WASHINGTON — A new “Cool Food Meals” badge is hitting restaurant menus nationwide, beginning with Panera Bread. 

The World Resources Institute (WRI) launched the certification program to help consumers choose climate-friendly menu items when dining out or ordering in. The Cool Food Meals badge identifies dishes with a lower carbon footprint, in line with what WRI research found was needed within the next 10 years to meet the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“As kids, we were always told to eat our vegetables — and now there’s another reason to do so,” said Andrew Steer, president and chief executive officer of the WRI. “A quarter of greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture and related deforestation. With the new Cool Food Meals certification, consumers will know if their food choices are helping the climate.”

Panera Bread is the first company with menu items to receive the Cool Food Meals certification. Beginning in mid-October, the company will label Cool Food Meals across its entire digital menu with the badge appearing on its website and mobile app.

Fifty-five percent of the restaurant’s entrees are certified as Cool Food Meals, said Niren Chaudhary, CEO of Panera Bread.

“Our guests have many choices for delicious food with a lower carbon footprint, making it possible to help impact climate change through the food they eat in our bakery-cafes,” Mr. Chaudhary said. “The Cool Food Meals certification is giving Panera another way to give our guests information to make choices that align with their values, which is something we’ve always believed in.”

Using a dish’s ingredient list, the WRI calculates its carbon footprint by analyzing the emissions from the agricultural supply chain and the land used to produce the menu item. If a dish’s carbon footprint falls below an established per-meal threshold and meets a nutrition safeguard, it is approved as a Cool Food Meal.

Panera Buddha Bowl

The per-meal threshold is based on a maximum recommended daily carbon footprint for a person’s diet, which is 38% smaller than the current average. The threshold in the United States is 3.59 kg CO2e per portion for breakfast and 5.38kg CO2e per portion for lunch and dinner.

Panera entrees that met those requirements include Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt and Broccoli Cheddar Soup.

“It’s incredibly exciting that Cool Food Meals is launching on the Panera Bread menus across America,” said Daniel Vennard, director of sustainable diets at WRI. “Our hope is that Cool Food Meals will continue to scale across the nation, and then further afield.”

Shifting diets toward less resource-intensive foods like legumes and vegetables is an important priority at the WRI, he added, as animal-based foods account for two-thirds of agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Consumers are tapping into the issue, too. More than half of Americans said it’s important that the food they consume is sustainable, according to data from The International Food Information Council (IFIC).

Another study, from the Yale Program for Climate Change Communication, found half of consumers are willing to choose more sustainable foods if they have access to information about their diet’s environmental impact.

Through its Cool Food initiative, the WRI also leads the Cool Food Pledge, which helps restaurants, hospitals, hotels, universities and cities access the latest behavioral science to cut emissions from food. The goal is to curb food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030. Strategies include changing menu layouts, offering more plant-focused meals and developing language to help consumers choose low-carbon options more often.

Nestle, Harvester, New York University and the city of Toronto are among the newest members to sign on to the pledge. Early data from 2019 show members already have reduced their food-related emissions by 3% collectively, the WRI said.