Earth-friendly event menus can save up to 10 tons of climate pollution, says new report

Replacing meat-heavy menu choices with Earth-friendly, plant-based options can reduce the carbon footprint of a 500-person event (such as a conference or large wedding) by 10 tons of greenhouse gas equivalents, according to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Center’s report, Catering to the Climate, evaluated the environmental impact of common event menus as well as plant-based alternatives. The results show that offering low-impact menus for 500 attendees can save five acres of habitat from animal agriculture, avoid greenhouse emissions equivalent to those created by driving a car 22,000 miles, prevent 17 tons of manure pollution, and conserve nearly 100,000 gallons of water from irrigation and food processing.

“Avoiding meat-heavy menus at holiday parties and conferences can make a surprisingly big difference for our planet,” said Jennifer Molidor, senior food campaigner at the Center and one of the report’s authors. “With Earth-friendly catering that focuses on low-carbon, plant-based choices, we can save wildlife habitat and avoid a lot of climate pollution.”

Food production is a major contributor to the climate and extinction crises. It accounts for up to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, with nearly half of that coming from meat and dairy production.

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In the United States, 80% of agricultural land is used for raising animals and feed crops, while half of consumed water goes toward meat production. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world cannot meet its climate goals without significantly reducing meat consumption and the emissions associated with animal agriculture.

Meals served at events can influence food policies within organisations. Event menus can also highlight the need to address food and agriculture in climate initiatives and other environmental policies. In 2018 U.S. catering sales were more than $11 billion. Over the past three years, the industry has grown by nearly 8% annually.

The report also recommends solutions to some of the problems facing event organisers as they shift to greener menus.

“Public demand for plant-based, low-carbon menus is growing quickly,” said Molidor. “Even small changes in purchasing, like replacing dairy with plant-based milks and cheeses, can bring substantial benefits to suppliers and their clients. When the event and catering industry serves plant-based menus, it’s an environmental and culinary success.”