By Kimberly A. Nicholas

Senior Lecturer, Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies


Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to Lund! We’re thrilled to be hosting a forum to share your latest research findings, deepen relationships with colleagues old and new, and point to the new frontiers for institutions, policies, behaviors and norms that support a more just and sustainable world.

The conference organizers have taken the opportunity to put these values into action throughout much of the conference design. Vasna, Isabell, Balthazar, and many others have worked hard to eliminate unnecessary consumption, reduce waste, and make sustainable choices wherever possible, such as providing bamboo-based coffee cups and reusable water bottles.

One major choice that we’re proud to showcase is that the conference food is entirely vegetarian, following a tradition we began for departmental events here at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS) several years ago. We’ve found that staff, students, and guests really appreciate that we make delicious, plant-based meals part of our working life, in line with research showing the benefits for both the environment and our own health (e.g., Tilman and Clark, 2014).

Research shows that plant-based diets are an important part of meeting sustainability goals. For example, we cannot expect to meet the 2°C climate target without at least some shifts in diet in the developed world (Hedenus et al., 2014). An analysis led by Seth Wynes, an alum of our LUMES master’s program in Sustainability Science, recently showed that eating a plant-based diet was consistently one of the highest-impact actions an individual living in the industrialized world could take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (Wynes & Nicholas, 2017).

The dietary change with the biggest benefit is cutting beef, which uses far more resources and produces far more waste than other options. For example, beef requires 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water, and produces 5 times more greenhouse gases than other livestock products (Eshel et al., 2014). The advantages are even greater for a plant-based diet; beef produces over 100 times more greenhouse gases than comparable protein from legumes (Bryngelsson et al., 2016).

Leading by example in our personal choices is something we’re increasingly striving for at LUCSUS. This is important both for our own personal sense of integrity (or at least reduced cognitive dissonance), and for the impact our research makes in society.

Personally, I’ve found making low-carbon lifestyle choices to be really beneficial; it feels good to be aligning my own daily choices with both scientific findings, and the values that inspired me to pursue sustainability research in the first place (Nicholas, 2017).

Professionally, research shows that environmental researchers who lead more sustainable lifestyles are viewed as much more credible by the public, and that they inspire much higher willingness for individuals to change their behavior (Attari et al., 2016).

As Earth System Governance researchers, we all have an opportunity to lead by example. Creating more sustainable narratives and norms is an important part of the cultural change needed to support a more just and sustainable world. I am proud that the Earth System Governance conference is part of creating these opportunities and conversations, some of them taking place around gatherings of tasty vegetarian food. I hope this experience inspires you to consider choosing plant-based options for the next conference or department seminar you host, and continue stepping forward as sustainability leaders both in research and in practice.

Attari, SZ, Krants, DH, and Weber, EU. 2016. Statements about climate researchers’ carbon footprints affect their credibility and the impact of their advice. Climatic Change 138, 325-338

Bryngelsson, D., Wirsenius, S., Hedenus, F., & Sonesson, U. (2016). How can the EU climate targets be met? A combined analysis of technological and demand-side changes in food and agriculture. Food Policy, 59, 152-164.

Eshel, G, Shepon, A, Makov, T, and Milo, R. 2014. Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States. PNAS 111 (33): 11996-12001

Hedenus, F., Wirsenius, S., & Johansson, D. J. A. (2014). The importance of reduced meat and dairy consumption for meeting stringent climate change targets. Climatic Change, 124, 79-91.

Nicholas, K. A. (2017, 12 July). A hard look in the climate mirror. Scientific American. 

Tilman D and Clark M 2014 Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health Nature 515 518–22

Wynes, S., & Nicholas, K. A. (2017). The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. Environmental Research Letters, 12(7), 074024. (Video abstract, infographics, FAQs, teaching materials, and more available: