Reducing Smith College’s Dining GHG emissions: An analysis of beef and milk substitutions

Smith College

Publication Release Date: May 7, 2020
Date Posted: May 15, 2020
Submitted by: Dano Weisbord
Content Type: Publications
Office or Departments: Dining Services, Sustainability Office
Type: Undergraduate Student Research


The life cycle of food is responsible for over a quarter of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through production, processing, distribution, and waste. The environmental impact of food varies by product, production method, and sometimes by region. Food purchasing currently contributes 27% of Smith College’s Scope 3 emissions. As an educational institution, Smith has both the means and the incentive to make responsible food purchasing decisions that align with its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. While there are some emissions reductions that occur with the current purchasing practices, more of the procurement needs to be centered around emissions reduction to make a concrete change to Smith's environmental impact.

Throughout this project we worked with Smith Dining Services to analyze current purchasing practices in beef and dairy milk — two of the highest GHG-emitting food categories both at Smith and globally. Our key findings from this analysis were: 1) transportation emissions are a tiny fraction of the total emissions created from food production and most GHGs are emitted during the production phase; 2) substituting turkey, tofu, or black beans for beef would result in a GHG emissions reduction of 3,621-4,022 metric tons CO2 equivalent and a cost decrease for Smith College at a rate of $17-$33 saved per ton GHG reduction; and 3) implementing plant-based milk substitutes such as soy milk or almond milk would result in GHG emissions reductions of 148-185 metric tons CO2 equivalent and a cost increase for Smith purchasing at a rate of $142-$665 per ton GHG reduction.