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Episode 171: How to Display Carbon Footprint Labels on Your Recipes with Matthew Isaacs

In episode 171, we talk with Matthew Isaacs, cofounder of My Emissions, to learn about the importance of reducing our carbon footprint for ourselves and educating our audience.

We cover information about what a carbon footprint is, how we can begin to incorporate that into our blogs and how to educate our audience as a responsibility we have to help earth!

Listen on the player below or on iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast player. Or scroll down to read a full transcript.


Guest Details

Connect with My Emissions
Website | Facebook | Instagram

Bio
Since the start of lockdown, Matthew and co-founder, Nathan, have been researching and collecting the average emissions of each food. Based on current research, about two-thirds (66%) of people are doing “everything they can to reduce their carbon footprint”. However, without clear environmental information it’s hard to reduce the impact of their diet (which usually represents about 25% of your annual footprint). Together they have developed the first carbon label for food blogs. Like nutritional information, this allows sites to display the carbon footprint of their recipes in a simple and understandable way.

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Takeaways

  • Knowing the carbon footprint of a food is about quantifying and working out where the emissions come from building up the different life cycles that are required to make and develop different foods.
  • Displaying that carbon level in an easily quantifiable way for consumers to read is what My Emissions offers.
  • The My Emissions database will always be evolving and growing.
  • The entire life cycle of food has to be considered – from it being on the farm to the store.
  • By promoting seasonal foods, it’s a really good way of helping people to reduce their carbon footprints.
  • As food bloggers, the information is available for you to add to your recipes cards if you use WP Recipe Maker or Recipes Generator.
  • You have control if and how many recipes display this information.

Resources Mentioned

Sign up: The offer is LIVE and get details on how to add carbon labels to your recipe cards!

Info on carbon levels

Food emissions calculator

Information on fair daily amount

Why carbon labels are rare

Food Choice vs. Eating Local

Transcript

Click for full text.

Intro:

Welcome to Eat Blog Talk, where food bloggers come to get their fill of the latest tips, tricks, and insights into the world of food blogging. If you feel that hunger for information, we’ll provide you with the tools you need to add value to your blog. And we’ll also ensure you’re taking care of yourself, because food blogging is a demanding job. Now, please welcome your host, Megan Porta.

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What’s up food bloggers? Welcome to Eat Blog Talk. This podcast is for you. Food bloggers wanting value and clarity to help you find greater success in your business.

Today, I will be having a chat with Matthew Isaacs from myemissions.com. We are going to talk about why food blogs should be displaying carbon footprint labels for recipes. Since the beginning of lockdown, Matt and his co-founder Nathan have been researching and collecting the average emissions of each food. Based on current research, about two thirds, 66% of people, are doing everything they can to reduce their carbon footprint. However, without clear environmental information, it’s hard to reduce the impact of their diet, which usually represents about 25% of your annual footprint. They have developed the first carbon label for food blogs, like nutritional information, this allows sites to display the carbon footprint of their recipes in a simple and understandable way.

Matthew, I know nothing about this topic. I am here to learn from you today. I’m excited to learn from you today, but before we get into carbon footprint labels, I would love it if you gave us a fun fact about yourself.

Matthew Isaacs:

Thumb fights in of itself. I guess I’m an avid runner and I’m setting up a park run in my local area and for my local park, so that every Saturday morning there’ll be a different competitive five kilometer race, getting people up and active and using the local parks. That’s something I’m involved in at the moment.

Megan:

Oh, that’s cool. Have you been a runner your whole life?

Matthew :

Since secondary school and progressively got more involved and enjoyed it. I’m very much a casual runner, but I do it all the time. I’ve been involved setting this up in the local community.

Megan:

Right now. I think more than ever. It’s so important to get people outside and encouraged to get out in nature and just experience nature, right? I mean, this is the time to do that. So I love that you’re doing that now. Well, thanks for sharing that. You are here to talk about carbon footprints and these recipe cards and how you’ve incorporated those together. Would you kick off our conversation just by talking about what carbon labels even are and tell us why they are important.

Matthew :

All foods have a carbon footprint and actually everything has a carbon footprint. It leads to emissions and carbon footprint labels is just a way of displaying those carbon footprint values in a way that people can understand. Very much like nutritional information it’s about quantifying what is the average carbon footprint of a food or of a meal and working out where the emissions come from building up the different life cycles that are required to, to make and develop different foods. Then finding a way of displaying that in a nice and easily quantifiable way. The way of that is presenting the values as what is called carbon dioxide equivalents. So we measure carbon footprint then the emissions based on essentially how much carbon dioxide or the equivalent impact of carbon dioxides is given off from the greenhouse gas emissions.

Megan:

How do you do that? Where do you start with figuring that out?

Matthew :

It’s very complex and that’s the reason why we see nutritional information. But we don’t see carbon information and carbon footprinting. As you say, it’s all about trying to work out what is required to make or grow certain foods. What kind of food is used? What kind of fertilizers are used? How much energy is used? If it’s something like eggs, for example, putting them in an incubator or, or if it’s about powering a greenhouse or anything else involved. The transport emissions that are involved in an average process, the packaging, everything has to kind of be built up and factored in. What we’ve been doing over the last nine months or so is collecting lots of these reports that have been completed together. Using that to come up to create a database of these carbon footprint values and averaging those values that we’ve got from lots of different reports, allowing us to get a comprehensive database. Having all of the values in one place is what then allows us to be able to quickly calculate the carbon footprint of a different recipe.

It does lead on to why the carbon labels are important in many ways. It’s so complex. It’s so difficult to understand, but also alluded to so much of the emissions happen well early on in the lifecycle of our food. It comes from farming a lot of the time, and that’s something that people don’t see. It’s something that people, most of the time aren’t really aware of. Unless there is something like a carbon label or something that gives information on the whole life cycle of a food it’s, people aren’t going to be aware of what emissions was required to grow a certain food and people aren’t going to be aware of essentially what they need to do to reduce the carbon footprint from their diets. If we talk about food bloggers, many of them might not realize how much low-carbon food they have. What recipes have they got, which is low carbon and on the flip side, what recipes have they got that’s high carbon? If you do have a high carbon recipe and you want to reduce it, how can you do that? A lot of the time, without some kinds of label or carbon footprint value, which looks at the entire life cycle of a food, it’s almost impossible to start thinking about that.

Megan:

Can you give us an example of a recipe with high carbon food inside of it and how we could make it more low carbon?

Matthew :

So I guess one easy or good example of I’m going to say dairy and milk has a higher carbon footprint than some plant based alternatives, like oat milk, soy milk. So one very easy way that people could reduce the carbon footprint of meals containing milk would be to suggest using dairy free alternatives and the same with butter and I guess cheeses as well. So that’s just a small thing that people can do. There is also a slightly different example, which is about eating seasonal vegetables. I talked earlier about energy being a big part of the emissions from foods. A lot of the time when food is grown out of season, it has to be grown in greenhouses and that leads to more energy. That’s why seasonal foods and seasonal vegetables are so important because they grow naturally. You don’t require any energy from the greenhouse and therefore it has a much lower carbon footprint. So by promoting seasonal foods, that’s a really good way of helping people to reduce their carbon footprints.

Megan:

There’s a deep underlying message there. When you were forcing something to grow outside of its normal growth period or growth cycle, that’s not good. I think that applies to pretty much everything in this entire world, but we do it. We are humans who want our vegetables when we want them. That requires them to be grown outside of what is normal for them and natural. There’s like a message there. When you said that, I thought, Holy cow, that is, that’s like really impactful for me to hear that. So that really does make me want to look at what is seasonal right now and to really utilize that instead of, what do I want to eat? I can adapt. There’s so much food in the world. Most of us can probably adapt to what is seasonal.

Matthew :

Actually what’s interesting is, I’ve obviously learned about this so much over the last few months, sometimes your carbon footprint will be lower if you buy vegetables that were grown in season, even if they were transported and imported into your country, rather than buying the same vegetable grown locally, but grown out of season. Actually sometimes the emissions from growing something out of season and therefore the energy that’s required in the greenhouse, might mean that the emissions are much higher than if you’d have bought food that was impulsive, but was grown seasonally. That won’t apply for all foods but for vegetables it does apply.

Megan:

Wow. That is really interesting. That gives me something to think about. I think everyone listening will too, because we cook and we bake a lot and we think we need this ingredient, give it to us no matter what the cost, but that really puts that concept of like doing things that go against nature at the forefront of our minds. So I’m curious what prompted you to start investigating this topic in the first place?

Matthew :

So me and my co-founder, I guess we wanted to live more sustainably. We wanted to reduce our own carbon footprints. We started to look at foods and realize that actually it was really difficult to work out in an easy to understand way what we can do to reduce our carbon footprints. We both like working with data. We want to know the numbers and everything. Therefore that really attracted us to start to look into this research, to see what’s out there. It really has gone from there. We realized that the data was there. We realized that it existed. We thought about trying to collect it together and put it into a database, which we can then use. Once we have it in one place, it becomes so powerful in what we can do with it. It started off as quite a simple thing. It was essentially me and my co-founder Nathan, wanting to do something that would help us to reduce our carbon footprints. It started as a project and then we’ve taken it from there.

Megan:

So it’s a passion project, which I feel so strongly about passion projects because when there’s passion, that kind of oozes out of it, it stirs up passion in other people. So I love that you started it from a just really pure place of wanting to make the world a better place and to live more sustainably. You used that word yourselves. So we kind of talked about this a little bit, but give us a case for why food bloggers listening should put this on the recipe cards?

Matthew :

The first thing I would say is so many people are becoming more aware about climate change and about sustainability and about the environment. There’s a real desire for the clear information and displaying these values and having a carbon label. It not only shows a commitment to the environment for yourself as a food blogger, it also gives all of your users and all of your followers some really engaging content, some really clear content, so they can look at your recipes and trust that it is low carbon, or even if it’s not a low carbon recipe, they can at least know and see exactly what the emissions are. Because when we look at nutritional information, there’s lots of foods which have high calorie counts. They’re high on the nutrition scales, but people will still buy them.

It’s about empowering people with knowledge so that they can understand what meal is a treat compared to what meal they might cook every day. The first point, and the second I would say is that a lot of people will naturally have a lot of low carbon foods and having a label on there really showcases and highlights those recipes. All of your sustainably conscious users, they’ll look at that and really want to cook it, want to make it and essentially want to share it. We feel that there’s some real engaging content that’s being created from it. Especially on social media with so many people caring about climate change in the environment, they’re really engaging with the labels that we’re putting on the websites so far.

Megan:

I was going to ask you, do you think there are certain niches that should do this over others, like niches that maybe have more high carbon foods or niches with more low carbon foods? Do you think that it’s beneficial for everybody?

Matthew :

I would love it if every website or every blog had it. We’ve noticed that a lot of plant-based or seasonal or vegetarian or environmental blogs have really been attracted to us so far. That’s partly because a lot of those foods do have a low carbon footprint. And so if you are in that area, then then more likely, you will have lots of low carbon recipes. Having the labels really showcase that and really highlight that to your users. I guess it will help to quantify any claims that you might make about the environment and what impact your recipes would have on the environment.

Megan:

Even for a reader who doesn’t really, I shouldn’t say doesn’t really care, but sustainability isn’t on their radar as much. I still think that’s really valuable because we can all be responsible for educating people no matter where they’re at on the spectrum. So if someone comes in, says Oh, I didn’t know about this. That’s cool. Then they see it on the recipe card and then they can be more educated about it. We can take that as an opportunity to teach people a little bit.

Matthew :

Exactly. It’s hard for me to say that X number of people want a carbon label, because we’re the first company that is offering a carbon label to food blogs, and only a handful of carbon labels exist for food products. It’s not something that people have seen. It’s not something that people are aware of. So it’s natural that no one will probably ask you specifically for a carbon label, but I think as you say, almost like the nutritional information, go back 30 years, we’re almost in a very similar place. The moment we start having those labels displayed, it really will begin to kickstart a conversation. You’ll be educating your users. You’ll be teaching them about emissions, you’ll be empowering them. All of those things will help to build some brand loyalty and engagement with your sites. Lots of opportunities to talk with and educate your users. That will apply to all blogs and websites.

Megan:

I agree. I think that’s all great. I’m curious about your database. It must be huge. Where do you store it and how do you add to it? Do you add on a continual basis? Do you feel like it’s at a place where you have most everything you want, what’s it like?

Matthew :

It’s not at a place where we want it yet. I can tell you it’s constantly evolving and as we get more sites and more foods are requested, we can do more research to fill the gaps, if there’s any foods that have been missing. If someone comes to us and we’ve recently had to add vegan yogurt, for example, as a food in our database, or jackfruits is another one. It’s constantly expanding to add more foods. Similarly more and more research is being released. So we’ve quite a lot of connections within the academic researchers and within industry. Whenever new research comes out and we use that and we update our values in our face-to-face. So that all of the values are as accurate and up to date as we can make them. So in that sense, it will be a constantly evolving database, essentially.

Megan:

What is the carbon footprint of jackfruit? I’m curious.

Matthew :

I don’t have the exact numbers in my mind. If I remember, it’s about two and a half kilograms of CO2 per kilogram, which is a pretty average impact for a vegetable or fruits.

Megan:

No, that’s all right. I was just curious if it was high or low, because they are such weird food, I don’t know where they come from.

Matthew :

It wasn’t massively exceptional from what I saw.

Megan:

So what’s a good number? What is a good range or what are we aiming for?

Matthew :

We have a fair daily food emissions value, and that’s one that we’ve calculated as a global value, which everyone should strive for. It’s about just over three kilograms of CO2 a day. It’s quite a low number. Most people’s carbon footprint will be higher than that. Partly that’s because we’ve used the global value. What that means is if you’re in a country, sadly like myself in the UK and the US and the European union, the carbon footprint from foods for most people is much higher than average. So I guess one of our messages is saying, if you have got a high carbon footprint already, then you should be doing more to try and reduce that carbon footprint. That’s something I’ve taken on board myself. If you eat meat quite regularly and I guess one thing I’ve done is reduce how much meat I eat and try to keep it as a treat. Because meat and animal products do have higher carbon footprints.

Megan:

Oh, I love meat.

Matthew :

It’s also been a really fun experience for me, finding more, either vegetarian or plant-based meals. I still do eat meat. I’m not a vegetarian. I don’t necessarily like putting people into specific categories. I will still eat a high carbon meal, but I won’t eat a high carbon meal every day, for example. That’s with the data that we’re giving people, hopefully we can start educating people about that. If you want to have beef or lamb, you can still do that, but maybe just try and have a few low carbon meals over the next few days to try and balance that out.

Megan:

There are so many products that are available now that weren’t even available a few years ago that are kind of mind blowing. Honestly, it’s vegetables, plant-based ingredients, but presented as meat, or a meat product. Somebody sent me one the other day that I can’t remember what exactly was in it, but it wasn’t meat. I realized I could eat this. This is really good. There are more and more things being made all the time that can fulfill that meat texture, the meat purpose on your plate or in your meal without actually being needed.

Matthew :

Exactly. That’s, just one example. I’ve been eating some more vegetarian curries. We’re sharing lots of different vegan recipes this month to try and help people. I’ve been trying some of the recipes we’ve been sharing and there’s been some amazing vegan curries that I’ve been experimenting with and exploring and learning lots of new, different flavors. But I guess one thing I say is, I don’t see our label as labels just speaking to those low carbon foods. I think even if you do have high carbon recipes, people will still eat them. I think they will still be empowered by knowing what the emissions are. So they know it’s more of a treat recipe rather than an everyday recipe, but I still think there’s so much value in that. So much opportunity for people to learn.

Megan:

Yeah, that’s it right there. Educating people because this is not really something that’s on my radar and I’m a food blogger. So you can imagine how the average user who’s looking for a lasagna recipe is probably feeling, they probably don’t know either. It’s a whole educational process for us and for our users.

Matthew :

One thing I’ve not mentioned so much as well, we do give all the food bloggers we work with. We give them a breakdown of their recipes, and all the values. If you’ve got lots of recipes, it can get more complicated. We do try and give you some analysis on where the emissions from your foods are coming from, which one of your recipes are high carbon, which ones are your low carbon recipes. Trying to, as you say, not just educating consumers, but educating you,. the food bloggers. What can you do to reduce the carbon footprint of your food? Where are your emissions coming from, what ingredients are causing this? There’s so much learning opportunity as part of this.

Megan:

How do we actually go about doing this? How does it work and how do we as food bloggers add this information to our recipe cards?

Matthew :

We are actually integrating with two recipe card plugins over the next few weeks. The first one is the WP recipe maker plugin. The second one is the recipes generator and recipe cards. For those users, especially, it’s going to be really easy to get all of these values. All you do is you would sign up with us and everything then happens automatically. Essentially all of your recipes are sent basically to us. We will calculate the carbon foot of all your recipes from using the ingredients and weights that are displayed for them. Automatically once those are all calculated, the labels will start appearing within your recipe cards. At all points, you’ve got control over where those recipes and labels are displayed in the recipe cards, and even as well, which one of your recipes you do or don’t want to have a carbon label for. At all points, there’s that control. It very much is just activating the plugin, activating the integration. We do all of the work for you. There’s no manual entry. I don’t want to say it appears like magic. It’s more complicated than that.

Megan:

But for us it’s magic, from our end it’s magic.

Matthew :

Exactly. The labels will start appearing, you’ll see the values, you’ll get a sensor report, so you can see the breakdowns and how those will calculate it. If there’s anything that doesn’t look right, you can send it back to us and say that doesn’t look right, and either we can change it or give a bit of an explanation. If there’s certain recipes, you don’t want the carbon labels for, you don’t have to display them on every one. There’s always that level of control, but in terms of actually adding them and getting them, then everything is essentially done for you by us.

Megan:

Is there a cost?

Matthew :

There is a free version. So every food blog can get 20 carbon labels for free. That’s something we give to everyone. As we talked about, there is a loss of work that we’ve had to do to build this database. It is very complicated and as I said, it’s something that’s going to expand and improve over time. Therefore we do have to charge a small amount. So for those partnerships and those plugins, if you’ve got the WP recipe maker plugin, or the Recipes Generator recipe cards, it would just be it’s 20 pounds or $27 for up to a hundred recipes or 40 pounds, or about $50 for unlimited recipes. That’s the most you would be paying. As I say, everything will be done for you. It all happens automatically through the plugin and at all points, you have that control. We’ve come to those prices to try and make them as cheap as we can to try and get them taken up by as many people as possible. But we sadly have to charge a small amount.

Megan:

No, that’s totally fair and understandable. It sounds like you have put a lot of work into this, a lot of heart and a lot of time and energy. So, absolutely. I feel like that’s such a small fee for the value that it would add, especially just depending on the food blogger. If this is something that’s really important to a food blogger, I do know some that really put a focus on sustainability and communicating those sorts of things to their audience. I think it’s great that you guys are charging, you clearly have a passion for this and a love for what you’re doing. I think that’s great. Is there anything else we should know about it? Did we miss anything Matthew?

Matthew :

No. Other than just reinforcing that we are very early on and actually any blogger that comes on board with us now will be able to call themselves one of the first blogs or one of the first websites to be displayed in carbon labels or carbon footprint values. That is also quite an empowering thing to be able to be there right at the start. Carbon levels are hardly talked about, you have an opportunity to become a change-maker, to be ahead of the trends. If there are any other benefits that come from carbon levels in the future, then you’ll be like first in line for those ends. So there’s so much opportunity. It’s so early on that we’d love to have you come on board and be there for the journey with us.

Megan:

We just go into our plugin area on our WordPress dashboard. We search for, is it just My Emissions?

Matthew :

It’s not there as a plugin. If you’re not using WordPress Recipe Maker or Recipes Generator, then you have to come directly to us and you can just find us at mymissions.green. Alternatively, if you’ve got the WP Recipe Maker plugin, or if you use Recipes Generator, you just go into your backends and find the integration section or the settings section. There’s a link to our website where you can then sign up. There are instructions there on how to activate the integration. You don’t have to download anything or add any codes or anything like that. It mostly is just like an API key to activate it, and then it all happens for you automatically.

Megan:

Well, that sounds easy. I’m very intrigued by this and I can see this being a huge for food bloggers. So many people are interested in this, and this is on a lot of people’s radars. So thank you for sharing everything that you have today, Matthew. It was a pleasure having you and I feel enlightened.

Matthew :

Thank you very much for having me. It’s been lovely to speak about it.

Megan:

Yeah. You can tell that it’s something that you really love. I love talking to people who talk about things they love. So before you go, do you have a quote or words of inspiration to share with us?

Matthew :

I’ve taken one from David Attenborough, who I think talks to so many people and has done so much about the environment. Recently he said, “it is surely our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home, not just for us, but for all life on earth.” I think that’s just so powerful and so meaningful to everyone, but especially to anyone working with food and food bloggers, and we’re in such a position to empower people to live and eat more sustainably, that it’s huge opportunity for us to really take those words and think about what we can all do to help people live more sustainably and make more sustainable choices.

Megan:

I love that. I love that quote and I love how that kind of ties into everything that we talked about. Food bloggers do have a responsibility. We are providing recipes to the entire world. That’s kind of overwhelming sometimes to think about, but we have a responsibility to educate and to kind of do things the right way. Again, thank you just so much for being here. Matthew, we will put together a show notes page for you. So if anyone wants to go peek at that, you can find it at eatblogtalk.com/myemissions. Matthew, I think you already said this, but I’m going to have you reiterate, where can everyone find you online?

Matthew :

So you can just find us at myemissions.green.

Megan:

Perfect. Are you guys on Instagram?

Matthew :

We are, yes. It’s just @my_emissions.

Megan:

Okay, great. Everyone go check out Matthew and My Emissions. Thanks again, Matthew for being here and thank you for listening today, food bloggers. I will see you next time.

Outro:

We’re glad you could join us on this episode of Eat Blog Talk. For more resources based on today’s discussion, as well as show notes and an opportunity to be on a future episode of the show. Be sure to head to eatblogtalk.com. If you feel that hunger for information, we’ll be here to feed you on Eat Blog Talk.


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Megan
Megan

Megan started her food blog Pip and Ebby in 2010 and food blogging has been her full-time career since 2013. Her passion for blogging has grown into an intense desire to help fellow food bloggers find the information, insight, and community they need in order to find success.

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