The Plant-Based Revolution: Improving Health and Combating Climate Change

By Brett Ladd, CEO Sodexo Campus

Maintaining good physical health has always been important, but recent events have brought the subject to the forefront, making it a top priority for many people. As we’ve worked to improve our health through nutrition and lifestyle changes, we’ve simultaneously been grappling with an equally pressing matter: the inescapable effects of climate change. These two issues are inspiring more and more consumers to explore the benefits of plant-based dining.

Opting for plant-based ingredients is an easy way to make a meaningful impact on environmental sustainability. Livestock, especially cattle, significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Cows release a high level of methane gas, which is up to 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide and has a greater effect on climate change. In addition, the land required to raise livestock often leads to deforestation, meaning there are fewer trees to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases. For example, beef requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more greenhouse gas than legumes per unit of protein consumed.

In addition to the environmental benefits, plant-based dining offers myriad physical health benefits. According to the American Heart Association, consuming less meat decreases the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. Meat often contains high levels of saturated fat, and processed meats are high in sodium. Replacing meat with nutrient-dense plant-based ingredients reduces saturated fat and sodium intake and increases dietary fiber intake.

Sodexo is committed to leading the movement toward plant-based dining. Our internal analysis has shown that at least 70% of Sodexo’s U.S. supply carbon footprint was related to animal-based food purchases in fiscal year 2020. Increasing the number of plant-based and plant-focused options on our menus is part of our plan to reduce the company’s carbon footprint by 34% by 2025. It’s also a vital part of meeting evolving consumer expectations, with 35% of Americans actively looking to eat less meat.

We recognize that although consumers value the many benefits of infusing more plant ingredients into their diets, they lead busy lives and need plant-based options that are convenient and flexible. In addition, food is an experience, and meals should offer genuine enjoyment and opportunities to connect. That’s why Sodexo is mobilizing our resources to create plant-based dining options that meet consumers’ needs and make it easy for them to incorporate more plant-based foods into their lives. We’re focused on improving the availability of plant-based dishes and creating delicious new recipes that consumers will be excited to try.

Today’s college students are especially attuned to the environmental and physical benefits of plant-based eating. According to a 2020 GlobeScan study, 37% of Gen Z expressed an interest in eating more plant-based and meat-free foods​. Currently, 15% of Sodexo’s entrées are plant-based, and we’re committed to greatly increasing that number to meet this growing demand.

Our partner campuses are the perfect place to launch Sodexo’s Plant-Powered Challenge, a new initiative I recently announced to encourage dining teams to increase the number of plant-based dishes available at colleges throughout North America. The challenge includes a series of notable milestones on the journey to achieving the ultimate goal: increasing the share of plant-based dishes on our menus to 33% by 2024. To support this goal, we’re introducing a plethora of innovative new plant-based recipes, including 60 new plant-based entrées and 30 new plant-based dessert recipes in spring 2022. An additional 120 recipes will be available this fall.   

Sodexo is also expanding our collaboration with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to increase plant-based menu options. Sodexo and HSUS have been working together for more than 15 years to develop responsible sourcing strategies and increase the number of plant-based menu offerings through recipe development, menu ideas, nutrition advice and hands-on culinary training.

Plant-Based Takeover events are a new element of the collaboration with HSUS. Sodexo chefs complete plant-based menu training led by HSUS and then prepare nutritious plant-based menu items for each station in the campus dining hall. Students, staff and faculty are invited to try each item and provide feedback. The events, which have been held at 140 campuses so far, have been extremely popular and are a great way to engage campus communities around this important topic. We will be hosting Plant-Based Takeovers at more campuses in the coming months.

Sodexo’s team of dedicated culinarians, dietitians and other experts are working to bring fun and exciting new plant-based dining solutions to consumers each day. We may not be able to solve the competing challenges of the climate crisis and improving health and well-being overnight, but committing to improving the availability of plant-based dishes is one part of a sustainable, long-term solution.