Chris Johnson, chair of Powerful Thinking, recently joined an industry panel at ADE Green, to explore the environmental footprint of festival food. In his monthly Green Column, Johnson shares a few ideas from our European friends…

The production of food has a major impact on climate, biodiversity, land, water and our health. A shift away from meeting all our human protein needs from animal sources towards a more plant-based diet is taking place in society, and event menus are reflecting this change.

The Swedish WWF calculated how much greenhouse gases a meal could be responsible for in order for us to achieve the goal of the Paris Agreement (staying within 1.5 degrees global warming) and feed all world citizens. The outcome is 0.5kg CO2e per main meal, and is called the One Planet Plate. The UK average for a meal is around two kilogrammes of C02e.

This year, tthree festivals in Europe experimented with ways to calculate the carbon footprint of their dishes, and explored ways to create dishes with a lower CO2 impact.

Denmark’s 120,000-strong Roskilde Festival has an established sustainable food programme, notably achieving 90 per cent organic food in 2017. In 2018, it embarked on food footprinting with CarbonCloud, using its’ climate impact calculator, CarbonAte. All 400 food options served during the festival by 100 different food vendors were marked with climate labels, making it easier for buyers to make sustainable choices and enable the festival to measure the climate impact of all of its food operations.

Roskilde also partnered with the Danish Innovation Fund to test a number of eco-friendly projects, like solar cooking and insect-based meats. One on-site restaurant served the “diet of the future”, and the Danish beer giant Tuborg launched an exclusive organic lager.

Also on the panel at ADE Green, a European conference on sustainability, innovation and social change in the music industry, was The Food Line Up’s Maartje Nelissen. At Lowlands, alongside the festival organising team, it developed a concept restaurant; Brasserie 2050. The menu focused on the global issue of how we are going to provide food to almost 10 billion people in 2050. Using 50 ingredients of “today and the future”, future-proof dishes were designed and each was given an accurate CO2 measurement.

Shambala also worked with CarbonCloud to offer its food concessions access to the CarbonAte tools to measure their festival food carbon impacts. A quarter of traders used the tools to create a One Planet Plate, displayed campaign posters on site, were tagged in the festival app and provided information about their low-impact dishes on menu boards. For example, a vegan hotdog (0.2kg CO2e per meal) and a full veggie breakfast (0.9kg CO2e per meal).

Shambala also analysed crew food, collecting data on energy, water use and all ingredients for the 10,000 meals provided in crew catering. The average footprint was 1.1kg per meal, half the UK average, and double a One Planet Plate – showing that there are reductions to be achieved even with a vegetarian menu.

So, what are the rules of thumb we can work with when choosing food stalls, writing food procurement policies or tenders for events? Reducing meat and dairy is significant, consider avoiding beef and lamb particularly. Avoiding air freighted produce makes a difference, and sourcing locally and seasonally is a good choice generally. If you want to take steps toward measuring and communicating food impacts to consumers or for internal auditing, check online for various tools.

I see a delicious future at events, where progressive food policies compel or steer caterers to innovate and provide food that is fit-for-the-future, and consumers making choices based on clear and simple climate-impact labelling of food.