Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Chipotle Launches Tool to Tell You the ‘Foodprint’ of Each Ingredient

Chipotle Launches Tool to Tell You the ‘Foodprint’ of Each Ingredient
Chipotle's "Real Foodprint" will tell you the ecological footprint of each menu item compared to the industry standard. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

How does your burrito impact the environment? If you ordered it from Chipotle, there is now a way to find out.

The chain on Monday launched a first-of-its kind sustainability tool called the Real Foodprint, which allows customers to see how each of its 53 intentionally sourced ingredients compares to the industry average when it comes to key environmental metrics like carbon emissions and water use.

"Just by eating real, responsibly raised food, you can do a little something to help cultivate a better world," Bill Nye of Science Guy fame said in a video promoting the feature.

The Real Foodprint works like this, as Retail Leader explained. When you place an order on the Chipotle app or on the website, the tracker will show you the environmental impact of each ingredient you select compared to the conventional equivalent. The ingredients are assessed according to five metrics:

  1. Less carbon emitted (measured in grams)
  2. Water saved (in gallons)
  3. Improved soil health (in square feet)
  4. Organic land supported (in square feet)
  5. Antibiotics avoided (in milligrams)

So, for example, Nye's chicken bowl emits 0.8 fewer grams of carbon dioxide, saves 0.4 gallons of water, supports 1.7 square feet of improved soil health, supports 0.9 square feet of organic land and avoids 42.3 milligrams of antibiotics compared to a similar order made with conventional ingredients.

The data points are provided by HowGood, an independent research company that draws on more than 450 peer-reviewed and scientific studies to compare Chipotle's ingredients to conventional options, the website explained. Chipotle is the first restaurant to partner with HowGood, the company said in a press release. The data points will be updated on a regular basis, so customers can see if Chipotle's environmental impact lessens or increases over time, Fast Company reported.

"Beyond asking people to make the right choice for the climate based on a carbon label, we are demonstrating the impact of our sourcing practices through data computed based on the ingredients in our guests' orders," Chipotle's head of sustainability Caitlin Leibert said in the press release. "While our guests can make good choices for the planet by simply eating at Chipotle, the radical transparency provided by Real Foodprint also holds us accountable to improve our practices and source more sustainably over time. It is the combination of transparency for our guests and Chipotle's commitment to higher standards that make Real Foodprint so impactful."

Other restaurant brands have taken steps to provide environmental information to their customers, Fast Company pointed out. Meat alternative brand Quorn prints the carbon footprint of its products next to the nutrition label. And, two weeks ago, Panera started pointing out the "Cool Food Meals" on its menu, meals that have a lower carbon footprint. But Chipotle's Foodprint is the most specific and detailed Fast Company has encountered, writer Mark Wilson pointed out.

"You can literally measure the impact of adding pinto beans or a scoop of pico de gallo," Wilson wrote. "(Btw, order those beans! They capture carbon and fertilize soil with nitrogen naturally!)"

One downside to the Chipotle tool is the fact that it compares its own ingredients specifically to the industry standard, Wilson noted. This means that it tells you that choosing Chipotle-sourced steak saves 150 milligrams of antibiotics, while choosing tofu saves none, because conventional tofu requires none. The impact of the beef is compared to the industry standard for beef, but does not account for the huge environmental difference between choosing meat and choosing vegetarian options.

Chipotle chief marketing officer Chris Brandt said this was done to avoid passing a value judgement on individual foods.

"There's a lot of other metrics that say meat is bad, vegetarian is good. If you wanna live your life that way that's great ... everything is relevant to an industry average rather than a value judgment as to whether you eat meat or not," Brandt said.

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