How can we reduce the environmental impact of our food?

A number of issues come to mind more or less quickly when it comes to defining the contours of "sustainable" food: local, organic, packaging, meat or even "seasonal"...

But what is their relative importance? Are there other key issues? What are the levers of action we can focus on as individuals to rapidly reduce the impact of our food on the environment? And, even before answering these questions, how can we measure and qualify this impact?

There's a plethora of information out there, and it's easy to drown in it. So here goes! Here's a quick overview of this important and fascinating subject.

The environmental impact of food in Switzerland

What we eat is second only to housing, but far ahead of mobility, the sector with the greatest environmental impact*. in Switzerland

71% of this impact is generated outside Switzerland, via imported products (1).

Environmental impact of the main Swiss business sectors

* Expressed in Ecological Load Units (2), unit of measurement that takes into account 26 different types of emissions and polluting factors, such as CO2, pesticides, etc.

A little more detail reveals that some products have a greater impact than others... 

Environmental impact by food product family in Switzerland

It's worth noting that while packaging does represent an environmental burden, it's quite marginal compared to other elements in the value chain. This may seem odd in view of the awareness-raising work that has been carried out on the subject in recent years, but it's a fact. from an environmental point of view, content is clearly more important than container.

To go into even more detail, here's a comprehensive site:

And don't forget to take into account food waste food waste represents around 25% of the environmental impact of food in Switzerland38% of which is generated at household level (3).

Let's be clear: our food will always have an environmental impact. However, it's a fact, through our choices of food purchases and consumptionwe can significantly reduce the pressure on the environment..

The levers of reduction are relatively simple to put in place and revolve around :

  • choosing your diet and the products it contains;
  • the location and methods of agricultural production;
  • quantities purchased and consumed;
  • food diversification.


4 tips to reduce the environmental impact of our food

#1 Reduce meat and dairy consumption

Reminder: in 2021, the average consumption of meat and dairy products in Switzerland was 48kg and 301kg per capita respectively, or 130g and 826g per day. (4).

Problem: c.40% of the environmental impact of our food is linked to production and consumption of meat and dairy products.

The causes? Mainly : 

  1. massive fodder imports (soybean meal from Brazil in particular, a rapidly expanding crop and a major cause of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions);
  2. methane emitted by our ruminant friends, fertilizers, manure and farm machinery.

of arable land in the world
is used to produce fodder for animals,
when it could be used directly for human consumption
65% and 20% of
respectively of meat and milk produced in Switzerland
depend on imported fodder 
2 to 3x
the difference in impact between beef farming (higher) and pork or chicken farming 

« Yes, but if we cut back on meat and dairy products, we'll run out of protein, won't we? »

Yes and no. 😊

Yes, if the deficit is not compensated by a source of vegetable protein.

No, because our need for protein is often exaggerated: the Swiss Society of Nutrition recommends a daily intake of 0.8g per kilo of body mass, or "only" 60g for a man weighing 75kg or 50g for a woman weighing 60kg. (7). The good news is that this target is relatively easy to achieve through a balanced and diversified diet.

« And what about fish? »

Yes, we are. Unfortunately, the situation is not very encouraging: 

  • consumption of fish and shellfish in Switzerland stands at around 9 kilos per person per year. Over the past 25 years, this figure has risen by around 60%. (4);
  • Top 3 best-selling seafood products? Salmon (12%), fish sticks (9%) and shrimps (9%) (7)  ;
  • 97% of fish and shellfish consumed in Switzerland is imported.

Problem: 90% of the world's fish stocks are almost depleted. (8).

This subject could itself be the subject of a dedicated article... If you'd like to find out more, take a look at WWF - Fish Guide ! 

"Ok, so what should we do?"

Concretely, to follow a balanced and sustainable diet, the Swiss Society of Nutrition recommends to eat a 100-120g portion of meat 2-3 times a week (including fish).

The rest of the time?

100-200g (depending on needs) of vegetable proteinsuch as those found in tempeh, seitan, tofu or legumes (which have many other benefits) (9).

300g of legumes are consumed per person per year in Switzerland
- The world average is 7kg 

Legume production fixes atmospheric nitrogen in the soil, reducing the need for synthetic and biological inputs, which are major consumers of fossil energy and emitters of greenhouse gases.

With regard to fish, the ideal would be to be reasonable in terms of consumption and give preference to MSC / ASC / organic labelled fish (8).

"What about dairy products and the calcium they provide?

Let's quote the Swiss Society of Nutrition (there it is again!): "every day [we recommend consuming] 3 portions of milk or dairy products - 1 portion corresponds to 2dl of milk or 150-200g of yogurt / quark / cottage cheese / other dairy products or 30g of hard or semi-hard cheese or 60g of soft cheese.
=> either a reduction of 25-30% compared to current average per capita consumption.

For those who prefer plant-based beverages, feel free to mix and match soy milk (rich in protein and calcium), almond milk (rich in fiber, amino acids and vitamins A, B and E), oat milk (antioxidant, rich in iron and packed with vitamins) and others - but be sure to choose beverages with no added sugar and, if necessary, enriched with calcium and vitamin D (which helps to "fix" calcium).


#2 Choose seasonal and, if possible, local produce

Key issues :

  • limit the impact of cultivation in greenhouses heated by fossil fuels;
  • limit imports of food transported by air.

more energy consumption for a greenhouse-heated Swiss bean.
than for a bean grown in the garden 
more energy consumed to transport food by air than by truck (12)

Despite preconceived ideas, it's time to choose, it's more important to eat a vegetarian diet and eat seasonal produce than focusing solely on buying local produce.

Of course, buying seasonal and local (i.e. Swiss) food is still the best combination from an environmental point of view.

In practical terms, what do you do when you get to the fruit & veg aisle?

It's simple: put only in-season foods in your basket (guide available at and avoid eating products imported from the other side of the world, with a short shelf life and/or picked when ripe (bye bye avocados!).

Labels (although too numerous and often not explicit enough about their qualities and limitations) can also help you in your choices - here's a useful link: FRC - Guide des labels.

At first, it's a bit tedious, it's true, but as you go along, the selection becomes easier!


#3 Reduce food waste

There's no secret here: we can mechanically reduce the environmental impact of food waste by :

  • buying the right quantities ;
  • not excluding de facto ugly" products from her shopping basket;
  • cooking the right portions;
  • reusing leftovers.

30 à 50%
of biodegradable waste disposed of in Swiss household garbage cans
is still fit for consumption 
of household packaging is food packaging,
the majority of which relate to beverages 

#4 diversify your diet

In addition to using the above-mentioned levers of action, you should diversify your diet as much as possible. In other words, don't always eat the same thing, the same types of vegetables, the same types of cereals and so on. This is not only important from a dietetic point of view, but also essential from a biodiversity point of view.

of the world's food supply
is based on just 12 plant species (out of more than 30,000 edible ones) and 5 animal species. 

For decades, distributors have been grading foodstuffs to meet consumer expectations, and the race to optimize agricultural yields has led to a considerable reduction in the genetic diversity of species cultivated in Switzerland and around the world. Today, it is vital to break out of this pattern and work towards preserving, or even restoring, biodiversity, which is a prerequisite for the future. sine qua non It's as simple as that.

The subject is vast, and we can only touch on it in this article. In this respect, we strongly recommend reading the reports of the IPCC reports on the subject.



Our food system will always have an impact on the environment.

That said, let's be clear: our lifestyles and the resulting depletion of natural resources are both cause and consequence of the climate change we're already facing. If we don't change our habits (soon), it's very likely that we'll be heading, together, towards a future that's much less liveable than our present one.

So yes, the necessary adjustments are all the more unpleasant the more they are imposed on us. The good news, however, if you've read this carefully, is that we can each, through our actions and without insurmountable effort, have a real impact on the situation and accompany the transition to a more sustainable diet.

Here's a summary of the main levers for action ?
  1. Reduce your consumption of meat (especially beef) and dairy products.
  1. Buy seasonal, local and, if possible, organic/labeled products.
  1. Make a big effort on food waste by buying the right portions, giving "ugly" products a chance and eating 100% (or almost) of stored food products. 
  1. Diversify your diet as much as possible.
Bonus tip: drink tap water, it's healthy and environmentally friendly!

    And if you don't have enough time to take the plunge, or if the step seems too high, you know where to buy good, healthy, eco-responsible and easy-to-prepare meals! 😉 

    The Bien Bon team

    N.B.: if you have any comments on this article, please let us know by sending an e-mail to !



    (1) Federal Office for the Environment - Environment Report 2022

    (2) Federal Office for the Environment - Ecological Load Units

    (3) Federal Office for the Environment - Food waste

    (4) Federal Statistical Office - Food

    (5) FOEN - Environment magazine 2016

    (6) Swiss Society of Nutrition - The ecological balance of foods

    (7) Federal Office for the Environment - Meat market observation (March 2019)

    (8) WWF - FAQ Fish and seafood guide

    (9) Swiss Society of Nutrition - Swiss food pyramid

    (10) FAO - 2016 International Year of Pulses

    (11) Agricultural Report 2022

    (12) Federal Office for the Environment - Environmental impact of Swiss consumption and production (2011)


    (14) Mes Choix Environnement - Impact of food on biodiversity

    (15) Federal Office for the Environment - State of biodiversity in Switzerland

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