Skip to main content

Paul Holmbeck

Director, Holmbeck EcoConsult

On May 23, a broad alliance of Danish trade unions, educational- and advisory institutions, and business organizations representing thousands of farmers, restaurants, and food companies launched a joint proposal for the upcoming Danish Climate Plan. The national climate goal in Denmark is one of the world’s most ambitious: a reduction in climate emissions by 70 percent in 2030.

The coalition proposed an upscaling of the successful efforts in Denmark with a conversion to healthier, climate friendly, and organic meals in public kitchens. Thousands of schools, hospitals, childcare centers, retirement homes, ministries, and even military barracks all over Denmark have transformed meals and food preparation so that meals are more plant-rich, with less meat, more seasonal products, and much less food waste.

Public institutions in Copenhagen are at 86 percent organic © Paul Holmbeck

The savings (generated through decreasing waste and the share of meat,) have paid for the price premium on organic food, allowing for 60 percent organic in public meals, within the same operating budgets. In Copenhagen, public institutions are at 86 percent organic.

The Danish Model was a key case in October when climate leaders from many of the largest cities around the world signed the declaration  Good Food Cities: Achieving a Planetary Health Diet for All at the C40 Mayors Climate Summit in Copenhagen. They will work for healthy, climate friendly, and organic food. Together with other strong organic policies, the Danish conversion of public kitchens was also recognized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), World Future Council, and IFOAM – Organics International with a Future Policy Award in 2018.

The Danish Model has changed the food that cities buy and has transformed the way meals are made. It is a holistic approach, addressing multiple interconnected sustainability challenges by implementing “the whole package” with reduced waste and more plant-rich meals based largely on food from organic farms. It is a solution with unusually broad sustainability benefits, for climate, biodiversity, drinking water quality and health. Research also documents a new pride, motivation, higher job satisfaction, and decreased sick leave among kitchen workers. It makes sense. Driving positive change with your own hands and craft is rewarding!

More plant-rich based and seasonal meals will be prepared in public kitchen

The Danish Model—and the offensive for upscaling it– is a strong example of positive interplay between ambitious and transformative government policy frameworks, on the one hand, and the simultaneous mobilization of the food sector and NGOs on the other. At a cost of under 2 euros per citizen per year, it includes:

Clear national and municipal goals. A 60 percent goal for organic food in all public kitchens, rising to 90 percent in 2030.

Financing for education of kitchen workers.

Organic Cuisine Labels to document organic conversion, a model highlighted by One Planet Network, the UN hub for SDG 12 (sustainable production and consumption). A new proposal would include climate emissions from food purchasing, as part of the organic label.

Innovative, sustainable public procurement policy requiring organic and climate friendly food.

Mobile consulting teams helping cities, restaurants, and hospitals plan and drive conversion.

Organic Schools introducing sustainable practice to food service industry leadership and employees.

Supply chain collaboration bringing farmers and companies together to guarantee supply of organic food.

The new proposal will also expand sustainability efforts to Denmark’s private professional kitchens—restaurants, cafés, and workplace cafeterias where pioneers have already gone organic and climate friendly in Michelin restaurants, hotels, and lunchrooms.

Photo by Nick Karvounis from Unsplash

Denmark’s private professional kitchens like food trucks are encouraged to adopt climate friendly and organic food © Nick Karvounis

Finally, the proposal will use the public and private professional kitchens as a primary platform for encouraging Danes to adopt a more plant-based, organic diet at homewith much less food waste. The idea is that having positive experiences with tasty, more plant-based food in restaurants and at work will help to normalize climate friendly meals for Danes.

Going one step further, the public cafeterias, workplace eateries, restaurants and hotels can motivate consumers to adopt new habits by informing them about the climate friendly and organic food being served and offering simple tips on what consumers can do at home.

The model was recently boosted by mentions in three of the Danish Government’s Climate Partnerships with the business community and by a declaration from 17 Danish NGOs under the title “Green and Just Restart (of the economy).”

We can hope that the new EU Farm-to-Fork strategy can promote similar efforts throughout the European Union. One thing is certain: we have a team of experienced policy and meal conversion experts in Denmark that can help in all corners of the world!

Paul Holmbeck, Holmbeck EcoConsult

Paul Holmbeck advises leaders in government, business and NGOs around the world, who want to develop effective political initiatives and partnerships that drive organic innovation, market development and conversion of more farms, food companies and public and private eateries to organic production. Paul is a former director in Organic Denmark and is now a consultant and speaker. See more information about what Paul can help with here: