Just under a year ago I decided to adopt a healthy wholefood plant-based diet for a variety of health and environmental reasons. It was a gradual process starting with meat free days, that turned into meat free weeks, and before I knew it, I was scouring vegan recipe blogs, trying plant-based dishes and then ended up embracing a fully plant-based diet. Surprisingly, I started to thrive on the diet and saw a transformation of body and mind, where my quality of sleep improved, and I started feeling more energetic.
As my journey evolved and I transitioned to a plant-based diet I increasingly became more interested in issues that affect us all and how switching to a plant-based diet could influence big issues like global hunger, climate change, water consumption and land use. As a Corporate sustainability and environment practitioner I’m used to dealing with science and like to quantify impacts and outcomes to track progress. So, I started researching and found myself mapping the benefits against the Global Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs). I also faced new dilemmas like is locally produced meat more sustainable than avocados from half way across the world? Or how do you source a vegan hand bag which also contains alternative materials that are sustainably and ethically sourced?
Through carrying out research and asking challenging questions, I found very quickly that when you look at the scientific evidence there are some solid environmental arguments for adopting a plant-based diet. There are also great studies out there that look at the management of livestock and the potential role in Climate Change mitigation through soils.
This January is ‘Veganuary’ and record numbers of people have joined the pledge to try vegan this month, with a reported 14,000 signing up on Sunday 30th December 2018 alone. Each year since the movement began in 2014, participants have more than doubled, with a total of more than 250,000 people across 193 countries signing up. Over the last year there are more and more vegan choices available and it’s never been easier to find.
Here are my top four sustainability reasons why going plant based is the best way to live healthier and more responsibly so that we and future generations can thrive together within planetary limits and prevent climate breakdown.
Global Sustainability Development goals supported with a plant based diet.
It cuts GHG emissions
Researchers at the University of Oxford published a study in journal Science in May 2018 that found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual's carbon footprint from food by up to 73 per cent. Joseph Poore from Oxford University said “a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet earth – not just greenhouse gases but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car”.
It was also a major wakeup call when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5C Special report was released and leading scientists warned that there are just a dozen years left in which to keep global warning under 1.5 C. The report said eating less meat and dairy was important but said current trends were in the opposite direction.
It conserves land & prevents wildlife extinction
Meanwhile, the study also concluded that if everyone stopped eating these foods, they found that global farmland use could be reduced by 75 per cent, an area equivalent to the size of the US, China, Australia and the EU combined. This is turn would free up wild land lost to agriculture, one of the primary causes for mass wildlife extinction.
It cuts water
You may be surprised to know that some estimates agriculture accounts for over 70% of water consumption globally. Furthermore, a 2013 study found that it uses up to 92% of the planets freshwater, with nearly one-third of that related to animal products. Based on the global average water footprint, to produce an average beef burger consumes a staggering 2350 litres, and the water footprint of 1 litre of cow’s milk is 1050 litres..
It alleviates global hungerSpringmann published a study in the journal Nature which concluded that the world could feed its growing population without causing irreparable damage to the environment if people ate less meat, halved food waste and adopted better farming practices. Adopting these options reduces the risk of crossing global environmental limits related to climate change, the use of agricultural land, the extraction of freshwater resources, and the pollution of ecosystems through overapplication of fertilizers, according to the researchers.
A vegan diet is the single biggest
way to reduce your environmental impact
In summary, the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact is adopting a healthy plant-based diet. Just to be clear, I don’t advocate any one particular diet as I believe we need to eat accordingly to our own individual requirements. However, this month is Veganuary and there’s no better time to try a vegan food or take part in the rest of the challenge. Record numbers of people have signed up to Veganuary and it’s still not too late to take part. Conservationist Chris Packham is an ambassador for this year’s Veganuary and is documenting every detail of his journey (good and bad!) with complete honesty on his social media via Twitter and Instagram.
Let’s face it dealing with environment and sustainability risks and opportunities can be hungry work! It’s worth considering joining the Veganuary pledge, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself and whether you are a vegan, flexitarian or trying vegan for the first time, why not practice some self-care by treating yourself to a vegan meal out. Lots of restaurant chains and supermarkets have vegan special offers on this month. For example, YouTube blogger and vegan influencer, Stefanie @NaturallyStefanie is collaborating with AllBarOne to offer a creative vegan menu
Why not Join Chris Packham and other IEMA members, as they Go Vegan for the environment this January and sign up to.
For further information
- The Food Climate Research Network (FCRN)
About the Author
Clare joined Sweco in 2017 as CSR and Environment Manager. Clare is a plant powered Chartered Environmentalist and focuses her expertise in Climate Change and collaborating with stakeholders in ways that also benefit society.