An overlooked player in the food and climate change debate

Last Tuesday the Dutch council for environment and infrastructure published a report on the necessity to change Dutch eating habits if the Netherlands is serious about reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement. The current diet causes too many greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere. The council states that all players in the field need to work together: consumers, government, producers of food and even tv chefs.

In the debate about who should take responsibility for the topic of food and climate change, one player is often overlooked. It’s a place you get your food at least 4 out of 7 days. It’s the restaurant you will probably visit the most often in your life. A place that is so obvious, it is easily overlooked. It’s the restaurant at your office or workplace.

How does an office restaurant work? Most of the time you go there and eat whatever they have decided to offer that day. If it is burgers, your lunch will be a burger. If it is pasta you will eat pasta. Basically, the caterer chooses what you eat. This realization was the main reason for companies to demand of their caterers that they provide healthy food. Because everybody knows healthy employees are much more likely to be productive and happy at work.

It is time companies apply the same logic to the climate impact of the food they serve their employees. If the meals provided are nutritious AND climate friendly, all guests will eat nutritious AND climate friendly food. In the Netherlands alone, over one million meals per day are served in office restaurants. For bigger companies there are easily a few hundred visitors per day. This means that the potential impact of switching to climate friendly meals is immense. An office restaurant with 80 visitors per day can easily save 20 ton of CO2-equivalent per year by choosing more climate friendly options. That is the same as 2.8 trips around the equator in your car.

More and more companies are realizing that corporate social responsibility doesn’t mean having a nice side project that does some good, but to integrate purpose into every facet of its business. It is time that office restaurants are included in that mindset. Changes made don’t have to be massive to have a big impact. Following the four guidelines of climate friendly eating will reduce impact significantly, even if you start with baby steps.

Office restaurants have an almost guaranteed number of visitors, making the risk of losing clientele when trying something new very small. As long as you don’t switch to only raw carrots of course.

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