Restaurants' carbon footprint under scrutiny
The environmental cost of imported foodstuffs used in restaurants is much higher than previously thought, with cheaper meals carrying higher carbon footprints, according to a study by the University of Nottingham.
The study surveyed 40 restaurants in London to test knowledge of local goods as well as the environmental footprint of imported produce. The results revealed that the CO2 produced from restaurant meals based on imported ingredients from outside the EU is in fact "more than a hundred times higher than that of ingredients produced in Britain".
Significantly, non-EU imported ingredients carry more than a five kilogram carbon footprint, whereas produce coming from local communities carries just 51 grams.
The study, entitled 'The Environmental Sustainability of the British Restaurant Industry: A London Case Study,' grouped restaurants into four areas: Green, British, European and Non-European. Green (or sustainable) and British restaurants were found to produce the least CO2, as is to be expected.
However, in coming to terms with the concept of a non-European restaurant, the study recognised that not all of these restaurants could obtain their ingredients locally. "You wouldn't expect an Argentinean steakhouse to start serving British beef," it says. "But they could make a difference through recycling and composting, for example," it adds.
With food transport creating around 35% of the UK's total emissions, improving the carbon footprint in this area is worth serious consideration. The study recommends a full government environmental audit of British restaurants. A recent study showed that Europeans' taste for cheap imported food had far-reaching environmental consequences in terms of transport pollution (EurActiv 11/12/07).
However, the study also showed that cheaper meals generally had a higher carbon footprint, with expensive meals being more environmentally friendly. "This is what people seem to expect," said Dr. Nick Mount of the University of Nottingham, who supervised the study. "But I doubt they would believe just how high the cost to the environment is in the cheaper meals," he adds.
Dr. Mount rejected the claim that the study unduly criticised restaurants that did not use local ingredients, because if they did, meals in UK restaurants would be "uniform and dull". Instead, he pointed to the "need for regulation and a governing body to make restaurants more sustainable".