Our commitment to be Carbon Neutral by 2027
Since day one at sweetgreen, we’ve been dedicated to leading with purpose and making sustainable decisions that last longer than we will. Today, we are proud to strengthen this mission with our commitment to becoming Carbon Neutral by 2027. The six-year plan of attack: Reducing our carbon by 50% and meaningfully offsetting where reduction isn’t yet possible.
We believe that climate change is the defining challenge of our generation, posing a real and systemic threat to the health of people and the planet. As restaurant leaders in an industry that drives 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is our responsibility to use our platform and resources to confront this crisis head on.
Not only do we have a duty on a human level to do our part, but the business case for a great product that also protects the planet is clear. Climate change is deeply intertwined with the food system on many levels. It impacts weather and harvests, how we produce and grow our food, and who has access to it. To truly future proof our company, we must evolve our supply network and fix our relationship to the soil — and cultivate an environment that benefits the entire agricultural ecosystem: our food partners, customers, team members, and the planet.
While meaningful change can’t happen overnight, each individual decision and micro action plays an essential role in making our commitment to carbon neutrality possible.
Here’s how we’ll get there.
In 2019, we decided to take the next step on our sustainability journey by measuring our carbon footprint — or quantifying the total greenhouse gas emissions we produce across all touchpoints of our business.
Ten years ago, it would have taken dozens of consultants several years to even scope that kind of project. Today, companies are building world-leading climate programs on modern data infrastructure in a matter of months.
Enter Watershed. Watershed helps companies like sweetgreen track every carbon emission, from the most direct to the more distant. They custom tailor the assessment to each company’s industry, and then help create a strategic plan for reduction.
After months of research, data, and a whole lot of questions, we had a coherent, actionable climate model that not only shared our first carbon footprint assessment, but also outlined supplier specific information about our primary emission drivers.
The good news? Because of our plant rich menu and the sustainability-minded food ethos that’s guided us for the last decade, sweetgreen already emits less carbon per dollar of revenue than food industry standards. As we grow, we aim to drive that co2 per dollar of revenue down even further.
The better news? We can do even better by focusing on three key areas of our business that drive the majority of our emissions: food sourcing, menu development, and how we build restaurants.
FOOD SOURCING: Our biggest area of opportunity is how we choose to source our food.
We can only have a zero carbon food system if we work with like-minded partners equally committed to decarbonizing, and support our suppliers in improving their agricultural practices . Of particular importance are investing in soil health and regenerative agriculture, and replacing fertilizer use with more methane digesters for dairy (a fancy name for a machine that converts cow waste into energy). Today, few food businesses make decisions based on these impactful practices, partially due to a lack of access to this type of data. To bridge this gap, we commissioned carbon assessments of some of our specific suppliers to look at the fine print, like how much feed they use and how they handle manure. This helped us calculate an accurate carbon footprint for each of our menu items.
Some suppliers, like women-owned blue cheese makers Point Reyes Creamery in Northern California, are exceptionally efficient, practicing water conservation, land erosion control, and carbon sequestration. Their cheese comes from cows born and bred on a pristine pasture, and they process manure through a state of the art methane digester. These practices result in 40% lower overall emissions compared to the industry average.
Bottom line: How we source matters. A lot. In fact, the data shows that sustainable practices can reduce a supplier’s carbon footprint by 50%.
MENU DEVELOPMENT: Pass the plants, cut the carbon, please.
Our plant rich food mix means that we’re already 30% less carbon intensive than the average American diet, thanks to our carbon conscious food ethos.
But with the meat and dairy industries accounting for about 14.5 % of global greenhouse gas emissions — and poultry and cheese being two of the highest emitters on our menu — there is room for improvement. Going forward, we’ll work closely with our suppliers to help implement industry-leading strategies for carbon minimization. Additionally, we have added a formal carbon impact measurement step to our menu evaluation process.
Bottom line: A plant-rich menu and the expanded use of carbon conscious ingredients that nourish the soil are key to cutting our carbon emissions by 50%.
BUILDINGS: How we build will build a better planet.
When we talk about building, we mean everything from the physical infrastructure of a restaurant to the power and energy we use to keep it running. We are still in the process of going much deeper here — conducting an extensive assessment of the entire resource and development pipeline — but priority initiatives are optimizing building materials from construction to furniture, investing in clean energy, and double clicking into more granular decisions around things like industrial equipment and refrigeration.
Bottom line: With 120 restaurants across the country and many more in the works, how we physically show up in our communities will have a significant and measurable impact on our road to carbon reduction.
THE PATH FORWARD
Today, we’re proud to share with you the first of many updates along our journey to becoming a carbon neutral company by 2027. And while we certainly don’t have it all figured out, we’re committed to continuous improvement and fortunate to have our esteemed partners at Watershed advising us along the way.
In the coming months and years, we’ll be working diligently alongside our farmers, partners, and stakeholders to build a more climate-kind food system. Through wins, learnings, and setbacks, we’re ready to hold ourselves accountable and share openly with you at every step.
At sweetgreen, we have a saying: the choices we make about what we eat, where it comes from, and how it’s prepared have a direct and powerful impact on the health of individuals, communities, and the environment. Today, with the future of the planet at stake, these words have never rang more true.
Jonathan, Nicolas and Nathaniel