Tips for sustainable eating


Current and past food scandals are increasing the desire of many to eat healthily and sustainably. Oeko-Institut has put together some tips for environmentally- and climate-friendly eating.

By changing their behaviour consumers can contribute to making food production and farming more environmentally- and climate-friendly – after all food makes up approx. 15 per cent of the average per capita greenhouse gas emissions of citizens. Approx. 1.65 tons of greenhouse gases per person per year are emitted through the production, further processing, distribution and storage of food alone.

Tip 1: Eat more vegetarian food

The German Society of Nutrition (DGE) recommends eating a primarily vegetable-based diet for health reasons. This means that approx. 75 per cent of the food we eat should be plant-based. Only 25 per cent should be made up of meat and meat products, fish and dairy products. A low-meat diet is also advisable from the perspective of climate protection. The consumption of meat in Germany is responsible for around a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by food. If a fry-up is a must on Sundays, then make sure it’s an organic one!

Tip 2: Opt for regional and seasonal products

Buying “regionally and seasonally” helps climate protection. The purchase of products from the regions in which we live contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions arising from the transportation of food. In particular all fruit flown to Europe and Germany such as pineapples or asparagus in autumn cause significantly higher emissions.

It is important for consumers to be aware of the natural growing periods of fruit and vegetables – tomatoes which are available on the market in January, for example, are grown in greenhouses which have a higher energy demand. By choosing regional products, you can also strengthen the local economy.

Tip 3: Organic is best

In spite of intense discussions on the matter, organically grown food products remain the best choice. They result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions even though their yields are lower. If we take vegetables as an example: the carbon footprint of conventionally grown vegetables is approx. 10-30 per cent higher than the carbon footprint of organic vegetables. In addition, not using nitrogen or sulphur fertilizers reduces the greenhouse gas emissions of the agricultural sector.

Organic products also have other benefits: organic farmers do not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides or other plant growth substances during production. As a rule more robust, locally adapted plant varieties and animal species are grown and bred in organic farming.

Tip 4: Prepare meals in a climate-friendly way

Not only the purchase of food, but also the preparation of food has a direct impact on the carbon footprint of the food sector. Going shopping on a bicycle instead of in the car, not owning a huge (and often half-empty) freezer and preparing your meals with efficient household appliances actively contributes to climate protection.

Refrigerators, freezers, cookers and ovens have particularly high saving potentials. A conventional electric hot plate stove consumes, for example, the most electricity. By contrast an induction cooker saves approx. 20-25 per cent of electricity and a gas stove needs approx. 45 per cent less primary energy than an electric stove.

Tip 5: Throw away less food

A new report by Oeko-Institut shows that in 2006 approx. 38 million tons of food were thrown away in the EU overall. It is estimated that 10-30 per cent of this food was still very much edible. One influencing factor is certainly the best before date, which is often estimated too cautiously. At the same time, however, consumers need to take better care to buy only as much food as they consume and to store perishable food more carefully.

Further information

Oeko-Institut's EcoTopTen platform with recommendations of energy-efficient products (in German)

Oeko-Institut's report "CO2 saving potentials for consumers" (in German)

Brochure for Oeko-Institut's project "EUPOPP – Policies to Promote Sustainable Consumption Patterns"