Background to (un)sustainable food

As well as providing energy, it is also good if the food we eat is tasty, nutritious, affordable and easily accessible. Neither should it cause unnecessary environmental impact, either globally or at the place where food is produced and processed, and food should be produced in such a way that farmers and factory workers are not harmed, for example by being exposed to toxic pesticides.

Although food has been subject to question since the 1970s for its impact on resources and the environment, it still accounts for significant emissions, of greenhouse gases for example, the greater part of which are due to meat and dairy consumption. The environmental impact of food consumption also arises from land use, eutrophication, water consumption and the effects of toxic substances. This in turn affects biodiversity, human health and the availability of clean water.

Over the years, many analyses have been performed that show great differences in environmental impact between different food products. This means that there is already considerable knowledge of what the problems are and what changes could make eating more sustainable. Calculations show, for example, that almost all plant-based products have a lower environmental impact than meat and milk (animal-based products), with the exception of some of what is grown in greenhouses and food transported by air. One change towards sustainable eating is thus to reduce the consumption of animal-based products. Today there are plant-based alternatives to both meat and dairy products. Vegan diets have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the lowest land and water use.

Another change towards sustainable eating is to reduce food waste. One third of all food produced is lost or discarded and becomes waste. This means that a great deal of food that could have been eaten is thrown away and thus causes a completely unnecessary environmental impact . Reducing waste would mean that we would not need to produce as much food.

There are also other ways of eating that could be sustainable. Buying locally produced food can be a way of supporting local producers and increasing the proportion of local food production, which has been declining since the 1990s to the point that we are now importing half of the food we eat. Buying and eating organically can contribute to an increase in biodiversity, because organic farming uses less pesticide than conventional farming. Buying and eating fair trade labelled products can lead to growers having better conditions. However, it is not certain that all sustainability aspects benefit from eating in a certain way, and it is, as stated, part of Mistra Sustainable Consumption’s research to understand what it would mean if a certain type of eating were to become more common.

 This text has mainly been taken from our report “Eating sustainably”. Read it here.


Latest news about food

Publications about food



Årsrapport 2023 Periodical

2024, visited: 28.03.2024.

Links | BibTeX


André, Erik; Colombo, Patricia Eustachio; Elinder, Liselotte Schäfer; Larsson, Jörgen

Acceptance of Low-Carbon School Meals with and without Information—A Controlled Intervention Study Journal Article

In: Journal of Consumer Policy, 2023.

Links | BibTeX


Reinholdsson, Tommy; Hedesström, Martin; Ejelöv, Emma; Hansla, André; Bergquist, Magnus; Svenfelt, Åsa; Nilsson, Andreas

Nudging green food: The effects of a hedonic cue, menu position, a warm-glow cue, and a descriptive norm. Journal Article

In: Journal of Consumer Behaviour, vol. 1–12, 2022.

Links | BibTeX

Johansson, Nils; Finnveden, Göran

Återanvändning är rätt väg för förpackningar Miscellaneous


Links | BibTeX

Mont, Oksana; Lehner, Matthias; Dalhammar, Carl

Sustainable consumption through policy intervention—A review of research themes Journal Article

In: Frontiers in Sustainability, 2022.

Links | BibTeX

Nässén, Jonas; Andersson, David; Benders, René; Berglund, Mårten; Brown, Nils; Carlsson Kanyama, Annika; Eggestrand, Hanna; Hart, Robert; Palm, Viveka; Patterson, Emma; Schäfer Elinder, Liselotte; Svenfelt, Åsa

Potentials and consequences of altered consumption practices Technical Report

2022, ISBN: 978-91-8040-178-4.

Links | BibTeX

Svenfelt, Åsa; Engström, Eskil; Vaughan, Hanna Eggestrand; Gerdin, Emma

62 sätt att möjliggöra hållbar konsumtion Technical Report

2022, ISBN: 978-91-8040-202-6.

Links | BibTeX


Årsrapport 2021 Periodical


Links | BibTeX

Larsson, Jörgen; Morfeldt, Johannes; Johansson, Daniel; Rootzén, Johan; Hult, Cecilia; Åkerman, Jonas; Hedenus, Fredrik; Sprei, Frances; Nässén, Jonas

Consumption-based Scenarios for Sweden - a basis for discussing new climate targets Technical Report

2022, ISBN: 978-91-88041-40-1.

Links | BibTeX

Parekh, Vishal; Svenfelt, Åsa

Taking sustainable eating practices from niche to mainstream: the perspectives of Swedish food-provisioning actors on barriers and potentials Journal Article

In: Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, vol. 18, iss. 1, 2022.

Links | BibTeX


Svenfelt, Åsa; Callmer, Åsa

Växtbaserad dryck som mainstream? - fördelar, nackdelar, hinder och möjligheter Technical Report

2021, ISBN: 978-91-8040-093-0.

Links | BibTeX

Larsson, Jörgen; Morfeldt, Johannes; Johansson, Daniel; Rootzén, Johan; Hult, Cecilia; Åkerman, Jonas; Hedenus, Fredrik; Sprei, Frances; Nässén, Jonas

Konsumtionsbaserade scenarier för Sverige - underlag för diskussioner om nya klimatmål Technical Report

2021, ISBN: 978-91-88041-36-4.

Links | BibTeX

Carlsson-Kanyama, Annika; Nässén, Jonas; Benders, Reneé

Shifting expenditure on food, holidays, and furnishings could lower greenhouse gas emissions by almost 40% Journal Article

In: Journal of Industrial Ecology, 2021.

Links | BibTeX

Patterson, Emma; Colombo, Patricia Eustachio; Milner, James; Green, Rosemary; Elinder, Liselotte Schäfer

Potential health impacts of adopting dietary practices with lower greenhouse gas emissions in Sweden Journal Article

In: BMC Public Health, vol. 21, no. 1332, 2021.

Links | BibTeX


Årsrapport 2020 Periodical

2021, visited: 03.05.2021.

Links | BibTeX

Röös, Elin; Larsson, Jörgen; Sahlin, Kajsa Resare; Jonell, Malin; Lindahl, Therese; André, Erik; Säll, Sarah; Harring, Niklas; Persson, Martin

Policy Options for Sustainable Food Consumption - Review and Recommendations for Sweden Technical Report

2021, ISBN: 978-91-7873-787-1.

Links | BibTeX

Parekh, Vishal; Klintman, Mikael

The practice approach in practice: Lessons for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) that Work Towards Sustainable Food Consumption in Sweden Journal Article

In: Sustainable Production and Consumption, vol. 26, pp. 480-492, 2021.

Links | BibTeX


Röös, Elin; Larsson, Jörgen; Sahlin, Kajsa Resare; Jonell, Malin; Lindahl, Therese; André, Erik; Säll, Sarah; Harring, Niklas; Persson, Martin

Styrmedel för hållbar matkonsumtion – en kunskapsöversikt och vägar framåt Technical Report

2020, ISBN: 978-91-576-9767-7.

Links | BibTeX

Colombo, Patricia Eustachio; Elinder, Liselotte Schäfer; Carlsson-Kanyama, Annika

Vegobarometern - En undersökning av svenskarnas benägenhet att välja vegetarisk mat under åren 2016-2019 Technical Report


Links | BibTeX


Årsrapport 2019 Periodical

2020, visited: 30.03.2020.

Links | BibTeX

Bocken, Nancy; Morales, Lisa Smeke; Lehner, Matthias

Sufficiency Business Strategies in the Food Industry—The Case of Oatly Journal Article

In: Sustainability, 2020.

Links | BibTeX


Carlsson-Kanyama, Annika; Baraka, Noha; Benders, Reneé; Berglund, Mårten; Dunér, Fredrik; Kok, Rixt; Losada, Raul Lopez I

Analysis of the environmental impacts of 218 consumption items. Greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water use per SEK and kg. Technical Report


Links | BibTeX

Kamb, Anneli; Svenfelt, Åsa; Carlsson-Kanyama, Annika; Parekh, Vishal; Bradley, Karin

Att äta hållbart? En kartläggning av vad hållbar matkonsumtion kan innebära Technical Report

2019, ISBN: 978-91-7873-129-9.

Links | BibTeX

Reynolds, Christian; Goucher, Liam; Quested, Tom; Bromley, Sarah; Gillick, Sam; Wells, Victoria K.; Evanse, David; Koh, Lenny; Carlsson-Kanyama, Annika; Katzeff, Cecilia; Svenfelt, Åsa; Jackson, Peter

Consumption-stage food waste reduction interventions – What works and how to design better interventions Journal Article

In: Food Policy, vol. 83, pp. 7-27, 2019.

Links | BibTeX


Carlsson-Kanyama, Annika; Katzeff, Cecilia; Svenfelt, Åsa

Rädda maten Åtgärder för svinnminskande beteendeförändringar hos konsument Technical Report

2018, ISBN: 978-91-7729-652-2.

Links | BibTeX

Funders and consortium