How Eating Plant-Based Can Help the Environment
Many people choose a plant-based diet for the potential health benefits. Others opt for a vegan lifestyle to support animal welfare. But there’s another incredible upside: eating plant-based has far-reaching positive effects on the environment.
The production and transportation of food account for 10-30% of a U.S. household’s carbon footprint. Of that amount, about 75% comes directly from animal products. Eating a plant-based diet, especially one that’s focused on minimally processed, locally sourced foods, is a powerful way to make a positive impact.
Why is a Plant-Based Lifestyle Better for the Environment?
A study from the University of Oxford identified going vegan as the single greatest way we can decrease our carbon footprint, reducing it by up to 73%. This is largely because every step of animal product production has the potential to harm the environment if not managed responsibly.
It all begins with feed crops, which conventionally require fossil fuels, water, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to grow. Additionally, livestock waste and gas both release methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, while overgrazing has the potential to degrade natural habitats. Finally, a significant amount of energy is required for meat processing, refrigeration, and transportation.
Choosing to follow a vegan diet, which consists of plant-based foods and excludes animal products and byproducts, can help reduce our carbon footprint, preserve natural resources, and protect wildlife! If a fully vegan diet isn’t right for you, there are still many environmental benefits to reducing your meat consumption, buying from local growers, or simply choosing less processed foods.
Environmental Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
We all want to play our part in creating a more sustainable future for our planet, but it can be difficult to know what changes make a real difference. Here are five reasons why eating a more plant-based diet is one of the most impactful choices you can make for the environment:
1. Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions Cattle are the number one agricultural source of greenhouse gases worldwide. Although methane and nitrous oxide from livestock are shorter-lived than carbon dioxide, they warm the atmosphere much more rapidly. In fact, meat and dairy livestock are responsible for about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
A Stanford and University of California, Berkeley study indicated that globally phasing out animal agriculture over a 15-year period would be equivalent to halting the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases for 30 years. Returning grazing lands and monocrops to their natural ecosystems would also help sequester carbon from the atmosphere.
2. Utilizes Land Efficiently Although meat and dairy only provide about 18% of total calories worldwide, they utilize a whopping 83% of global farmland for grazing and growing feed crops. In general, plant-based foods have a higher yield per acre than meat or dairy animals because plants can be farmed more densely. By some estimates, global farmland needs could be reduced by more than 75% without animal product consumption. However, even slight reductions in livestock consumption can still have positive impacts on land use.
3. Decreases Water Consumption and Pollution Not only do livestock require water for consumption, but the crops they eat also need water to grow. According to the Water Footprint Network, it takes about 1,850 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef. In contrast, a pound of potatoes only requires 132 gallons of water. The University of Oxford study found that switching to a vegan diet could reduce an individual's water footprint by up to 55%, depending on the location of food production.
In addition, large-scale animal agriculture can contribute to water pollution. Flooding and runoff from livestock farms can carry animal waste, antibiotic residue, growth hormones, and chemicals used in feed production into rivers, lakes, and oceans which can disrupt water ecosystems. Overall, these factors suggest that adopting a vegan diet (even partially) can help mitigate negative impacts on our water system.
4. Reduces Energy Consumption Livestock require a significant amount of energy and resources, including land maintenance, feed production, transportation, and refrigeration. Consider that just growing the food needed to feed livestock requires energy-thirsty irrigation, fertilization, use of heavy farm equipment, processing, and transportation – and that’s all before the animals themselves are processed.
Eating plant-based foods, especially those that are minimally processed and locally produced, drastically lowers the amount of energy required for food production. For example, a pound of steak requires about 107,482 BTUs (British Thermal Units) of energy to produce, whereas a pound of vegetables requires an average of 1,100 BTUs...that's nearly 100x less! While this varies significantly by vegetable and farming practices, it gives you a sense of how much less energy-intensive a more plant-based diet can be.
5. Protects Soil and Habitats According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 70% of deforested land in the Amazon basin is now used for cattle pasture. In addition, the conversion of forests into farmland to produce feed crops for livestock is a major driver of deforestation in other parts of the world, such as Indonesia and Malaysia. This not only destroys wildlife habitats but also removes biomass (like trees and native plants) that could otherwise help remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Although livestock farming does not typically cause deforestation in the United States, it can still have an impact on the environment. Because topsoil contains a significant amount of carbon, soil erosion due to overgrazing and trampling can release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Replacing native plant and animal species with grazing land also negatively affects biodiversity and disrupts natural processes like pollination and nutrient cycling.
Adopting a plant-based lifestyle can not only allow us to better serve our health, but it can also help us to nurture our planet and help protect its resources. Regardless of what diet you choose, even small changes can make a positive difference. Look for food grown with sustainable or regenerative practices whenever possible, support local farmers to reduce transportation emissions, or try incorporating more plant-based meals into your week.
Knowing where our MacroBar® ingredients come from is important to us, and we encourage you to consider making your food sources a priority, too. When you enjoy a delicious MacroBar, you can feel good knowing all of our products are Certified Vegan and made with ingredients that are grown with the highest standards for environmental stewardship.