Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Climate change, greenhouse gasses and carbon footprint

What are carbon emissions, how to they create a 'greenhouse effect' and how does this affect global warming?
Icecaps melting - China Dialogue
© International Culinary Studio

What is climate change, and why should we be worried about it?

National Geographic defines Climate Change as:

‘The long-term alteration of temperature and typical weather patterns in a place.’

Climate change could refer to a certain location or the planet. Climate change may cause weather patterns to be less predictable. Unreliable and unpredictable rainfall patterns and temperatures can make it hard to maintain and grow crops in regions that rely on farming. Damaging weather events such as more frequent and intense hurricanes, floods, downpours, and winter storms have also been attributed to climate change.

What is causing climate change?

CO2 Emissions NASA

Looking at NASA’s graph showing the current and historical carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, we see that the levels of CO² have risen significantly since 1950.

What happened in the 1950s? Remember the Industrial Revolution?

Humans are mainly responsible for the pace of climate change. Burning fossil fuels; coal, natural gas, and oils releases gasses into the earth’s atmosphere, where they ‘cover’ the earth in a ‘layer’, preventing the heat from the earth from escaping so the planet’s temperature rises. This occurrence is called ‘the greenhouse effect’ and leads global warming.

Changes to the earth’s temperature are nothing new; they have happened constantly throughout history, but these were slow and gradual, taking place over hundreds of thousands of years. Human impact on the planet has caused these changes to accelerate.

Watch the NASA clip on the Greenhouse Effect

So how can we make a positive impact?

Before we consider what food service can do to make a positive change, let us understand what changes we can make as individuals.

Each human that lives on this earth generates a lower or higher degree of greenhouse gasses by eating, drinking, traveling, buying clothes, heating their homes, discarding trash, and so on.

As previously discussed, these gasses collect and trap heat, increasing the earth’s temperature and impacting climate change.

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) generated by our actions.

Let us look at a day in the life of three individuals:

Single Sally

Single Sally is an accountant; it takes her 20 minutes by car to get to work. On her way into the office, she picks up a to-go cup of her favorite Columbian coffee. Sally rarely cooks; on the way home, she stops off at her local restaurant to eat a chicken and avo salad. The chicken is imported from Australia, the avocado pears from Brazil, anchovies from France and the lettuce is sourced locally. Of course, this is accompanied by a glass of her favorite Bordeaux wine. Once home, Sally has a bath using 300 liters of water. Most of Sally’s clothes are made locally however she loves buying shoes made in Italy.

Fitness Fanatic Mike

Fitness fanatic Mike rides his bicycle to work. Mike is a vegetarian. Breakfast consists of a bowl of berries, protein powder and chia seeds, all sourced locally. For dinner, Mike prefers a salad. He purchases all his food from the local organic shop down the road because he knows that local farmers deliver fresh daily. Mike showers after his visit to the gym before heading home for the evening.

Fabulous Farmer Sam

Fabulous farmer Sam works and lives on his farm. He has recently installed a solar unit and done away with the generator that cost him a fortune in diesel. They have a small borehole for their main water supply but also depend on rainwater that they harvest on their property. Sam gets up early to work his land. His wife makes him eggs for breakfast, collected that morning from the henhouse. Most of their meals consist of grain and vegetables as they can only afford to eat meat 2-3 times a week supplied by a local farmer.


How do Sally, Mike, Sam and his wife impact the planet? Who has the highest carbon footprint and why? How can they reduce their carbon footprint further?

© International Culinary Studio
This article is from the free online

Introduction to Sustainable Practices in Food Service

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now