Story at a glance

  • Panera Bread partnered with the World Research Institute to determine the carbon footprint of producing their ingredients.
  • The national chain will now include the carbon footprint of each dish on its menu.
  • The company hopes to raise awareness of the effect of food production on climate change and encourage others to do the same.

A decade ago, Panera Bread became the first national chain to voluntarily post the calorie information for its menu items both online and in stores, inspiring others to follow. Now, they’re putting another count on their menu: the carbon footprint.

“We are hoping that this too will become an industry standard that other industry peers follow in our footsteps,” said Niren Chaudhary, CEO of Panera. 


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Starting today, Panera will include the carbon footprint of each item on its menu based on the ingredients in its recipe. The company partnered with the World Resources Institute (WRI), a global research nonprofit, to estimate the carbon footprint of producing each of the more than 200 ingredients in their food pantry. Low carbon entrees will be specially marked as “Cool Food Meals,” which fall under a maximum threshold of per-meal greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions recommended by the WRI to keep you under your daily carbon footprint. In the U.S. and Canada, the maximum threshold for breakfasts is 3.59 kg CO2e/portion and for lunches and dinners it is 5.38 kg CO2e/portion.

”The science is clear that we’re not going to be able to address climate change without changing what we eat. But that doesn’t mean that eating for the planet has to be boring,” said Daniel Vennard, director of Sustainable Diets at World Resources Institute, in a release. “Cool Food Meals have a low impact on the climate, making them a delicious way to help the planet. This new certification is about spotlighting the dishes that help people build climate-friendly lifestyles.”


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Food production is responsible for nearly a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, including the supply chain, land use, crop productions, livestock and fisheries. And while the carbon footprint count doesn’t include the emissions from the foods’ preparation, 55 percent of Panera’s menu qualifies as “climate friendly meals,” according to the WRI.

Plant-based foods generally have a much lower environmental impact than animal products, but Chaudhary said it’s not about choosing one over the other, rather the balance. And don’t worry — Panera’s more indulgent options, like the mac and cheese and broccoli cheddar soup, aren’t going anywhere.

“We’re going to continue to offer guests real choice, but we’re also going to offer the information they need to make a decision,” said Sarah Burnett, Panera’s vice president of Food Values, Sustainability and Public Affairs.

In 2016, Panera pledged to reduce their emissions by 15 percent per square foot by 2022, and Chaudhary said they’re on track to meet that goal by making changes including LED lighting, smarter HVAC systems, more sustainable packaging and options to opt out of cutlery.

“It is not to say that we have done everything that we could. I think this is a very complicated issue,” he said. “We recognize our need to lead in this area. We feel that responsibility; we feel accountable.”


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Published on Oct 14, 2020