Decarbonizing the food and beverages industry: A critical and systematic review of developments, sociotechnical systems and policy options

Benjamin K. Sovacool*, Morgan Bazilian, Steve Griffiths, Jinsoo Kim, Aoife Foley, David Rooney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
418 Downloads (Pure)


From farm to fork, food and beverage consumption can have significant negative impacts on energy consumption, water consumption, climate change, and other environmental subsystems. This paper presents a comprehensive, critical and systematic review of more than 350,000 sources of evidence, and a short list of 701 studies, on the topic of greenhouse gas emissions from the food and beverage industry. Utilizing a sociotechnical lens that examines food supply and agriculture, manufacturing, retail and distribution, and consumption and use, the review identifies the most carbon-intensive processes in the industry, as well as the corresponding energy and carbon “footprints”. It discusses multiple current and emerging options and practices for decarbonization, including 78 potentially transformative technologies. It examines the benefits to sector decarbonization—including energy and carbon savings, cost savings, and other co-benefits related to sustainability or health—as well as barriers across financial and economic, institutional and managerial, and behavioral and consumer dimensions. It lastly discusses how financing, business models, and policy can be harnessed to help overcome these barriers, and identifies a set of research gaps.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110856
Number of pages35
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
Early online date07 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank three anonymous peer reviewers for very helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. They would also like to acknowledge pending support from the Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC) in the United Kingdom, which is expected to begin later in 2021.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Climate change
  • Climate mitigation
  • Energy policy
  • Food and drinks
  • Food manufacturing
  • Food processing
  • Food systems
  • Industrial decarbonization
  • Innovation
  • Net-zero
  • Sustainability transitions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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