Environmental footprint of food and dishes in Germany

How are the production, transport, packaging or preparation of food affecting the environment? The differences that can result from these factors are highlighted in the new ifeu study "Environmental footprint of food and dishes in Germany", which for the first time has determined consistent balances for over 200 food products. It demonstrates that the average CO2 footprint of food in Germany can be much further differentiated. Therefore there cannot be only "the one" footprint of a foodstuff, since it depends on numerous boundary conditions.

In the discussion about a climate and environmentally conscious diet, CO2 footprints of food have increasingly come into the focus of consumers in recent years. However, it has become apparent that the published data on the CO2 footprint of foods sometimes differ significantly. These discrepancies often result from the specific question. For example, it makes a huge difference whether only national production or also imports and thus the annual average for food sold in Germany are considered or even a specific product such as regional and seasonal strawberries. Furthermore, CO2 emissions from land use and land use changes are not considered in many studies. It is not only the production that is crucial, but also the type of transport, packaging and preservation of the food. It can be clearly seen, for example, that from an environmental point of view, fruit that is flown in should be avoided just as much as food in single use glasses.

The fact that the choice of food also has a considerable influence is shown in the life cycle assessment results of selected dishes “on the plate”, which takes into account all life cycle stages up to the consumer’s plate. Small recipe changes, such as replacing animal products with vegetable ones, can be decisive for the overall life cycle assessment results.

In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, other ecological footprints also play a role, as the consumption of resources is already reaching its limits in many places. For this reason, additional water, land use and phosphate footprints as well as the energy requirements for about 30 food products were calculated. The aim is to raise awareness of all the significant environmental impacts of eating, so that the food transition is not discussed exclusively from a CO2 perspective.

The new ifeu study "Environmental footprint of food and dishes in Germany" is intended to help consumers on their way to a climate and environmentally conscious diet and can be downloaded here.


November 2019 – May 2020


Parts of this work were funded by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety within the framework of the KEEKS project (grant no. 03KF0037) and by the Federal Environment Agency within the framework of the project "Online consumer information on sustainable consumption: scientific database for accounting instruments and social science evaluations" (grant no. 3718163130).

Further content:

Biomass Food