Greenhouse Gases and One's Carbon Footprint

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Greenhouse gases (GHG) have become an area of concern throughout the world. GHG are gases that trap heat in our atmosphere. There are four main gases that do this with carbon dioxide (CO2) being the most prevalent. Every living thing on the planet contributes to the accumulation of these gases; this is known as an individual’s environmental footprint. An environmental footprint is a generic term for all GHG a person contributes to the atmosphere. A carbon footprint is an individual’s impact to the total amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The typical person will produce an average of 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

However, research has shown that switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet decreases a person’s carbon footprint. Approximately 260 students eat at Houston Baptist University’s Baugh Residential Restaurant per meal served. Each student will produce nearly 8 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year through their diet alone which would result in an estimated 2,080 metric tons of carbon dioxide emission just from this location. By having the Baugh serve only vegan or vegetarian friendly meals one day out of every week, each individual dining in the cafeteria will reduce their carbon footprint by approximately thirteen percent.


Greenhouse gases pose a threat to the biosphere due to its contribution to global warming. Out of the four main greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases; carbon dioxide is the most abundant. Carbon dioxide is routinely cleared from the atmosphere when plants perform photosynthesis during the carbon cycle. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for long periods of time. The rise of carbon emissions in the atmosphere directly increases the concentration of the gas for thousands of years. A carbon footprint is the way humans contribute to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is done in a variety of ways such as the usage of motor transportation, household electrical appliances and choice of dietary habits. Carbon footprints are a calculation of the summation of carbon emissions from every stage of a product or service’s lifetime.

Since the United States is a developed country, most citizens can afford motor transportation, refrigerators, air conditioning, etcetera. Hence, people living in the U.S. tend to leave a larger carbon footprint than in other countries. College students especially leave a large carbon footprint that is likely due to the commute to campus, technology usage and irresponsible eating habits. A study comparing the carbon footprint of university students from different countries demonstrates that American undergraduate students on average produce nearly 20 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year per person, which is about four times as much carbon dioxide than students in developing nations. Although most of the carbon footprint trace everyone leaves behind can be attributed to the usage of transportation and electricity, dietary habits that people choose to have will contribute anywhere between 10-30% of their total carbon footprint.

Aside from the typical efforts of reducing greenhouse gas emission, such as carpooling and turning off appliances when they are not in use, one can also do so by adjusting their diet. The average diet of a moderate omnivore will consist of meat and dairy products which accounts for nearly 75% of the overall dietary greenhouse gases released (Figure 1). A vegan diet pertains to meal plans in which meats, seafood, poultry or dairy foods are not consumed, while a vegetarian diet can include poultry and dairy products. Because meat and dairy products account for a large portion of the carbon emission produced from our food, it is no surprise that vegan and vegetarian diets leave the smallest carbon footprint. In fact, “shifting to a vegetarian meal one day a week could save the equivalent of driving 1,160 miles.” (Weber 2008). Vegan diets have a slightly lower carbon emission average compared to a vegetarian based diet; however the difference between the carbon emission between both diets is not significant enough to prefer vegan dietary habits. Based off previous research efforts conducted at other institutions, changing the food served at the school cafeteria to vegan/vegetarian for one entire day out of the week should decrease each individual’s total carbon footprint by almost thirteen percent.

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Preliminary Data

The Baugh Residential Restaurant is already making efforts in helping the environment. According to their website, they participate in recycling, tray-less dining, usage of reusable to-go containers, and energy/water conservation. It would be ideal for all students dining in the Baugh Residential Restaurant to eat strictly vegan or vegetarian daily. However, this is extremely unlikely. According to the food service director on campus, the Baugh anticipates an average of 150 students to dine in for breakfast, 250 for lunch, and 375 for dinner. Having the students that dine here commit to one of these two diets on a daily basis will be nearly impossible. Nevertheless, having the students accommodate one’s diet to at least one day out of the week to fit the criteria of a plant-based diet is plausible. Currently, the Baugh Residential Restaurant averages at 66.4 food options throughout the day on weekdays. Out of these options, 42.2 are either vegan or vegetarian friendly meaning the percentage of vegan/vegetarian foods can range anywhere from 58.5-75%. Although these statistics are a great start, we can make an even larger and healthier impact by simply changing one weekday to serve only vegan and vegetarian meals.


Because the Baugh already serves a fair amount of vegan and vegetarian meal options, for one day out of the week the kitchen can instead remove all non-vegan friendly dishes and offer additional selections of vegetarian/vegan meals. Unfortunately, most vegan or vegetarian friendly foods require to be made out of scratch. Therefore, these meals will require the purchase of different ingredients. Listed on Table 1 are a few vegan friendly meal suggestions that can be added into the menu for this day of the week. To analyze how successful this diet plan is working, the kitchen at the Baugh will serve a fixed amount of the course options throughout the day. Because students need to check-in with their ID when dining at the Baugh, the count of students coming to dine in on Vegan/Vegetarian day will be monitored. Because there is only a specific amount of a certain dish cooked, after each course on this day, Baugh employees will log what meals were the most and least popular items. As data continues to compile, a rough estimate can be calculated to decide how much of each dish to cook. Food that gets thrown away is also involved in carbon emission. Because the Baugh staff will be monitoring this data, we can track and plan accordingly to decrease the carbon footprint of the campus even more by not overcooking and throwing out uneaten foods.

An issue that may arise could be students deciding to eat off campus on these days. Because students will likely have to drive to the restaurant of their choice, this defeats the purpose of decreasing their carbon emissions. Transportation is the main culprit of an individual’s carbon emission; therefore, students are likely going to increase their carbon footprint due to the distance traveled, plus the ingredients of any non-vegan/non-vegetarian meal they decide to have. If this plan fails, instead of entirely switching a day’s menu to vegan/vegetarian only, the Baugh can instead remove a few meat or dairy items on the menu each day and replace them vegan/vegetarian meals.

Expected Results

Converting to vegan or vegetarian dietary habits as a form of depleting one’s carbon footprint is new and innovative. Changing the menu of the Baugh only once a week is not too drastic, so the school can anticipate the students living on campus and dining here to leave a smaller carbon footprint. This all together will deplete the total carbon footprint of the entire campus as an effort to slow down the advancement of global warming.


Because new food products will be added into the menu on these days, there are new ingredients that must be purchased in order to create these dishes. Earlier, I suggested a few vegan meals that could be added to the breakfast, lunch and dinner courses on this day. Table 2 contains the list of meals with an approximation of the total price of ingredients that would need to be purchased. If a specific ingredient was repeated in a different recipe, the price of the ingredient was not included twice because there is enough of the ingredient for all the recipes.

The total cost of the suggested foods adds up to $164.50 per day. Using the average number of students dining and the number of servings allowed by each recipe, I calculated the total cost of ingredients for an entire day of dining. The daily costs are shown in Table 3, along with an estimate of $78,092 as the total cost of additional ingredients needed for an entire school year (32 weeks). Shipment of the ingredients will likely have to occur weekly to avoid spoilage of the fresher products. Refrigerated produce trucks on average will charge $1,300 for a typical trip, meaning after 32 weeks of vegan/vegetarian dieting the cost of shipment will be approximately $41,600.

To add onto the expenses of this project, the employees of the Baugh need to be paid. The average pay of a cafeteria staff member ranges near $10.50 per hour. However, because the staff will need to work extra hard to make these meals fresh, it is only fair to pay them approximately $11.00 per hour. The Baugh remains open for 91.5 hours a week, therefore meaning the yearly salary for this plan with at least 10 employees will cost $322,080. This leaves approximately $58,000 for my salary for the year as I will be managing the meal schedules, establishing trainings for the staff, planning shipments of food, tracking the number of meals served and the number of students in attendance during the meals.

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