"We know that butter has a lot more calories than celery," Anthony Myint says. "But I don't think we really have the same kind of carbon footprint accounting internalized." That's why Myint — a San Francisco-based restaurateur who, along with chef Danny Bowien, co-owns Mission Chinese Food — decided to get involved in ZeroFoodprint. The non-profit, founded by Lucky Peach editor-in-chief Chris Ying, was announced at last summer's MAD Symposium in Copenhagen, and its goal is a simple one: To help restaurants reduce their carbon footprints in the easiest manner possible.
But Myint is more than just a restaurant owner going through the process: He's one of Ying's partners in Zero Foodprint, alongside carbon emissions expert Peter Freed. Myint has always been "super concerned" about Mission Chinese Food's environmental impact. "It's a really old restaurant, and a lot of the equipment is really old," he says. But despite Myint's knowledge that MCF's equipment wasn't as efficient as possible, the recently published ZFP environmental study was still "pretty eye-opening," and as a result, some changes might soon be coming to the MCF menu. "It surprised me that the red meat we're serving had more than twice as much of a carbon footprint than all deliveries that we made," Myint says. "Driving 50 orders of food around the city every night is less of an emissions contributor than just serving beef." The takeaway: Seeing data on paper can indeed change a restaurant owner's mind when it comes to ingredients and efficiency.
Seeing emissions data can change a restaurant owner's mind when it comes to ingredients and efficiency.
ZeroFoodprint performs analyses of a restaurant's environmental impact and offers up "actionable suggestions" of what a restaurant can do to make carbon-reducing changes. (Ying told Eater in September that these suggestions could be as simple as using a different type of light bulb.) ZeroFoodprint also purchases shares of different carbon-emissions offset projects, like an upstate New York dairy farm that captures and uses methane produced by cows as a power source. ZeroFoodprint then makes the shares "available to restaurants that want to offset their own emissions," acting, in effect, as a third-party broker.
The recent Mission Chinese Food study — which is known as a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) — was conducted by Origin Climate, a company that helps businesses implement carbon emission reduction projects. Origin Climate writes that the LCA "analyzed the greenhouse-gas emissions of Mission Chinese Food's operations, including ingredient sourcing, food waste, energy use, and deliveries." To do this, Origin Climate looked at everything from invoices to utility bills to the miles logged by the restaurant's delivery drivers. The process, including gathering paperwork and having Origin Climate complete the study, took four to five months. However, after one or two more studies, Origin Climate should have "pretty streamlined patterns" for analyzing the data, Myint says, and eventually will be able to "turn a study around in just a couple of months."
The results revealed that Mission Chinese SF emitted 600 metric tons of carbon per year. (According to the Environmental Protection Agency, that's the carbon dioxide emissions equivalent of 2.36 million pounds of burned coal, or the greenhouse gas emissions of 789 tons of landfill waste.) The majority of the emissions come from ingredients: According to the data, 78% of the restaurant's carbon emissions are from food alone. Of the ingredients, Myint was most shocked to find that beef and red meat had a drastically larger environmental impact than other common foods like poultry, vegetables, and grains. Combined, beef and lamb make up just under half the total carbon emissions of ingredients at Mission Chinese.
So what do these results mean for Mission Chinese? The restaurant will "gradually start to make a shift towards serving less beef and lamb," Myint says, although the goal of Zero Foodprint and completing a LCA isn't "necessarily to tell people what to eat or what to serve." For now, the restaurant is raising the price of beef and lamb dishes, and the proceeds will be used to buy carbon offsets through Zero Foodprint. Any additional funds will be put towards suggested actions like buying a new energy-efficient fryer. The price increase — and the reasons behind it — will be noted at the bottom of the menus to help raise customer awareness.
Besides raising the prices of beef and lamb dishes, Mission Chinese made a number of other changes, as well. The restaurant upgraded to a new refrigerated prep table, which will save the restaurant $400 a year in energy costs. The dishwasher also received a new washer that will prevent water leakage, and the restaurant acquired new, more heat-efficient cookware — much of the equipment was received for free through a partnership with the Food Service and Technology Center, which is a division of the Pacific Gas & Energy Company.
Because of the LCA results, Mission Chinese will "gradually start to shift towards serving less beef and lamb."
But without complementary equipment, will other restaurants be able to make environmentally-friendly changes? Not all changes are "necessarily all about swapping out equipment," Myint argues, suggesting that restaurants could learn to do things like turn the deep fryer on later in the day, as opposed to when staff walks in. Zero Foodprint will also help interested restaurants cover the costs of a LCA, as well as the costs of the offsets, by helping the restaurants throw special charity dinners.
Zero Foodprint is still in the "hobby" phase for the co-founders, who all hold other full-time jobs. Myint is in the midst of opening another restaurant in SF, the Perennial, which is primarily built around being environmentally sustainable. Myint revealed that the non-profit is working with a few restaurants — many of which are outside of Northern California — to eventually roll out five to six completed studies. Once they have "more findings to report," and they feel "more established," Zero Foodprint plans to "open to the public and just try to start helping anyone who's interested in doing that," Myint says.