Sustainability is not a flash in the pan

How and what we eat can have significant effects on our personal carbon footprint.

There are a number of fun calculators online that provide a generalised idea of the carbon footprint and environmental impact of various foods. Of course actual results are likely to vary depending on the exact source and production process of a particular food, but the calculators do provide a guide that allows us to compare one food type with another.

The BBC’s climate change food calculator allows consumers to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions of various different foods. Beef (75g) twice a week is calculated over a year to produce 604kg of greenhouse gases or driving your petrol car 2482km. The land required to produce that amount of beef is equivalent to six tennis courts.

Drinking wine once or twice a week, by comparison, only contributes to 24kg of greenhouse gases which is the same as driving from Ponsonby to Huntly. A coffee a day contributes about 155kg of greenhouse gases meaning the average keep-cup from your favourite cafe isn’t the worst choice you could make for the environment. However, not all coffee beans are grown the same and those that originate from deforested areas are relatively high in greenhouse gas emissions. Choosing a local coffee brand with awards for sustainability, like K-okako, can be one way to ensure your morning coffee is less harmful to the environment.

Kokako coffee is certified 100% carbon neutral, and its commitment to sustainability and the production of high-quality coffee underpins its business model. “Essentially what this means is that when you purchase a Kokako coffee you can be sure that the carbon produced in the coffee component of that particular beverage has already been offset before it reaches the cafe or retailer,” says Mike Murphy, managing director of K-okako.

The company’s bi-annual sustainability report (available on their website) is a captivating read detailing how extensive the environmental and social impacts of food production can be. It shows how businesses can make a real difference by making sustainability an integral part of the way they operate. A monthly subscription of carbon-neutral organic coffee delivered to your door could be just the way to wake up your environmentally aware senses. Kokako comprehensively measures itself and sets ambitious goals that it shares publicly both as a way to hold itself accountable but also to help others become more mindful of the effects food production has on climate change.

Researchers at Oxford University and the Swiss agricultural research institute, Agroscope, found, as part of global study of over 40,000 farms, and 1600 processors, packaging types, and retailers that a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from food. They also found significant differences in the C02 emissions in the same foods. Depending on how and where food is produced, the C02 emissions and environmental impact vary significantly. In the case of beef, some producers are generating 50 times more CO2 emissions than others. Their study calls for the labelling of foods so that consumers know exactly what the environmental impacts are for the foods that they eat so that they can make informed decisions.

Being more mindful about how and what we eat can make a real difference to the environment, but in most cases people aren’t aware of the varying environmental impacts of their food. Sustainability and reducing the carbon emissions associated with food production is a passion for Josh Barlow, executive chef of SKYCITY’s The Sugar Club. SKYCITY is currently pioneering initiatives aimed at helping the food industry become more mindful about food-related carbon emissions and environmental impacts. “It’s something Peter Gordon instilled from the outset at The Sugar Club, and we are now building on it,” explains Josh.

The first part of this new initiative was launched on 5 June at The Sugar Club, as part of a World Environment Day dinner, highlighting a specially designed, low carbon menu with the announcement of a collaboration between SKYCITY, Enviro-Mark Solutions and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Together with Enviro-Mark Solutions, SKYCITY plans to develop a low-carbon icon that will let diners identify a low-carbon meal. The aim is to help people become more aware of their contribution to climate change and show them how choosing where they dine can make a difference.

The low-carbon menu is a showcase of dishes that are low on greenhouse gas emissions without compromising on flavour or innovation. “The complexities of flavour and texture that can be achieved with in-season or foraged produce are extensive and these foods offer lower-carbon footprints compared to some animal-based proteins. Seasonal produce is the first thing I consider when I’m creating a menu and vegetables often end up being the heroes of a dish,” says Josh who credits a passionate network of local suppliers with helping him achieve his low-carbon menu goals.

When it comes to foods from animal proteins with higher greenhouse gas emissions, Josh believes there are always ways to create dishes that have less impact on the environment. “It might be that a beef dish is balanced with other ingredients that offset its higher carbon footprint. New Zealand beef for instance has a lower carbon footprint than other countries. Our beef is sourced from a small farm in the Waikato. I know the way it operates is mindful of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and I can let our diners know this.”

Another great example are the fish and other seafood dishes Josh creates for The Sugar Club. “I source my fish from an incredible guy called Nate Smith of Gravity Fishing. Nate takes sustainability to the next level,” says Josh. Gravity Fishing, based in Bluff, operates one boat and has a refined system that ensures that only certain species are fished at certain times from certain locations. “I get a text from Nate at the start of each week detailing what species he is fishing and how much will be available. I can even tell people the exact GPS location the fish they are eating were caught,” says Josh. “Everything that Nate does is about being as sustainable as possible. There’s no polystyrene or plastic in the packaging. The fish is packaged in this specially developed wool that keeps it fresh and cold – like I said, it’s next level.”

While The Sugar Club and SKYCITY are leading the charge, they point out there are many local restaurants who have great sustainability practices and are already making the kinds of changes that will make a difference. What Josh and the SKYCITY team hope is that their efforts will help a wider range of people make small changes in their food choices and that will cumulatively make a significant difference.