Reducing GHGs of course is key, and regardless if or how you measure, there are steps we can take to reduce the climate impact of serving and selling food at events.
We’ve heard that eating less or no red meat could halve a carbon footprint. And that food grown in hothouses, highly processed, packaged and long-travelled food can have big GHG impacts compared to fresh and local. We’ve even heard reports of lamb produced in New Zealand and sold in the UK might have a lower footprint than lamb raised in the UK.
The truth is though, without a complete Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of every ingredient or category, considering your destination and food sourcing, and including local transport, it’s hard to compile hard data. And so we work in a world of assumptions and extrapolations. And that’s OK.
A short-cut’s needed though... So us busy event managers can save precious time while we save the planet.
While event planners are always short on time, we’re big on processes, checklists and formats. And so we would benefit from a simple guide and set of decision filters to help define the best approach to measuring F&B GHGs for our event context.
I’ve scanned our industry to uncover how various events and consultants are measuring food and beverage GHGs. Some commonalities have been revealed, but also a lot of variety in the level of detail, how to gather that data, and foundation metrics or GHG emissions factors used.
Here’s the upshot of what I asked the movers and shakers in events and GHGs.
Many do include it, but take a lot of different journeys to get to the final GHG number. I got some no’s too - no we don’t include f&b GHGs.
Here’s some of the reasons why they wouldn’t measure:
Whether to actually measure F&B GHGs or not, could be part of our decision filters, along with what could be the additional impacts of eating at an event, compared to the usual daily personal consumption.
This was an interesting one, and a variety of approaches were taken.
Some have just gone for it, right down to the ingredients used in every meal served on the menu across all food outlets. Others go by the number of meals. Others the weight of food.
Some pre-estimate the proportion of the footprint that F&B could be, in order to decide how deep a dive is taken into data gathering and accurate analysis.
Instinct, estimations and experience are very good tools to hand here - but again, we could look to creating a common set of questions to create decision filters to help decide on the approach.
Here’s some basic explanations of approaches taken:
This is where things get wild. The ‘emissions factor’ is the coefficient applied per item - in this case, how many GHGs are created for a volume or weight of ingredient, category or per meal or drink.
To measure the GHG impact of a certain ingredient or category, there needs to have been an LCA done. There’s a lot of LCA’s on many ingredients and categories, and there are also some massive assumptions and extrapolations. But we have to start somewhere.
Sources of emissions factors can be from suppliers on their specific item, or national or international emissions factors prescribed, whereby various industry data is fed into establishing the agreed factor. In some cases calculators that have their own cascade of emissions factors sources are used.
I asked events and consultants how they do their numbers wrangling. Here are key approaches from most detailed to most general:
Everyone agreed that it would be extremely beneficial to publish a guide, ready-reckoner, and methodologies for approaches to food & beverage GHG accounting for events of various types. This would fast track and simplify the approach for many in the events industry just starting out in measuring their GHG impacts.
It was noted that price and effort required to get specific data is often unmanageable by most smaller organisations, and so having industry guidance for an easier way is warranted. There is interest in a ‘per meal’ approach being established that is acceptable for applying as industry averages for those who don’t have the resources (time, people, expertise) to use a tool such as CarbonCloud.
Portion size seems to vary between UK/Europe and USA. May need an ‘uplift factor’ for the USA in terms of volume!
A simple resource to show food GHG hotspots and what to look out for - so that menus can be more easily designed to look for a 50% GHG reduction would also be valuable.
Energy used in Food Prep: Onsite energy use in kitchens would be already included in the event’s data. However any significant offsite prep for the event could be considered for additional measurement. An example of known offsite meal preparation such as Kosher meals was given.
Transport: Most LCA’s include the point of wholesale/retail - so additional transport impact to the event site could need to be considered.
Can we come up with an industry average/estimate for transport impact based on the number of meals provided?
Ownership and Double Accounting: Discussion and guidance is needed to clarify ‘ownership’ in some contexts, for example vendors selling food to attendees as non-ticketed or non-gated events, large workforce contractors that provide meals directly to staff, for-profit participants (such as performance groups, sports teams) who provide accom and catering directly and continually throughout the season.
Attendee meals offsite in hotels (e.g. breakfast or post event dinners) are generally not included. This should be specified in the guidance.
Event-owned food & beverage service should be defined by the principles of financial or operational control.
Meals provided by event stakeholders/delivery partners, to event participants, should be included in the whole reporting boundary of the event, but would be ‘owned’ by the stakeholder. (For example meals provided to sports teams workforces in team bases onsite an event).
Identification of any stakeholders who may take direct responsibility for GHG impacts, but traditional application of ‘financial or operational control’ may indicate it is the event’s responsibility, for example a highly engaged caterer, cleaning contractor, venue.
A big thanks to all that contributed to this including Joanna Lee (Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games), Chris Johnson (Shambala, Vision 2025), Chiara Badiali (Julie’s Bicycle), Shawna McKinley (Clear Current Consulting), Lee Spivak (WM/WM Phoenix Open), Claire O’Neill (A Greener Festival), Susie Tomson (SailGP), Dan Reading (World Sailing/Right Formula), Chris Asensio (Sustainable Golf), Shelley Villalobos (Council for Responsible Sport), Iona Neilson (FormulaE), Craig Simmons (Anthesis Group), Richard Griffiths (Edge Environment) and of course all those who worked on the IOC footprinting guidance and doing the hard work on creating a per-meal EF from WFLDB 2015.