Making a meal of it: Sustainable consumption is more than just eating less meat

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions deriving from food represent approx. one fifth of the total EU GHG emission balance when all upstream emissions from fertilizers and imports etc. are taken into account.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions deriving from food represent approx. one fifth of the total EU GHG emission balance when all upstream emissions from fertilizers and imports etc. are taken into account. Avoiding unnecessary food wastage, eating less meat and more organic and vegetarian produce can reduce EU GHG emissions by up to 25 percent by 2030. This is one of the findings being presented by Oeko-Institut’s researchers at the final stakeholder conference for the EUPOPP project on sustainable consumption in Brussels on 5th July 2011.

At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the promotion of sustainable production and consumption patterns was made one of the policy and research objectives of high international priority. Since then, numerous analyses have been carried out on this issue in the area of sustainability research. These have generally emphasised the analysis of barriers to sustainable consumption and the development of suitable policy instruments for overcoming them.

But how do the recommended policy instruments take effect once they have been decided upon? Do they really contribute to more sustainable consumption patterns in day-to-day life? How can policy strategies and instruments be improved in such a way that the consumer behaviour of different demographic groups significantly changes in day-to-day life? And what impacts would this have on the environment and in terms of costs?

In the “EUPOPP – Policies to Promote Sustainable Consumption Patterns” project, the team of experts looked – with sponsorship from the EU Commission - for answers to these questions and developed solutions and strategies for consumption with a view to environmental and climate protection and resource conservation. Together with six European partners, researchers at Oeko-Institut analysed the impacts and effectiveness of policies and measures geared to promoting the sustainable consumption of private consumers in two fields: food and housing.

Focus on food

The production and processing, consumption and disposal of food lead to large GHG emissions, the loss of natural habitats and other negative environmental impacts. Well-tailored policies and measures can contribute to the mitigation of these negative impacts, according to the findings of the EUPOPP project. Two recommendations from the EUPOPP researchers are, for example, to avoid unnecessary food wastage and reduce the environmental burden by making more environmentally friendly purchase decisions.

“Each year around 38 million tonnes of food have to be taken off shopping shelves and are thrown away in households across the EU. While the sell-by date or best before date may have passed” explains Dr. Bettina Brohmann from Oeko-Institut and EUPOPP’s project leader, “we estimate that ten to 30 percent of this produce could still be in very good edible condition. Our project also demonstrates that more than 110 million tonnes of GHG emissions could be avoided if we moderately changed our eating habits. That corresponds to more than 16 percent of the GHG emissions of the food sector in the EU.”

Researchers at Oeko-Institut are recommending that EU policy should encourage consumers to think more about how they plan their purchases as well as how they store and preserve the food they buy. In this way food would not rot as quickly, the amount of food waste would decrease, and their carbon footprint would fall. Furthermore the retail industry and producers have to get active on the path towards sustainability. A first step would be to extend the sell-by dates or best before dates for food produce, which tend to be too close-term at the moment.

Oeko-Institut is also recommending further measures for protecting the environment and the climate. Offering organic food in public canteens and school cafeterias and introducing a “veggie day” – i.e. a day when only vegetarian food is served – have immediate, positive effects in terms of climate protection and would set a good example for the rest of the population. These measures would lead to the reduction of approx. 29 million tonnes of CO2-equivalents in the EU. Additional measures are, for example, increasing the value added tax on products that have negative impacts on the environment and the climate and educating children on sustainable consumption in schools.

Information on the research project “EUPOPP– Policies to Promote Sustainable Consumption Patterns”

“What’s new about EUPOPP is that for the first time we have interwoven assessment methods from political science and the natural sciences in order to examine what policy instruments can really help motivate consumers to more sustainability in their purchasing decisions and consumption behaviour,” says Dr. Brohmann. Focusing their analyses on the fields of housing and food, the team examined innovative policy instruments and their sustainability potentials.

The study covers all regions of the EU, with a special focus placed on Spain, Finland, the UK, Germany and the Baltic states. Oeko-Institut’s project partners for EUPOPP are the National Consumer Research Centre (Finland), University College London, Baltic Environmental Forum, ecoinstitut Barcelona, the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (Germany) and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.

Further information and research findings can be found in the project booklet and on the project website


Dr. Bettina Brohmann
Head of Energy & Climate Division
Oeko-Institut e.V., Darmstadt office
Phone: +49 6151 8191-35
Email contact

Regine Barth
Head of Environmental Law & Governance Division
Oeko-Institut e.V., Darmstadt office
Phone: +49 6151 8191-30
Email contact

Oeko-Institut is a leading independent European research and consultancy institute working for a sustainable future. Founded in 1977, the institute develops principles and strategies for ways in which the vision of sustainable development can be realised globally, nationally and locally. It has offices in three cities in Germany: Freiburg, Darmstadt and Berlin.

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