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Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

This website is adapted from Going Greener Together, used under creative commons licence CC-BY-NC and is run by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. Find out more


Food contributes 24% of global carbon emissions so managing where you get your food from and what you eat has a clear environmental impact.

Of all food types, meat (especially red meat) causes the highest levels of carbon emissions. Farming is also one of the leading causes of deforestation.

If going without meat altogether doesn’t feel achievable, any reduction in meat-eating in your workplace and services will have an impact, so you could start with meat-free Mondays. Consider choosing vegetarian or vegan food for any catering you use - more than ever, there is a wealth of tasty and creative non-meat catering options. Use it as a challenge to experiment with food and recipes, that happen to be vegetarian or vegan.

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Different foods have different levels of environmental impact - depending on how they’re grown and produced, transported, stored and prepared and whether they create lots of wastage. We can measure the carbon footprint of different foods as one way to help make decisions about food. For example, potatoes have a higher carbon footprint than other vegetables because they take longer to cook, but may have a lower footprint than out-of-season vegetables that are transported long distances. 

Other foods have a worse impact because of the way they’re grown. For example, growing crops needed for palm oil has led to mass-deforestation, which in turn destroys the natural habitat for lots of animals, insects and plants. Ingredients should list where a product uses certified palm oil, which is more sustainable. 

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Cook or bake your own food for social and team events rather than purchasing. This reduces energy use, transport emissions and packaging. It's also a fun way to engage the team.

Source food for events from local and if possible social enterprise suppliers to reduce delivery miles or ask them about low-carbon delivery e.g. cargo bike couriers. 

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It's not always easy to predict how much food you'll need at events. You have to find a balance between having enough food for everyone there, with not over-ordering for people who don't show up. This is often even trickier if you're running a hybrid event where people can change their minds last minute, or if things like high sickness levels affect attendance.

What you can do is speak to your venue to understand any arrangements they have in place to use excess food. If you can use food that can be heated on demand then consider this.

It's also important to communicate clearly with your attendees, and share the importance of them letting you know if they can't attend. Explain that this helps you reduce food waste and therefore can reduce environmental impact.

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Even with your best efforts, it’s sometimes inevitable that you have surplus food or drink that your organisation can’t use. But that surplus might be of use to someone else.

Firstly, you could try searching for local food banks or food projects and see if they are able to make use of what you have left. FareShare also take larger amounts of surplus foods to distribute directly to their network of charities and frontline organisations.

You can also use food-sharing apps and websites to share what you have and let someone else take it. 

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