Food: Environmentally friendly and yet enough for everyone?

Our food is responsible for one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. How can we produce more sustainably and still feed a growing population?

Stefano marinelli Q2 TO1 Nf HS8 E unsplash
Camille reynaud portrait

Camille Reynaud

Climate Intelligence Expert

In November 2021, the UN Climate Change Conference was held in Glasgow, also known as COP 26, where countries signed two important agreements. The first was to end deforestation, and the second was to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Agriculture and food production are the main causes of both of these phenomena.

Without question, food is essential to life. Technological breakthroughs, for example, have enabled us to defeat hunger in a large part of the world. But in fact, our food system is responsible for about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

One thing is certain: We need to take action to reduce emissions from the food and agriculture sector. So we need to change our food system to a more sustainable system. But how is that possible when we have to feed a growing population at the same time?

We have summarized for you how we can make food and agriculture more sustainable - and in a way that makes enough for everyone.

Where does the enormous environmental impact of food come from?

We'll look at how we can reduce the environmental impact of food and agriculture in a moment. But before we do, let's take a moment to understand the main causes of greenhouse gas emissions in the food sector.

For an overview of where greenhouse gas emissions occur in agriculture and food production, we need to look at the entire life cycle of food. This ranges from the raw materials to the disposal of food waste.

We can divide food greenhouse gas emissions into four categories: Land use, agricultural production, supply chain and post-retail.

GHG emissions from food Crippa et al 202

Source: Our World In Data

Land use

Crop cultivation and livestock farming require (a lot of) space. This so-called land use causes greenhouse gas emissions because forests are usually cleared for it. Deforestation is a major contributor to carbon emissions (read more about this in our blog post about the COP26 results). When forests are cut down, the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere as CO2. This contributes to global warming, which is known to be responsible for the climate crisis.

Agricultural production

Agricultural production includes arable farming and livestock breeding. It is mainly responsible for causing so many greenhouse gas emissions in our food system. In Austria, agriculture alone is responsible for 16% of total CO2 emissions.

Agriculture part ghg austria

Source: Umweltbundesamt

The reason for this is that various greenhouse gases are involved in agricultural production. Cattle, for example, release methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. Plant fertilizer, in turn, releases both CO2 and nitrogen oxides (N2O). The latter heat up the atmosphere about 300 times more than CO2.

GHG jpeg


Supply chain

The food supply chain includes processing, transport, packaging and retail. Contrary to prevailing opinion, transportation is responsible for only 6% of food emissions. But beware, this is an average figure: most food is transported by road or ship. Less than 1% of food is transported by air. They contribute a larger share.


The term post-retail describes everything that happens after the product has been purchased at the retail outlet. Most of the emissions here come from food waste. According to the UN, one-third of the world's food is lost or wasted every year. The disposal of this waste in turn releases greenhouse gases.

Food systems not only impact our greenhouse gas emissions. They also affect land use, water consumption, biodiversity loss and human health.

Now that we understand the problem, we can talk about solutions - because they exist, too.

How do we make the transition to a more sustainable food system?

Three action areas can reduce the environmental impact of food systems.

Plant-based protein instead of meat

Refood" shows that half of the greenhouse gas emissions in the food sector are due to livestock farming. It also leads to highly inefficient land use and loss of biodiversity through deforestation. To change this, we need to stop eating meat-based products - or at least eat less meat.

Changing your diet to plant-based forms of protein is the first step toward a more sustainable food system. After all, if we managed to eliminate animal products from our diet, we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the food sector by almost 50%.

In fact, meat - especially beef - is among the foods that produce the most greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of protein.

Protein jpeg

Source: Our World in Data

Beef emits 25 times more CO2 per kilogram of protein than tofu! For a comparison with other foods, we recommend the easy-to-use food comparison tool from Our World in Data.

If we want to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the food sector, we need to completely change our eating habits. For this to succeed, awareness raising and the development of tasty and affordable alternatives are necessary.

Restrict conventional agriculture

In conventional or intensive agriculture, fertilizers are used to increase yields. These affect the quality of the soil and are responsible for the emission of strong greenhouse gases. To reduce the environmental impact of intensive agriculture, it is necessary to switch to more sustainable techniques. For this, a legal framework is needed. The Farm to Fork strategy is therefore at the heart of the EU's Green Deal. It aims to pave the way for making our food systems fair, healthy and environmentally friendly.

In 2021, 23% of Austria's farms were managed organically. The country thus plays a leading role when it comes to supporting the European Commission in achieving its goals. This is because the Commission wants to achieve a share of 25% of organic farms by 2030.

Fig biobetriebe

Source: The future of organic farming (

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Reduce food waste

Did you know that it takes an area the size of China to produce all the food that is lost or wasted each year?

It is important to distinguish between food loss and food waste. Food loss refers to those foods that are lost along the supply chain. Food waste, on the other hand, refers to the food that is thrown away after it has been purchased and thus left the retail store. We need to address both the food loss and food waste issues to reduce the environmental impact. We accomplish this in approximately the following ways:

  • Increasing the efficiency of the supply chain: the shorter the transport route, the less food is lost
  • Upcycling: This is the transformation of waste into a valuable product
  • Redistribution platform development
  • Introduction of smart packaging

In the end, a combination of such measures will be necessary to drastically reduce emissions from the food sector and achieve climate neutrality.

What does all this mean for your company?

Now that you understand the problem and have learned about possible solutions, you're probably wondering if you have a role to play as a company and where to start.

In fact, the contribution of businesses is essential. By taking action to improve your food system, you will reduce your company's carbon footprint, motivate your employees to take effective climate action, and probably even save money. So, where to start?

To get you started right away and save you time and energy, we've put together a list of effective measures for you:

Encourage employees to eat less meat

Organize veggie days in your cafeteria or regularly offer vegan or vegetarian alternatives. This makes it easier for employees to limit their meat consumption.

Reduce food waste

  • Optimize the ordering process: To reduce the amount of food waste, you can improve the ordering process in the canteen.
  • Donate food waste to employees: You can share leftover food with employees instead of throwing it away directly. Introduce a food sharing system for this purpose.
  • Install compost garbage cans: Prevent food waste from ending up in the trash and encourage recycling. Set up compost bins and encourage employees to separate their waste. We've put together a selection of solutions that make it easy to use compost: Worm bin and damn plastic.

Support sustainable agriculture

  • Work with local or regional producers: Even though transportation is not the biggest contributor to CO2 emissions, buying local sustainable food is a way to support the local economy and eat seasonally. These solutions will help you buy sustainable food: Rita Bringt's, Markta or Etepetete. Join our community and receive discount codes for your orders!
  • Raise awareness within the company: For example, you can organize workshops to encourage employees* to support sustainable agriculture. This is also an excellent opportunity for team building.

If you want to help reduce emissions from the food and agriculture sector but don't know where to start, Glacier is here for you. Get in touch with us here or contact us at

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