One of the most famous restaurants in the world, noma's role as one of the first restaurants to participate in Zero Foodprint's mission was critical to its success. Photo by Freya McOmish.

Since its founding in 2013, non-profit Zero Foodprint has been on a mission to aid consciously-minded restaurants in their quest to become carbon free. The organization was born from the now defunct Lucky Peach magazine, with a study on the carbon emissions from three meals: a dinner at Prime Meat in Brooklyn, the tasting menu at noma, and a home cooked meal. What they found was that restaurants and home cooking yield similar amounts of carbon, with most of the emissions coming from the sourcing of ingredients. What left Zero Foodprint founders Peter Freed, Anthony Myint and Chris Ying optimistic was the evident opportunity for improvement – their analysis revealed that it restaurants could, feasibly, become carbon neutral.

Starting with noma in Copenhagen and San Francisco’s Mission Chinese Food, the non-profit has now helped dozens of restaurants across the world become carbon neutral, and is still adding to its roster of restaurants that are committed to becoming carbon-free by 2020. Because the founders behind Zero Foodprint come from within the restaurant industry, they already have an understanding of how restaurants operate, and what changes would actually be feasible for them. 

Benu in San Francisco is among the roster of restaurants looking to become carbon neutral. Photo by Gina Ferazzi for the Los Angeles Times.

They want restaurants to start by implementing small shifts in their actions, like turning appliances off when they’re not using them, or sourcing ingredients that don’t come in unnecessary plastic packaging. Participating restaurants are encouraged to think about their menu choices – How many dishes are vegetable focused? How many menu items have beef or dairy? Can any of those be replaced with ingredients that have a smaller carbon footprint? Starting with questions like these can help chefs realize that the choice to serve chicken over beef does have an impact.

Zero Foodprint founder speaks at the annual MAD Symposium. Photo by Amy McKeever for Eater.

Although it’s difficult for a business to make its day-to-day operations entirely carbon neutral, what’s often most important is a commitment to supporting farming practices and agriculture that will build the foundation for a carbon-free food system. By making donations to carbon-reduction projects, restaurants can help offset the net impact of their carbon footprints. And these donations don’t need to be big, Zero Foodprint encourages restaurants to make changes like adding a 25 cent charge to menu items with beef, covering the cost of a small donation to an organization that combats carbon emissions.