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A “Cool Food” rating system indicating climate and other impacts would empower consumers to choose climate-friendly foods.




A simple food and menu rating system would empower people to make “climate-smart” decisions and significantly impact agricultural and food-related emissions. Emissions from different foods are not marginal, they are massive.  This system could be promoted to make it “cool” to stabilize climate change. While replacing fossil fuel infrastructure is important, food has been mostly ignored.  “Cool Foods” makes the link between everyday choices and emissions.

Mitigating GHS emissions from agriculture and food production will have an immediate impact on climate, because agriculture, (incl. deforestation and burning) is the major source of short term climate forcers methane, black carbon and ground level ozone (3).  Reducing these emissions will start cooling almost immediately, whereas 20% of carbon dioxide emissions remain after 1,000 years.  40% cuts in methane alone could delay climate change by 15 years (11).  Freeing up agricultural land from ruminant grazing has been identified as the lowest cost, large scale means to drawing down legacy carbon dioxide by as much as 40-70ppm, equivalent to rolling back 20-40 years of CO2 atmospheric concentration increase (4, 12).

The campaign involves “cool foods” smartphone apps and a wider “Cool-Foods” campaign that promotes other environmental, health and animal welfare aspects of sustainable food production.

We believe there is a significant opportunity to build a new constituency for climate by bringing parents, particularly mothers, into the climate movement.

This is an opportunity to communicate the threat posed by global warming by using the excitement around good, healthy food and the increasing prevalence and popularity of social media. Our goal is not to overwhelm people so that they feel helpless, but empower them around their everyday food choices.  For instance saying: Did you know that organic is good for you and for the climate?  Our goal is to bridge the very real gap between science and the average person.

Category of the action

Reducing consumption

What actions do you propose?

 Develop or adapt a food rating system

The scoring metric has been the subject of considerable discussion by team members.  It would appear that consumers are interested not only in the climate impact of their purchases, but also the environmental impact and other aspects such as animal welfare impact and ‘fair food’.  This debate is very useful, and we propose to widen it, even to use this discussion in social media as a means of engaging consumers and getting ‘buy-in’, perhaps by running a competition.  However, the metric will be rigorously science-based, using lifecycle impact analysis methods. 

As a starting point, we propose a straightforward climate impact lifecycle metric such as that provided by the Clean Metrics FoodCarbonScope software,the Carbon Neutral Carbon Calculator or others.  These partnerships will be developed and metrics adapted in cooperation with those organizations.

A wealth of literature on food climate impact already exists, and adopting a well accepted rating system that is transparent and can be readily confirmed by a non-technical person is necessary to guarantee confidence.  

Develop a recognizable food/menu label

A recognizable logo is essential to its effectiveness. The Center for Food Safety’s “Cool Foods” logo showing the earth being shaded by two shafts of wheat might be considered. 

Develop a "Cool Food" App

The “Cool Food app” would work on the major mobile phone platforms (Android & iPhone), and would involve using the camera on smart phones as a barcode scanner with which consumers could scan foods using their phones and pull up climate scores. The scores could include a brief explanation for why the product had high or low scores (e.g. organic, local, pasture-raised, etc.) There are currently several apps that can scan bar codes on food to pull up nutrition facts. (For instance, an app called “Fooducate” provides health scores for foods scanned by the app.

Engaging stakeholders

The stakeholders for such a project would initially be non-profit food and climate organizations including, but in no-way limited to, Center for Food Safety’s Cool Foods and As the project gained traction through these spheres, we could introduce scores to brands such as Stonyfield Yogurt (organic), Annie Homegrown foods, etc. Our score could be used by them as a means to promote both their brands and their low carbon footprint. We may also wish to work with supermarket chains to promote their proprietary organic brands. In this way we could build out our inventory of climate scores and gain support for the rating system to extend to most foods one could find at the supermarket.

There is also an opportunity to link this app to the many other grass-roots movements that engage communities, such as the surplus food/donated food organisation

Campaign to have the “Cool Eating” system adopted

We see a grass-roots campaign would be most effective – particularly if driven by young, online, eco-minded people.  Women, in particular, drive most food purchasing choices, and a system that enables them to make climate-friendly choices is essential.  We would begin this campaign by “pairing” communities that already have well- established “Sister City” programs. Taking advantage of this international, existing system would bring local officials into the process, lend an air of credibility and create a friendly competition between municipalities. Cities and towns around the world are creating sustainability and resilience plans and are more manageable entities than federal governments. Municipalities could promote “Cool Foods” principles on the sides of buses, in public libraries and other public spaces. Meanwhile, municipal websites can promote “cool foods” competitions virtually. Regional specialties and food cultures would be celebrated and could serve as a catalyst for rebuilding local foodsheds and thus resilience to increasing uncertainty in the weather. These high profile activities would “turn the tables” so that food producers and outlets want to take part in the campaign. “Cool Eating” would become synonymous with being “climate-smart.”

Generate funds to take it global

  Everyone has a stake in s stable food system. The potential for creative financing, particularly around the internet, is tremendous.

Expanded Background

Current research shows that food generates 19-29% of greenhouse gases (1), particularly short term gases, and food choice can dramatically reduce emissions and boost carbon sequestration.  The “Cool Food” rating system simultaneously educates and empowers consumers to make ongoing climate-friendly decisions about food and thus immediately impact GHG emissions.  The rating system would be based on a set of “Cool Principles” including greenhouse emissions, eating fresh and local food, supporting organic and eating in-season, avoiding processed and packaged foods, reducing meat and dairy consumption, and avoiding confinement animal products. Many people, particularly young people in urban settings are already attracted to one or more of these principles for health reasons. Cool Eating adds a climate-lens to this decision-making: i.e. “Healthier for you, healthier for the climate.”

Who will take these actions?

We have a broad range of experience within the team, and expect that a small secretariate will be needed to kick-start this initiative, drawing on the wide expertise of activist and community groups.  Initially, a six-month development stage is planned (as per the project costs).

An energetic and growing network of food activists exists world-wide.  Harnessing their support would be critical, and is achievable, but requires the efforts of a small group of dedicated people to develop, refine and implement a scheme.  Several organisations offer support for environmental start-ups, and seed funding would be necessary for a successful and sustained campaign.

Initially, a trial could be run in a receptive community, with market research conducted before and after implementation.  Getting a recognised agency involved initially would be an ideal way to kick this off.

Already our team includes a broad collaboration of:

Diana Donlon, leading the Cool Foods Campaign for the Center for Food Safety

Viv Baker, environmental and political activist and blogger on Daily Kos

Gerard Wedderburn-Bisshop, a retired government Principal Scientist now working on the NGO Beyond Zero Emissions plan to make Australian agriculture beyond zero

Francesca Allievi, a PhD student in Finland and finalist of the Barilla Centre Young Earth Solutions contest

Where will these actions be taken?

We expect that a good starting point would be found through the active online communities such as the Center for Food Safety's Cool Foods Campaign ( or the Food Climate Research Network (  Several receptive communities already exist in the UK, Europe and the USA where the campaign would launch.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

What are other key benefits?

Mitigation actions that focus on agriculture and food production are high impact. 

Our understanding of short lived climate forcers is rapidly maturing, prompting initiatives such as the Clean Air Task Force, led by UNEP and others.  Methane, black carbon, carbon monoxide and ground level ozone lasts in the atmosphere from 12 years (methane) to days/weeks (the rest), therefore reducing these emissions will have near immediate effect, and can slow global warming by at least 0.5°C6 . Large scale sequestration is also the answer to draw down legacy CO2 (4)

Climate-friendly eating will have profound health and environmental impacts as well (8,9,10).

What are the proposal’s costs?

To ensure the effectiveness of this global initiative, we propose a staged approach, beginning with developing the Cool Food comprehensive scoring metric and a launch in the virtual realm: an app for android and iPhone. This will ensure low start-up costs and feedback will guide development, and we expect this will attract ‘cool’ young early adopters. Costing to launch this within the first six months is estimated to be:

Cool Food scoring metric development                    $20-$40,000

Android and iPhone app development                       $30-$60,000

Online presence development                                  $15-$40,000

Promotion (building relationships with partners; use of social and traditional media)  $40-$60,000

Translation                                                                $10-$20,000

Funding search to take to the next level                    $20-$30,000

Once consumer acceptance is growing, a food product labeling system would be developed in a country where acceptance is greatest, then extended globally.  Costs here are substantial, but when broad market acceptance is achieved, a small royalty or licence fee for displaying the Cool Foods rating would cover costs.

Time line

We estimate that the initial phase  (the budget items above) will take six months to achieve:

1.  Development of food rating metric

2.  Stakeholder engagement, competition to determine what aspects the rating metric will assess.

3.  Online presence development and language translation.

4.  Promotion of app.

5.  Ongoing funding search and business development.

Related proposals

This proposal builds on the work in the 2011 proposal “The Planet or Your Plate: Mitigate climate change by going meatless”


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2.         Dibb, S. Adopting Healthy, Sustainable Diets: Kay Opportunities and Barriers - A WWF Live Well for Life publication. (WWF, 2013). at

3.         Wedderburn-Bisshop, G. & Pavlidis, L. Shorter Lived Climate Forcers: Agriculture Sector and Land Clearing for Livestock. Int. J. Clim. Change Impacts Responses 3, 129–144 (2012).

4.         Stehfest, E. et al. Climate benefits of changing diet. Clim. Change 95, 83–102 (2009).

5.         Hamershlag, K. Meat Eaters Guide | Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health | Environmental Working Group. (2011). at

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