Sustainable nutrition: choosing the right product

We all eat several times a day. How, where and what we eat has a major influence on our well-being and our health. Besides these direct effects the way our food is produced, the ingredients it contains and the quantity in which it is consumed has a variety of impacts on society and the environment.

Studies of personal consumption show that, along with the categories of “housing” and “mobility”, our nutrition is the source of the most environmental impacts. Growing, processing, transporting and storing food, together with the preparation of meals and the disposal of waste, accounts for around 15 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions arising from personal consumption. If other environmental impacts are also included, such as the contamination of soil and water by nitrate discharge or the decline in biodiversity caused by the use of pesticides and by monoculture, then the contribution of nutrition to the total environmental impact of personal consumption rises to over 25 per cent.

On the basis of its socio-ecological research, the Oeko-Institut advises government bodies, businesses, local authorities and associations on ways to move towards the production of greener foods and shows them how to achieve sustainable consumption in the food sector. In addition, the Oeko-Institut produces life cycle analyses of food products and product portfolios and evaluates and monitors new technologies, for example in aquaculture.

Donation-funded project on sustainable nutrition …

In the context of the donation-funded project “Is good food really expensive?” the Oeko-Institut looked at the internal and external costs generated by different types of diets and the effect on the greenhouse gas balance. The results show that switching from the average German diet to healthy organic food with less meat and more fruit and vegetables only costs around 80 euros a year more than shopping in an ordinary supermarket.

Eating more sustainable food has further impacts on the climate. The study reveals that, compared with the average meat-heavy diet, the diet recommended by the German Nutrition Society (DGE) generates 12 per cent less greenhouse gases, a vegetarian diet 26 per cent less and a vegan diet as much as 37 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions.

… and the Oeko-Institut cookbook “Nachhaltig kochen!”

As part of the project the Oeko-Institut has also produced the cookbook “Nachhaltig kochen!” (Sustainable cooking), which summarises the results of the studies in the project, as well as providing recipes and tips for cooking with seasonal and local ingredients. Using recipes from well-known chefs and cooks, the cookbook shows that meals with less or no meat are healthy, satisfying and delicious. It can be ordered from the Oeko-Institut at cost price.

Oeko-Institut online article “Die Kosten verschiedener Ernährungsstile – ein politisches Kochbuch” (The cost of different diets – a political cookbook) - in German only

Oeko-Institut press release “Ist gutes Essen wirklich teuer? Kosten und CO2-Emissionen verschiedener Ernährungsstile im Vergleich” (Is good food really expensive? Comparing the costs and CO2 emissions of different diets) - in German only

Is good food really expensive? Oeko-Institut working paper on the donation-funded project “Is good food really expensive? The hidden costs of what we eat in Germany” – in German only

Preview of the Oeko-Institut cookbook “Nachhaltig Kochen!” – in German only

More organic food in public institutions

The catering market in canteens and refectories offers huge potential for sales of organic food, yet organic meals are still almost impossible to find in public institutions or in schools and day nurseries. This can be remedied through targeted demand. The Oeko-Institut’s practical handbook “Mehr Bio in Kommunen” (More organic food in local authorities) will be available from late 2015, offering local authorities guidance on how to promote organic food in day nurseries, schools, hospitals and other local authority institutions.

The handbook has been commissioned by the Bio-Städte-Netzwerk (organic cities network) in conjunction with the consultancy firm a’verdis. It contains advice on how local authorities can formulate their tenders to attract bids for contracts from community caterers who include organic products in their range. It also shows how, owing to the current legal situation at EU and national level, organic quality can be made a specific requirement in the procurement of food for public institutions.

Sustainable fish farming

Faced with stagnating marine fishing yields and the prospect that they may even fall in future, industry and government are pinning their hopes on the expansion of aquaculture. In view of this the German Federal Environmental Foundation (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt, DBU) has put the funding initiative “Sustainable Aquaculture” out to tender. Its aim is to promote the development of innovative sustainable aquaculture systems. The Oeko-Institut is providing scientific expertise to support the project and is carrying out an in-process sustainability evaluation of the funded research and development plans. This is intended to establish the potential for optimising sustainability offered by the individual plans and how and to what extent this potential can be tapped. The in-process methodology confers pilot status on the project.

Summing up: Where is action needed now?

Oeko- Institut believes that, in view of the intense pressures on the environment and the social impacts associated with food consumption, there is an urgent need for society to move towards sustainable food consumption. This move involves changes at various levels: agricultural production processes must be made kinder to the environment, fair trade relations with foreign producers need to be established and the amount of fuel and energy used in the processing, storage and transportation of food must be reduced, together with the amount of waste along the entire food chain.

Last but by no means least, however, we have to change the very way we eat. We need to cut our consumption of meat and dairy products and plan our meals on the basis of seasonal availability. That will not only help the environment but also – as the German Nutrition Society DGE stresses – improve our health.

Further information from the Oeko-Institut:

The latest Oeko-Institut project: “Trafo 3.0 - Model for designing socio-ecological transformation processes in practice: development and testing in three application areas”
Oeko-Institut e-paper eco@work “What to eat? Healthy food, small footprint” (March 2014)
Oeko-Institut study “Ernährungswende. Herausforderungen für Politik, Unternehmen und Gesellschaft” (2007) (A change of diet: challenges for government, business and society – in German only)
Oeko-Institut study on the climate footprint of frozen foods (in German only)

Further information on external websites:

“Umweltbelastungen des privaten Konsums und Reduktionspotenziale. Schlussbericht für das Schweizerische Bundesamt für Umwelt”(Environmental impacts of personal consumption and the potential for reduction. Final report for the Swiss Environment Ministry) Study by Jungbluth, N. et al. 2012 – in German only