Cranfield University

How ‘green’ is our food?


Source: Cranfield University

New research from Cranfield University has analysed how ‘green’ some of our everyday food choices are, and their long term sustainability for UK diets.

The team of scientists compared three types of carbohydrates commonly consumed in Great Britain – British grown potatoes, Italian pasta and Indian basmati rice – in terms of both greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) and water use impacts. The research looked at the three foodstuffs from the farm up to delivery to the retailer.

Basmati rice comes in third place with the highest GHGE and the highest impact on water use, which is about 100 times the potential impact on water scarcity than for potatoes or pasta. This mainly results from the irrigation water needed for paddy fields. Pasta and potatoes are almost equal, with roughly the same amount of water used and GHGEs emitted. Potatoes just manage to have the edge on the basis of typical portion size, but these foodstuffs have different densities of macro and micronutrients, such as energy and vitamins.

Dr Adrian Williams, Cranfield University’s lead researcher on the project, said: “We are excited about these results as they go a step further in assessing the environmental ‘goodness’ of food. Some studies only look at GHG emissions or water footprints. Our study combines carbon and water footprint assessments to give a fairer assessment of the environmental impacts of foods.”

He added: “Because preparation and cooking of these foods differs, this will affect the overall environmental impacts. We should note that changes in climate and weather patterns, both here and abroad may change the results of the study. However, we hope that this method can be used to assess the relative impacts of other foods in the UK, so that we can move towards not just a healthier, but also greener diet.”


This study was funded by the Potato Council. 

The report is available to download from the Potato Council website at

Cranfield and the Environment
At Cranfield, we combine our scientific expertise in the management of water, soil and biodiversity with world-class innovation in environmental engineering and business management to provide truly sustainable solutions. Across policy, risk and regulatory advice, customised training programme development and leading Master’s programmes, Cranfield works across the full environment spectrum to deliver a wide range of sustainability options.

About Cranfield University
Cranfield University is a wholly postgraduate institution with a worldwide reputation for excellence and expertise in aerospace, automotive, defence, engineering, environment and water, health, management and manufacturing. As the UK’s most business-engaged University, and led by research which is applied to real life situations, we are world-leading in our contribution to global innovation.

About the Potato Council

Potato Council is funded by potato growers and potato trade purchasers, and is a division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board ( For media enquires please call 07792 209863

For further information please contact: Fiona Siebrits, School of Applied Sciences, Cranfield University. T: +44 (0) 1234 758040, Email:

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