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Natural Resources Defense Council

By Emily Deanne

Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.

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Tony Anderson / DigitalVision / Getty Images

The tiny house movement is an environmentalist dream's come true — less space means you need less stuff and you consume less energy. The problem is you have to live in a cramped space and dedicate yourself to the Marie Kondo credo of only having a few objects in you home that spark joy.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Scott Eisen / Getty Images

Meal kit delivery services are an easy target for eco-conscious people concerned with waste: the ingredients are meticulously packaged in plastic and insulation, put into cardboard boxes and shipped to the customer's front door each week. But how does all that waste and energy use stack up against the environmental impact of buying the same meal at the grocery store?

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Tiny houses on display in Portland, Oregon in 2017. Dan David Cook / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA

By Maria Saxton

Interest is surging in tiny homes — livable dwelling units that typically measure under 400 square feet. Much of this interest is driven by media coverage that claims that living in tiny homes is good for the planet.

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Pexels

By Marlene Cimons

Gibran Vita makes every effort to get rid of the dispensable. He lives in a small home and wears extra layers indoors to cut his heating bills. He eats and drinks in moderation. He spends his leisure time in "contemplation," volunteering or working on art projects. "I like to think more like a gatherer, that is, 'what do I have?' instead of 'what do I want?'" he said.

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Robert Mullan / Canopy / Getty Images

By Reynard Loki

Humans have been moving food around the world for thousands of years. Toward the end of the second century BC, merchants traveled along the Silk Road, transporting noodles from Xi'an, grapes from Dayuan and nutmeg from the Moluccas Islands to eager buyers along its 4,000-mile network. While it's possible to trace the evolution of food through that matrix of ancient caravan routes that linked China to the West, it's hard to measure its environmental impact. It's likely that, as with any road, wildlife corridors were disrupted. But greenhouse gas emissions were fairly low, consisting of the methane from the belches and farts of the horses, yaks and Bactrian camels, and the fires that humans burned along the way.

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By Meredith Rosenberg

In early October, the United Nations released a climate change report forewarning of global catastrophes (severe flooding, wildfires, droughts) that could begin by 2040 unless drastic changes are made to reduce greenhouse gases. It might seem like a daunting task, but here are five lifestyle changes you can make right now to start reducing your carbon footprint. If you really want to help the planet, follow the next-level suggestions to make the biggest impact.

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iStock

By Lotfi Belkhir

When we think about climate change, the main sources of carbon emissions that come to mind for most of us are heavy industries like petroleum, mining and transportation.

Rarely do we point the finger at computer technologies.

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By Amy McDermott

Food is expensive. Not just for pocketbooks, but for the planet. Worldwide, more than 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from food production. That's methane belched from cows and nitrous oxide escaping from soils, as well as fossil fuels burned by tractors, fishing boats and rumbling transport vehicles. Some foods cost more than others.

Seafood has a smaller carbon footprint than other animal proteins, on average, because fishing doesn't require farmland or care of livestock. But even among seafoods, fish and shellfish can have varying impacts.

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Rennett Stowe / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Anna Scott

Want to save the planet? Are you, like me, a young professional struggling to reduce your carbon footprint? Then join me in taking the train to your next professional conference.

Most of my low-carbon lifestyle is admittedly enforced on me by my student budget. I have no kids, bicycle to work and share a house with roommates. What dominates my carbon footprint is the flights I take—I'll be hitting frequent flyer status this year thanks to traveling for conferences, talks and workshops (not to mention those flights to see my family during the holidays—even being unmarried doesn't get me out of visiting in-laws overseas). This is a bittersweet moment for a climate scientist—my professional success gives me an opportunity to impact the world with my science, but is hurting the planet and leaving future generations with a mess that will outlive me.

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By Kari Hamerschlag and Christopher D. Cook

What do meat-centric, cheesy-rich school lunches and climate change have in common? Both pose risks for our kids' health and our planet's future. In short, too much meat and dairy in our diets contributes to both chronic health problems and climate change.

Research shows that we cannot avoid the worst impacts of climate change unless we dramatically scale back our consumption of animal foods. That's because producing meat and cheese generates large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and guzzles huge amounts of water.

What if we could improve our kids' school lunches and reduce our impact on the climate at the same time?

One of California's largest school districts is doing just that, showing how we can reduce our impact on climate change and save money by serving less—and better—meat and dairy products. By trimming back the meat and cheese in kids' lunches and serving more plant-based nutritious meals, the Oakland Unified School District significantly reduced its carbon and water footprint, according to a new study by Friends of the Earth.

Over the past two years, Oakland's K-12 school food service cut their meals' carbon footprint by 14 percent and reduced its water use by 6 percent. Meanwhile, the district saved $42,000 by cutting costs per meal by one percent, enabling it to purchase better quality and more sustainable meat from organic, grass-fed retired dairy cows.

Consider one popular lunch food: a beef hot dog. Friends of the Earth's analysis found that one hot dog generates seven times the carbon footprint of a tofu-veggie rice stir-fry and more than three times that of a veggie bean tostada.

Friends of the Earth

If every California K-12 school food service matched Oakland's carbon footprint reductions, they would reduce their footprint by 80 million kg of CO2 emissions—equivalent to Californians driving almost 200 million fewer miles per year.

We know kids can be picky eaters. So it's even more impressive that Oakland's effort actually increased student satisfaction with local, regional, fresh and tasty meals. Equally important, these plant-based meals met or exceeded the U.S. Department of Agriculture meal pattern requirements.

With such remarkable progress from just one school district over two years, imagine if all food-serving outlets served more plant-based foods and more sustainable, less resource-intensive animal foods. This would greatly benefit our climate future, help everyone eat healthier and reduce the risk of costly, diet related diseases associated with meat-centric diets. Currently, Americans eat 50 percent more meat than is recommended by U.S. Dietary Guidelines, while only 20 percent of us get the suggested amounts of fruits and vegetables.

Friends of the Earth

Fortunately, Oakland isn't alone. Across California and the nation, hundreds of school districts have adopted Meatless Mondays, generating important climate and water benefits by reducing demand for resource-intensive meat products.

Beyond schools, food service institutions in hospitals, prisons and elsewhere are saving money and improving health with plant-focused menus. A pilot program in four hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area (Health Care Without Harm's Balanced Menus: Less Meat Better Meat) saved the equivalent of $400,000 a year during its trial period. The Maricopa County Jail saved an estimated $817,000 in one year by switching from meat to plant-based foods.

Despite the growing trend towards serving more plant-based meals, the strategy of shifting institutional food purchasing to aid climate mitigation has rarely been tapped or quantified. We hope this report inspires more public institutions to track their animal foods purchases and serve less and better meat and more plant-based foods as a cost-effective way to achieve environmental and public health goals. We also hope policymakers will begin to consider meat reduction as a key climate mitigation strategy.

The vital role of meat reduction in mitigating climate change is well-documented in numerous peer-reviewed articles and two recent studies by the World Resources Institute and Chatham House. A 2014 climate mitigation report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that "the potential to reduce GHG emissions through reduction in consumption of meat ... (is) substantially higher than that of (any other agricultural) technical mitigation measures." The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Scientific Report reiterated the environmental benefits of less meat consumption.

According to a 2016 Menus of Change report from the Culinary Institute and Harvard's School of Public Health, a diet emphasizing plant foods "is the single most important contribution the foodservice industry can make toward environmental sustainability."

Reducing demand for resource-intensive animal foods is a relatively simple, cost neutral or even cost-saving strategy. Because animal foods production is a major part of greenhouse gas emissions, other climate mitigation measures will ultimately be ineffective if we don't dramatically reduce meat and dairy consumption. That's because the increased emissions from rising meat consumption trends would quickly wipe out the climate benefits from other mitigation strategies.

Yet another added benefit from Oakland Unified School District's approach: trimming demand for grain-fed animal products and promoting more sustainable pasture-raised meat from dairy cows also helps build healthier soils to sequester carbon, another key ingredient in fighting climate change.

At a time when people are hungry for positive solutions, the Oakland school lunch story provides an inspiring model for a growing movement across California and the nation. The evidence shows we can improve our kids' health, save money and help the environment, all while increasing student satisfaction and meeting federal school meal requirements. This is a rare triple win that all parents can embrace.

Kari Hamerschlag is deputy director for food and technology at Friends of the Earth and Christopher D. Cook is the author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis.

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