Plant-Powered Carbon Challenge

Columbia Dining is participating in the Plant-Powered Carbon Challenge: an initiative of the NYC Mayor’s Office that aims to reduce carbon emissions through plant-forward meals. Learn more about the Plant-Powered Carbon Challenge and Columbia Dining's efforts below.

The Plant-Powered Carbon Challenge is an initiative of the NYC Mayor’s Office aimed at reducing carbon emissions through a plant-forward procurement strategy. 

Columbia Dining was the first organization to sign on to the challenge, announced on December 5, 2023.   

As part of the challenge, Columbia Dining has committed to reducing its food-based carbon emissions 25% by 2030.

Columbia Dining and the Office of Sustainability are partnering together on the Plant-Powered Challenge.  

1. Procurement Data 

  • Our team is gathering procurement data from Columbia Dining’s food purchasing partners, including Sysco and other small vendors. This data is then categorized into various segments to facilitate input into the Cool Foods Calculator. The Cool Foods Calculator converts all the kilogram amounts of food into metric tons of CO2 emissions for comprehensive analysis and tracking. 
  • 2023 has been established as a baseline year. 

2. Menu Planning 

  • The Dining culinary team has set a target for 50% of items in every meal to be plant-based. 

3. Annual Targets  

  • Established annual targets to reach the 25% reduction by 2030. 
  • Team will assess results and adjust approach as needed. 
  • John Jay will be the first dining hall to participate in the initiative. Learnings will subsequently be applied to other residential dining locations. 
  • Columbia will report progress to NYC at the end of each calendar year.

Participants in the Plant-Powered Challenge are supported with resources through the Mayor’s office, including guidance from Greener by Default, a research-backed strategy group.

The recommended approach is to gradually offer sustainable choices for student diners to make, without taking other options off the menu. Where and when possible, plant-based foods will be integrated into regular features or offered as the default choice, while continuing to give diners the option for meat or dairy. 

During the Fall 2023 semester, Columbia Dining and the Office of Sustainability partnered with students in the Climate School on a capstone project that measured emissions from the procurement of food in John Jay dining hall. The students found that red meat comprises just 13.4% of purchased products but accounts for 72% of Columbia Dining's total carbon footprint. Their recommended action plan included committing to the Plant-Powered Carbon Challenge.

Read more about the capstone project.

Columbia Dining is committed to serving delicious food and preserving student choice. We’re not taking anything away, just adjusting the role meat plays in our meal planning.  

For example, look for more plant-based menus as a regular feature at traditional stations, or as the primary menu with optional meat additions.

Since starting the Challenge in January - April 2024, John Jay dining hall served 135,278 meals – and through strategic changes in the menus for those meals, servings of beef were reduced by 30%, resulting in a reduction of red meat-driven carbon emissions by 20.9%.