Making Sustainable Food Choices

climate friendly foods

Editor's note: Visit the Climate Friendly Food labels webpage to learn more about this initiative and for the most up to date information. 


If you’ve purchased your meal on campus lately, you may have come across a label indicating whether what you are about to consume is climate-friendly. What does this mean exactly?   

The Climate-Friendly Food Label has been tested and is at select food outlets across UBC campus. Currently, you will find it at Open Kitchen operated by UBC Food Services. The label provides an opportunity for the campus community to make informed purchasing decisions that can promote a climate-friendly food system. This project is part of a SEEDS Sustainability Program research collaboration to develop, pilot and evaluate UBC’s first Climate-Friendly Food label. The research includes developing a methodology and framework that assesses greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other attributes for menu ingredients. It also evaluates perceptions and the impacts that Climate-Friendly Food Labels may have on awareness, knowledge and purchasing decisions.  

A menu item with the Climate-Friendly Food Label means that the item generated less GHG emissions, water, and nitrogen per 100 grams of food produced than the other items on the menu.

A food meal labeled with the happy planet icon means that this food menu item has at least a 50% lower environmental footprint per 100 grams than other items.


Food label



A food meal labeled with the happy planet icon means that this food menu item has at least a 50% lower environmental footprint per 100 grams than other items.





How do we determine what foods are climate-friendly?  

The GHG emissions, nitrogen, and water footprints of each menu item are calculated by summing up the weight of every raw ingredient multiplied by their respective footprint factors. Ingredient footprint factors are determined according to their category in the Cool Food Calculator, which provides data on the amount of GHGs emitted during the food item’s life cycle (production, distribution, processing but excluding cooking emissions and associated food waste). Following UBC's Climate Action Plan reduction goals for food systems, the Climate-Friendly Food Label was assigned to menu items whose composite footprint is 50% of the baseline in 2019. 

In future iterations, additional attributes that make up a Climate-Friendly Food system will be considered part of the label, spanning mitigation and adaptation.   

Creating a Climate-Friendly Food system at UBC  

Did you know that the production of food contributes to approximately 34% of global GHG emissions? Here on the Vancouver campus, food system emissions account for 21% of UBC’s overall emissions for 2019 and 31% of GHG emissions for extended emissions (extended emissions occur from activities that are not completely controlled by UBC, but that the University can impact and influence through plans.

Food is the second-highest category in extended emissions (after commuting). Food emissions may become the largest category as other sources of UBC GHGs emissions reduce.  

In an effort to tackle this, UBC has set a target to achieve a 50% reduction in food systems emissions by 2030. UBC aims to operate a climate-friendly, just and accessible food system which means reducing our GHG food systems footprint through food production, procurement, provision, consumption, waste and recovery. 

To learn more about what you can do to support climate-friendly food systems at UBC, visit the Sustainability website. 

This project is led by the SEEDS Sustainability Program, which catalyzes student-led applied research and interdisciplinary partnerships to advance climate action at UBC. This project is in partnership with UBC Food Services, UBC’s Climate-Friendly Food System (CFFS) Action Team, Vancouver School of Economics (UBC Faculty of Arts), Department of Statistics (UBC Faculty of Science), Department of Psychology and the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability.   

The nitrogen footprint factors were provided by the Food label toolkit from Allision Leach (2016), and the water footprint factors are publicly available in Poore & Nemecek (2018). The nitrogen and water footprint factors were recalculated for each food category in the GHG emissions factors list to maintain consistency and improve calculation efficiency. 

More questions about the project? Please send an email to