Panera wants us to count carbon emissions like calories

Exterior of a Panera Bread location
Photo: Diana Haronis (Getty Images)

If you’re getting tired of your neighborhood getting battered by hurricanes, swarmed by locusts, or spontaneously bursting into flames, you may want to start giving a hoot about climate change. Food production is responsible for approximately 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, and since the whole “getting humans to quit eating” approach isn’t exactly feasible, it’s imperative that we be a bit more mindful about how the production of our favorite foods affects the planet. This isn’t always an easy thing to do, particularly when you’re eating on the go, so Panera has just become the first restaurant chain to add a special “climate-friendly” label to their menu, letting customers know which items have a low impact on the environment.


Collaborating with the World Resources Institute—a global research organization focused on the sustainable use of natural resources—Panera was able to slap the WRI’s new “Cool Food Meals” label on over half its existing menu. Much like nutritional info, the WRI has calculated a “recommended daily allowance” that relates to the carbon footprint of the foods we eat: currently, the maximum carbon RDA is 38% smaller than what the average American eats each day. Though it doesn’t always feel like small changes can make a big difference, a pretty incredible stat was shared in the new program’s press release: if every person in the U.S. swapped only 10 fast food burger meals a year for “cool food” certified options, it would reduce emissions by 77 million metric tons of carbon dioxide—the equivalent to taking more than 16 million passenger vehicles off the road for a year. It shouldn’t be all that hard to give up 10 burgers a year in favor of sandwiches, which, may I remind you, comprise nature’s most perfect food group. Say what you will about Panera in particular, but no one can besmirch the integrity of sandwiches, which you now need to eat not only for lunch, but for the greater good.

Allison Robicelli is a writer, recipe czar, former professional chef, author of four (quite good) books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Tweet me for recipe help: @Robicellis.


Darth Credence

Ah, yes - let’s continue to try to put the burden on individual people rather than on the businesses that are the true drivers of climate change. If every individual reduced their carbon footprint as much as possible, it wouldn’t make a noticeable difference without major corporations doing the same.

Your time would be much better spent contacting your representatives to demand they institute better fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, or to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and switch it all to renewables, than to calculate your own carbon footprint and eat a sandwich because it has a low carbon gimmick.

And I am absolutely not taking Panera’s word for it that just swapping from someone else to their meal will save so many tons of CO2 every year.