For the third time, E4S and CLIMACT join forces to present the “Key aspects and current issues of climate change” Poster Conference. This event is part of Prof. Julia Schmale’s course “Science of Climate Change”, within the Master in Sustainable Management and Technology, jointly offered by UNIL-HEC, IMD and EPFL, as well as the Sustainable Engineering minor at EPFL. It convenes every year around 50 students from diverse academic backgrounds.
On 14 December, the EPFL Master’s students presented their work on various climate change issues, after four weeks of intense interdisciplinary work. The audience could discover the 23 groups’ posters and directly interact and challenge their authors, while a large variety of topics were covered.
"This event is truly amazing because of the interdisciplinary dimension of the teams. You really go into one subject with different perspectives to try to have a more systemic view of a problem or a solution “, said CLIMACT Executive Director, Nicolas Tétreault.
Quentin Gallea, Scientific collaborator at E4S emphasized how closely this project aligns with the center’s mission. “Our mission is to harness the competencies, knowledge, and the brilliant minds within our community to fight climate change. This knowledge needs to go way beyond the ivory tower of academia. Be proud of yourselves, you've successfully transformed complex technical learning into effective communication, discussion, debate, and managed to represent it on a small poster.”
Despite the amazing work, not everyone could come out on top, and the jury had a tough decision to make. The winning poster was entitled “(M)eat the Future” and was created by Adrian Müller, Emily Sun Reed, Nadège Sauvin, and Felix Wechsler.
Meet the winning team!
What is your poster about ?
Nadège Saudin: We analyzed meat consumption and its environmental effects, comparing omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan diets. Our results showed substantial impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and land utilization when switching from one diet to another. A significant statistic is that 70% of agricultural land is devoted to animal feed. So, if from one day to another we stopped eating meat, it could free up extensive land for biodiversity. It's evident that meat consumption is not only an environmental problem but also poses challenges to health and biodiversity loss. If we could reduce meat consumption, there would be lots of benefits.
What were your key learnings ?
Emily Sun Reed: The aspect that stands out most to me is beef. While we're aware that meat generally has high water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, looking into the details of calorie and protein efficiency reveals that beef performs exceptionally poorly, and I wasn't aware of that. Knowing the data and facts made me better understand the food choices I want to make in the future.
Felix Wechsler: One significant factor is that when you shift from an omnivore diet to a vegetarian or vegan one, you instantly reduce CO2 emissions and save land—and the best part is, it doesn't come with a price tag. Transitioning to a vegetarian or vegan diet is essentially cost-free. When you consider the amount of CO2 saved per franc, the ratio is remarkably high because making the switch to a plant-based diet doesn't require any monetary investment. The environmental impact is immediate, and you won't need to spend a single franc.
Nadège Sauvin: Adopting a vegetarian diet is something everyone can do—it's straightforward and part of our daily lives. It is accessible to everyone, starting from the moment you go to the supermarket. It's not so hard, and it has a huge impact.
Felix Wechsler: What I found surprising is that when you shift from a vegetarian to a vegan diet, there's almost no or little change in environmental impact. CO2 emissions and water consumption remain largely the same. So, transitioning from one to the other is more driven by reasons related to animal welfare, which is a valid motivation. However, for environmental considerations, the significant shift is from an omnivore to a vegetarian diet—it's the most impactful step you can take.
What is the impact of food, overall ?
Felix Wechsler: The average European contributes 10 tons of CO2 per year, with food accounting for only 10 to 20% of these emissions, translating to 1 to 2 tons. While switching may not have a radical overall impact, the cost-effectiveness is notable, considering it doesn't require any financial investment. However, in the context of our total carbon footprint, where food constitutes only 10-20%, being vegan alone doesn't save the world, but it's a meaningful part of the solution.
Nadège Sauvin: An essential consideration when opting for meat alternatives, given the multitude of options, is to be careful. Of course, if you consume less meat, you still want to stay healthy and get all the iron proteins you need. However, many alternatives are processed products, and it's important to be conscious of the environmental impact they also have.
Emily Sun Reed: In the context of this research, one of our recommendations was to create an energy and environmental impact label for food. It's surprising that we are still not doing that, as it's relatively straightforward to indicate how much greenhouse gas emissions a food product generates. Implementing such labels could greatly contribute to raising awareness among people.