intensively reared brethren. But we can’t let this kernel of truth distract from the bigger picture:
There can be no net zero without a global diet shift that replaces a large portion of meat consumption with plant-based alternatives.
This climate impact is one of the key outcomes that the Veganuary Campaign seeks to encourage. The campaign calculates that avoiding meat and dairy during January can lead to an average reduction in emissions of 4 kg CO2e / day / person (compared to average meat consumption). This aligns closely with other studies which have examined the climate impact of different diet types (see figure 1, below).
For reference, a study by the Cool Food Pledge (WRI) recommended that a sustainable diet should not exceed 2.99 kg CO2e / day (or an average of 0.9 kg CO2e per meal).
A sustainable meal should not exceed 0.9 kg CO2e.
The climate impact of Veganuary
Using the Veganuary study, it is estimated that for an individual, the reduction in emissions from 1 month of meat avoidance is expected to be ~100kg CO2e.
If that individual permanently continues with their altered diet, the reduction could be ~1.2 tonnes (t) CO2e per year.
For the 350,000 people that Veganuary estimate have participated, this means a cumulative reduction of ~35,000 tCO2efor the month or around 420,000 tCO2e per year if they permanently changed their diet.
Raising the ambition to the national level, if 1/4 of the population permanently shifted to a low-meat diet, we could achieve 21 million tCO2e reduction - no small beer!
UK Pubs and Restaurants
What does this mean for the UK hospitality sector?
Pubs and restaurants play a vital cultural role at the heart of communities. While they are not expected to take sole responsibility for UK diets, they have a massive opportunity to respond to and encourage this shift in the nation's collective diet.
In the months after January, The Veganuary Campaign estimates that 85% of participants will either remain vegan or slash their animal-based food consumption by at least half.
The direction of travel is clear, Deliveroo recorded over 150% growth in 'vegan food' searches during January. Such widespread dietary shifts will make it increasingly necessary for UK kitchens to offer a substantial plant-based offering. This in turn will slash restaurants' carbon footprints and ensure 1.5C temperature targets stay within reach.
Based on Net Zero Now's own data, the largest source of emissions in a restaurant is likely to come from the food they serve.
Meat, seafood and dairy are responsible for over 3/5 of an average restaurant's carbon emissions.
NZN data shows that in 2021, the average footprint in pubs & restaurants in the UK was around 6.6 kg CO2e / meal (ranging from 1-30 kg CO2 / meal depending on restaurant type). Since the sustainable target is 0.9 kg CO2e / meal - it is clear that restaurants have some work ahead to decarbonise their menus!
Customer preferences are changing fast. Restaurants and pubs can play a leadership role in responding to and encouraging this dietary change. The commercial and climate prize for getting this right cannot be overstated.
If you are looking for hundreds of examples of delicious sustainable dishes on offer in restaurants across the UK, then check out www.oneplanetplate.org - a dynamic directory of dishes you can order that not only taste good but do good too.
Net Zero Now
Net Zero Now provides the expertise and tools required for restaurants to easily calculate their climate footprint. Net Zero Now offers bespoke menu analysis, which highlights the specific dishes which have the biggest carbon impact on your menu intensity.
With this information, you can be sure that your restaurant will be in a good position to tackle the climate crisis and meet your patron’s growing expectations for sustainability.