Impacts of Swiss food consumption and trade


In a world with limited resources and an increasing population, a transition towards sustainable dietary patterns and a reduction in food waste are needed. Global and national efforts to optimise food systems can significantly contribute towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of Agenda 2030.




Food waste reduction has positive nutritional and environmental outcomesFood waste reduction has positive nutritional and environmental outcomes 11:00:00 PM
Dietary Change Scenarios and Implications for Food SustainabilityDietary Change Scenarios and Implications for Food Sustainability 10:00:00 PM
Multi-indicator sustainability assessment of global food systemsMulti-indicator sustainability assessment of global food systems 10:00:00 PM

​Background (completed research project)

Global food demand will increase by approximately 70 percent by 2050. Agriculture and food production have the greatest impact on resource use and environmental sustainability. In addition, diet-related illnesses are the most common cause of health impairments and death. Ensuring adequate nutrition while minimising environmental impacts is thus becoming ever more important. Food systems all over the world are increasingly challenged to meet human nutrition needs in sustainable ways.


Our aim was to develop a new framework that combines a multi-indicator-based environmental impact assessment with a nutritional quality assessment in order to evaluate the sustainability of national food systems.


The project initially presents a global-scale analysis quantifying the sustainability status of national food systems with 25 indicators across seven metrics. No country can claim to have perfectly sustainable food systems. Switzerland, like most high-income countries, scores well on most social indicators, but poorly on environmental, food waste and health sensitive nutrition indicators. Low-income countries have a low per-capita food related environmental footprints but perform poorly with regard to nutrition and social indicators.

Next, our scenarios analysis of Swiss dietary changes shows the magnitude of possible benefits for Switzerland in terms of the environmental, health and economic impact if it transitions towards sustainable dietary patterns. A shift from the current Swiss average diet to a healthy diet following the guidelines of the Swiss society of nutrition ( is projected to result in a 36% smaller environmental footprint, 33% lower expenditure and 2.7% lower diet-related health risk. A shift to vegetarian and vegan diet scenarios might reduce the intake of certain micronutrients – such as Vitamin B12, Choline and Calcium – which are currently supplied primarily in the form of animal-sourced foods.

The global food waste assessment shows that a global average of 65 kg of food is wasted per year per person. This amount of food waste could provide a healthy diet for one person for 18 days in terms of the 25 nutrients considered in our analysis. The environmental footprints embedded in the food wasted daily by the average person are 124 g CO2 eq., 58 litres freshwater use, 0.36 m2 cropland use, 2.90 g nitrogen and 0.48 g phosphorus use. Different countries have widely varying nutrients and environmental footprints embedded in their food waste, entailing country-specific dietary habits and waste reduction interventions. High-income countries waste six times more food per capita than low-income countries, and the embedded environmental impacts are ten times higher than in low-income countries.

Finally, at the level of individual comestibles, our nutritional combined environmental impact assessment provides a useful tool that links the aggregated nutritional value, such as the nutrient balance score, with LCA analysis to simultaneously evaluate the nutrient density per environmental sustainability impact of food products.


Implications for research

Results from our study show that food system metrics employed to measure the current or future sustainability status should be intrinsically holistic and capable of detecting trade-offs across different economic, environmental and social elements. The results contribute to the existing efforts to investigate dietary choices and food waste across the globe.

Our project can provide templates and quantifiable tools for conducting sustainability-oriented food studies in other settings.

Implications for practice

Our country-specific quantitative analysis can help policy-makers set improvement targets in specific areas and adopt practices while tracking all other sustainability indicators. The multi-indicator approach makes it possible to evaluate the impact of alternative strategies aimed at a particular aspect, while at the same time monitoring the impact on other food system metrics. The holistic analysis demonstrated in our project thus contributes to advancing the sustainability evaluation framework. It provides insights into the potential impact of interventions intended to improve both human and planetary health.

Original title

Nutritional combined Environmental Impact Assessment of Swiss Food Consumption and Trade

Project leader

Project leader

  • Prof. Dr.-Ing. Alexander Mathys, Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health, ETH Zürich

Project partner

  • Pulse Canada​



Further information on this content



Prof. Dr.-Ing. Alexander Mathys Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health, ETH Zürich LFO E 12.2
Schmelzbergstrasse 9
8092 Zürich +41 44 632 97 63

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