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The foundation for climate-smarter food consumption

What effects do our choices have on the climate? Today, this is an obvious question to many of us when we make a purchase – and as customers we increasingly demand disclosure. When it comes to food, the RISE Climate Database has the answers.
“When the climate database is used to illustrate the climate impact of produce or meals in various tools and applications, it provides real benefits,” says Britta Florén, lifecycle analysis specialist at RISE.

It is important that we make it easy to find out the carbon footprint of the meals we eat or the food we buy. As more people have access to this information, so the awareness of and opportunity to make climate-smart choices increases.

Several stakeholders have developed solutions that allow consumers to see their climate impact. The RISE Climate Database provides a basis for making these calculations. Based on lifecycle analyses of over 750 foods that are representative of Swedish consumption, each product has been allocated a climate number that shows its climate impact. 

“Lifecyclebased environmental data – on which the RISE Climate Database is based – is, in our opinion, the most effective method for meeting many challenges in the production chain or, from a social perspective, facilitating more sustainable consumption,” says Britta Florén.

A lifecycle analysis calculates the product’s impact throughout the chain. The method for measuring the carbon footprint is ISO-standardised and quality-assured. Among other things, it reveals the impact of animal products including the production of feed and each step in animal husbandry and care. The lifecycle analysis clarifies and separates large and small impacts so that measures can be prioritised to achieve the greatest effect.

Used for school meals

The content of the database is updated annually and is under constant development. The database offers the greatest benefits when used to visualise choices; for example, by placing a climate value on a dish or directly on products.

With the help of the RISE Climate Database, increasing numbers of municipalities, county councils and regional authorities are applying climate calculations to menus in their schools and hospitals in their nutritional data systems, in parallel with calculating the nutritional value of meals. This is increasing knowledge and awareness among staff working with public-sector meal provision, and the calculations can also be used by chefs as a basis for making changes to recipes. Diners can also be informed of the meal’s carbon footprint. Interest in climate-calculated meals and menus is also increasing in the private-sector restaurant industry.

Providing clarification

The RISE Climate Database reveals that one kilo of beef has 270 times the climate impact of one kilo of potatoes. Or that beer has three times the impact of filter coffee, although neither has the same level of climate impact as skimmed milk.

The overarching aim of the Climate Database is to increase knowledge in order to reduce the climate impact of our food consumption and, in collaboration with various stakeholders along the food chain, contribute to sustainable production.

One example is provided by the collaboration between Kungsbacka-based company DKAB and RISE to develop new climate services in their Hantera Livs tool. This tool is used in approximately half of all public-sector food procurements in Sweden.

“It has been great for us to be able to include the climate impact of so many foods in our tool. This means a great deal to those customers who have this on their agenda, of whom there are increasing numbers,” says Bengt Dalesjö, CEO of DKAB.

The total statistics now available in the Hantera Livs tool demonstrate that, in around half of Sweden’s public-sector food procurements, while meat accounts for 10% of the total procurement in tons, it accounts for 50% of the climate impact. Vegetables account for 25% of total procurement but only 6% of climate impact.

Growing interest

Retailers are also showing an interest in being able to offer their customers more informed choices. Online grocery store mat.se has now enlisted the help of the Climate Database.

“Our customers are becoming increasingly aware of the climate impact of food. Changing eating habits can therefore make an enormous difference,” says Anders Jacobsson, marketing director at mat.se. “We want to help customers to find their way around all of the available information and make it easier for them to make climatesmart purchases.”

Interest in the Climate Database is growing and, in 2018, RISE entered into a dialogue with Sweden’s Minister for Financial Markets and Consumer Affairs, Per Bolund. The intention is to develop the Climate Database in order to create increased climate benefits within the framework of the Swedish Government’s Strategy for Sustainable Consumption.

“We have proposed national funding to develop the Climate Database into an open, national database for foodstuffs, that can be made available to more stakeholders. In this way, it can become an important tool for various stakeholders in the food supply chain in the work to achieve Sweden’s climate goals,” says Britta Florén.