Chipotle’s Heart-Tugging Animated Eco-Film Shorts, The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, The Sustainable Food Lab

by | Nov 30, 2021 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

We dare you not to cry after watching Chipotle’s heart-tugging, animated eco-film shorts! Plus the reason for The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, and meet the Sustainable Food Lab.



 The words “fast-casual restaurant” and “climate change champion” are rarely uttered together. But there are exceptions.

Back in 2013, Chipotle– That’s right. I said Chipotle—the fast food restaurant chain, commissioned filmmaker Johnny Kelly to create a 2:00 animated film short called, “Back to the Start.” It depicts the life of a farmer as he slowly turns his family farm into an industrial animal factory before seeing the errors of his ways and opting for a more sustainable future.

The soundtrack is Coldplay’s “The Scientist” but performed by Willie Nelson. Both the film and the soundtrack were commissioned by Chipotle to emphasize the importance of developing a sustainable food system. Back then, proceeds from downloading the soundtrack on iTunes would benefit the Chipotle Foundation.

Chipotle Mexican Grill established the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation in 2011 to extend its commitment to making real food accessible for all. According to comments made by its fans on YouTube, the video played in movie theaters as well as on TV.  

DEEPER DIVE: Cultivate a Better World, CMG Cultivate Foundation, HITC



Chipotle’s first short garnered over 430,000 views On YouTube in the last 8 years. Apparently enough to commission a sequel.

During the Thanksgiving NFL games just last week, Chipotle released another 2:20 animated short, this one called, “Cultivate a Better World.” Coldplay again provides some of the soundtrack, with its “Fix You.” The band is joined by Kacey Musgraves.

According to Chipotle, the video was made in order to support the next generation of farmers. Speaking about the difficulties faced by them, Chipotle noted: “Young farmers may do things the hard way, but it’s the right way. They understand the importance of sustainable and ethical farming but are also facing new problems like climate change and the cost of new technology. But the main barrier that’s holding them back is the access to land to build and grow their farms.”

If these three tweets are any indication of whether airing “Cultivate a Better World” during Thanksgiving’s NFL trifecta was worth it, I’d say yes. Yes it was. 

@lexjuarezTV wrote, “I’m sorry, but @ChipotleTweets why did you go so hard on that commercial? Got me all emotional and I’m just trying to watch football.”

@Brie_alyssa wrote, “Didn’t expect a chipotle commercial to make me emotional but here we are.”

And @CandiOnAir admitted, “I told my daughter I missed our dog that died over the summer because I was to embarrassed to say I was crying over a Chipotle commercial.”

Like “Back to the Start”, “Cultivate a Better World” offers a way to support young farmers. According to the website, “In the last decade alone, the U.S. has lost more than 20 million acres of farmland, a trend that continues at an average rate of 2 million acres per year. As a response to this development, Chipotle is supporting the National Young Farmers Coalition and its movement to advocate for policy change in the 2023 Farm Bill that would facilitate equitable access to up to one million acres of land for the next generation of farmers.

DEEPER DIVE: Cultivate a Better World, CMG Cultivate Foundation, HITC



I’ll be honest. When I think of chain-style restaurants, I think industrial food, industrial farms, industrial food inputs. Hardly a recipe for sustainable food practices and niche farming. But there you go, I’m judging a book by its cover, aren’t I?

Chipotle’s bound and determined to not “be that guy.” So back in 2011, Chipotle established the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation. Its goal was to extend its commitment to making real food accessible for all. And as we talked about, along with the foundation came its first media event, the release of the animated short, “Back to the Start.” People could support the movement by downloading the soundtrack on iTunes.

While there’s no information on how much that commercial/film short raised for the foundation, CCF claims it’s contributed more than $5 million to like-minded organizations committed to cultivating a better world through food.

Additionally, the foundation awards grants and supports an accelerator program for farmers. The grants go to “supporting organizations that share our mission of making real food accessible to all,” according to the website. Supporting organizations include the International Rescue Committee, Food Corps and The Ecology Center.

The accelerator program, also known as the Chipotle Aluminaries Project—a program that supports ventures from across the country that are advancing innovative solutions promoting sustainability and equity within the food system.

It’s called an accelerator program because it connects worthy groups with people and groups who can help them scale up. Those people include funders, mentors and partners. In 2018, Chipotle partnered with Uncharted to accelerate the fortunes of 8 growth stage, sustainability companies, all of whom we’ll profile in the coming shows.

DEEPER DIVE: Cultivate a Better World, CMG Cultivate Foundation, HITC



Human beings face some real challenges in the era of climate change. We know deforestation for agricultural reasons contributes to climate change two ways—loss of carbon sequestering trees and massive dissipation of soil carbon into the atmosphere which joins with O2 to create CO2. And yet no country is willing to implement population control, so industrial scale agriculture must remain a viable solution to combat food insecurity.

That’s why the Sustainable Food Lab matters to us. It was launched in 2004. It’s a non-profit organization helping implement large-scale sustainability innovations in the mainstream food system. According to its website, SFL works with food companies, non-profit organizations, farmer groups and other stakeholders in large scale and smallholder farming systems.

SFL relies on a System Leadership model built at the intersections of aspirational goals and practical solutions. Aspirationally, SFL hopes to reverse climate change, farmer poverty and soil health. Practically speaking, SFL solutions include supporting markets for small grains rotations and developing GHG measurement tools.

Is it working? Jan Kees Vis, Global Director Sustainable Sourcing Development, Unilever, thinks so. “Through Food Lab-organized activities, both Unilever and Oxfam have enlarged our views of each other’s goals and developed practical projects to collaboratively achieve those goals. Food Lab intentionally cultivates cross-sector leadership, and these leadership capacities benefit our organizations.” 

Check out the video the Sustainable Food Lab, Ford Foundation and Keurig produced to explain an equitable supply chain by clicking on the link in the Deeper Dive section at the end of this story at the

DEEPER DIVE: SFL, Equitable Supply Chain Video