Industrial agriculture is one of the biggest contributors of carbon emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that agriculture and associated land use changes are responsible for 24% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – greater than emissions from industry and greater than the combined emissions of transportations and buildings.
The Healthy Food in Health Care program educates healthcare professionals on the health impacts of climate change on our food systems and leverages the purchasing power of hospitals to support a more sustainable food system. Key strategies include:
Less Meat, Less Emissions
Reducing the amount of meat and cheese that is served is one of the most powerful measures foodservice departments can take to reduce climate impact. Livestock production contributes 18% of the world’s GHG emissions. Beef and cheese have the highest climate impact of all foods because cows consume more feed, and their digestive system produces more methane than other livestock. Eliminating meat for one day per week, for example, could reduce emissions by an estimated 1.0 gigatons (Gt) to 1.3 Gt. per year, the equivalent to taking 273 million cars off the road.
Wasted Food is Wasted Greenhouse Gas Savings
Preventing food waste and diverting unused food from landfills is another powerful way to reduce climate impact. Globally, about 30% of food is wasted. When food is discarded, the waste embodies all the associated emissions from its production, and when decomposing in landfills, generates significant quantities of methane. Halving global wasted food by 2050 could reduce emissions by an estimated 4.5 Gt.
Sustainable Food Purchasing Strategies for Climate Leadership
Health care facilities can reduce their climate impact by purchasing regionally and sustainably grown and produced foods.
Fewer transport miles leads to fewer emissions. According to the Worldwatch Institute, in the United States, food travels an average of 1,500 miles from where it was grown to the plate and overall, transport accounts for about 11% of the food system's emissions. Other factors contribute to the climate impact of long-distance food including distribution, storage, and processing.
A study of food miles in Canada estimated that replacing imported food with equivalent items locally grown in the Waterloo, Ontario region would save transport-related emissions equivalent to nearly 50,000 metric tons of CO2, or the equivalent of taking 16,191 cars off the road.
Preferential purchasing of organic and sustainably produced products results in additional GHG savings by reducing or eliminating the use of synthetic fertilizers.. The manufacture and use of nitrogen fertilizers is the second highest source of GHG from food production. Nitrous oxide (N2O), the resulting emission, is a GHG with 300 times the warming potential of CO2. Agriculture is responsible for 60% of global N2O emissions.
- Build a Sustainable Food Service at your facility
- Reduce meat purchased and served at your facility
- Prevent food waste and divert unused food from landfills at your facilitiy.
- Sign the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge
- Nourishing Patients and the Planet: The Role of Hospital Food Service in Climate Leadership, a blog written by our team of experts
- The Food-Climate Relationship: The Registered Dietitians’ Balanced Approach to Positive Change
- Hospitals Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Taking a “Less Meat, Better Meat” Approach to Foodservice, a pilot evaluation of implementation in four San Francisco Bay Area hospitals by HCWH and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
- The Global Change Health Assessment from the United States Global Change Research Program, an insightful examination of the health effects of climate change, and in particular food safety and availability.
- The Importance of Reducing Animal Product Consumption and Wasted Food in Mitigating Catastrophic Climate Change from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, a scientific study about the climate impact of the food system from production to waste
- Expanding Regional Organic Purchasing, a health procurement guide for facilities
- Commentary: Food for Thought - Hospitals Must do More to End Their Wasteful Ways Op-ed published in Modern Healthcareby the director of the Healthier Hospitals program at Practice Greenhealth offers tips for reducing hospital food waste and mitigating hunger.