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Limiting red meat availability in a university food service setting reduces food-related greenhouse gas emissions by one-third

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Abstract

Higher Education Institutions (HEI) can contribute to climate change mitigation through reductions in food-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We examined the impact of serving a low-red meat menu 1 day per week on the GHG emissions associated with residential dining halls at a university setting in the USA. We also estimated the potential impacts of replacing meat with lower-emission proteins on GHG emissions and cost using hypothetical substitution scenarios. Food items procured to prepare daily meals were linked to GHG emissions values. During one academic term, a “Sustainable Mondays” intervention was implemented, wherein dining halls reduced red meat dishes on Mondays. We compared GHG emissions on Mondays with Wednesdays. We then developed substitution scenarios that replaced beef, red meat, or all meats and fish with lower-emission protein sources on a per gram of protein basis. Overall, the University dining service food procurement emitted 4661 metric tonnes CO2-eq in one academic term, of which 81% came from animal-source foods. Dining halls reduced red meat procurement by 81% on “Sustainable Mondays,” resulting in 240 fewer metric tonnes of CO2-eq (− 31% compared to Wednesdays). We estimated that replacing red meat with lower-emission meat and red meat/poultry with fish or plant-based proteins could reduce GHG emissions by 14–46%. Our study suggests there is considerable potential for HEI to reduce climate impacts through simple replacements of red meat with lower-emission proteins. Achieving the necessary scales of meat reduction in HEI likely requires institution-wide transformation with changes to food procurement, dining hall choice architecture, and education for students and staff.

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Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge Melanie Reid, Lindsay Haas, and Eliza Haffey for their assistance with data curation, as well as the rest of the Michigan Dining staff for their support and collaboration, particularly Keith Soster, Frank Turchan, and Steve Mangan. We would also like to thank Caroline Baloga, Sarah Bellaire, Becca Harley, Marc Jaruzel, and Jeremy Moghtader for their support in this analysis as part of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality Food Internal Analysis Team.

Funding

This study benefitted from the support of the University of Michigan President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality.

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AB conceived and led the dining hall intervention and supervised data tracking. LH, AJ, and NL conceived the modeling analysis. NL conducted the analysis with significant input from LH, MH, and AJ. LH and AJ co-led the project on which the study was based. NL and AJ wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors contributed to the revision of the manuscript, and read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Nathalie J. Lambrecht.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Lambrecht, N.J., Hoey, L., Bryan, A. et al. Limiting red meat availability in a university food service setting reduces food-related greenhouse gas emissions by one-third. Climatic Change 176, 67 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-023-03543-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-023-03543-y

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