Diners choose more eco-friendly meals when the carbon footprint of each dish is printed on the menu


How restaurants can step up in the fight again climate change: Diners choose more eco-friendly meals when the carbon footprint of each dish is printed on the menu, study finds

  • Researchers created two versions each of nine hypothetical restaurant menus 
  • One version simply had the dish name, description, and price
  • The other version also displayed the carbon emissions for each dish
  • They tested the menus with 256 participants, and found people chose more climate-friendly dishes when carbon labels were present

Whether it’s switching to LED light bulbs or choosing to walk to work, many of us are already doing things to help limit our carbon emissions.

Now, a new study led by researchers from Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg has highlighted how restaurants can step up in the fight against climate change.

The researchers found that diners choose more eco-friendly meals when the carbon footprint of each dish is printed on the menu.

‘The design of restaurant menus has a considerable effect on the carbon footprint of dining,’ the researchers wrote in their study, published in PLOS Climate.

Diners choose more eco-friendly meals when the carbon footprint of each dish is printed on the menu (stock image)

One version of the menu simply had the dish name, description, and price

The other version of the menu also displayed the CO2 emissions for the dish

In the study, the team created two versions each of nine hypothetical restaurant menus of varying cuisines

What are carbon footprint labels? 

Carbon labels show the carbon dioxide emissions created as a by-product of manufacturing, transporting and packaging disposing of a consumer product. 

They’re like an environmental version of nutritional labels that show fat, salt and sugar content. 

Measures are displayed in CO2e, or carbon dioxide equivalent – the standard unit for measuring carbon footprints. 

Previous research has shown how our food choices substantially affect our personal carbon footprint.

However, until now, little research has focused on how the design of restaurant menus can influence our climate-relevant choices.

‘The goal of our study was to investigate how the carbon footprint of dish choices can be reduced by using climate-friendly components as default options and by providing information about the GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions for each dish,’ the researchers explained.

In the study, the team created two versions each of nine hypothetical restaurant menus of varying cuisines.

One version simply had the dish name, description, and price, while the other also displayed the CO2 emissions for the dish.

For example, one of the menus listed a couscous salad with the option of beef (high CO2 emissions), chicken shawarma (medium CO2 emissions) or falafel (low CO2 emissions).

In an online study, 256 volunteers were randomly shown either the CO2-labelled or unlabelled version of the menus, before being asked to select a dish.

Carbon labels show the carbon dioxide emissions created as a by-product of manufacturing, transporting and packaging disposing of a consumer product

Carbon labels show the carbon dioxide emissions created as a by-product of manufacturing, transporting and packaging disposing of a consumer product

The results revealed the participants chose more climate-friendly dishes when carbon labels were present.

‘On average, the GHG emission per dish was 13.5% lower when carbon labels were present than when they were absent,’ the researchers said.

Gender also appeared to play a role in dish choice – on average, male participants chose high-emission dishes more often than female participants.

The team hopes the findings will encourage restaurant owners to consider adding carbon labels and low-emission options to their menus.

‘If we want more climate-friendly restaurant visits, highlighting dish components on a menu can really be an important parameter because it communicates what is normal and recommended,’ the team added.

‘It may also be one of the easiest things restaurant owners can do.’

In follow-up studies, the researchers hope to investigate the impact of personal habits, such as vegetarianism, on menu choice.  

Unilever will add carbon footprint labels to its products by the end of this year 

British consumer goods giant Unilever is set to add ‘carbon footprint labels’ to its products by the end of this year, it has announced. 

Carbon footprint labels show the carbon footprint of particular products – the total greenhouse gas emissions for which they are responsible, from ‘farm to fork’. 

Unilever’s 75,000 products include Pot Noodle, Marmite, Cornetto, Magnum and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, as well as inedible items like toothpaste and body wash.

The company will add carbon footprint labels to up to two dozen of its products ‘in either North America or Europe’ as part of a pilot, it told MailOnline, but it wants to roll out carbon labels to all its products by around 2026. 

However, it admitted that the data the labelling system would be based on couldn’t be 100 per cent accurate.  



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