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Environment and sustainability

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Please find below a selection of statistics about the vegan movement in relation to the environment, sustainability and vegan diets.  

Disclaimer: This is a collation of third party sources about topics connected to veganism. Some of the links are not to the original sources; we are sharing them to help journalists or researchers with their research and because they may form a helpful starting point.

Environment

  • A 2021 report by Dr. Sailesh Rao found animal agriculture is responsible for at least 87% of greenhouse gas emissions. The Climate Healers position paper has been published by the Journal of Ecological Society. It argues that the influence of the meat and dairy industry has ‘underestimated’ the environmental impact of livestock farming. Source
  • A 2019 Harvard University report proved that if everyone in the UK went vegan, we would still have enough food for everyone to eat. If the UK returned meat, dairy and egg farms back to forest and grew health-promoting crops for human consumption, we would be able to sustain human calorie and protein needs in place of feed currently grown for animals. Source
  • A 2019 Imperial College study found that your diet is where you can make the biggest difference, followed by travel and heating. It is unrealistic to think that people could travel less or avoid heating their homes – many of them can’t, but everyone can indeed eat a vegan diet. Source
  • According to the Higg Materials Sustainability Index, leather from cows is nearly three times as harmful to the environment as vegan leather, and wool is twice as harmful as polyester. Source 
  • The sustainability argument is often misrepresented as people think that just because something is made of plastic, it automatically must be the least environmentally friendly option; in fact, when you consider how much it takes to stop a piece of cow skin from decomposing, animal leather is right at the bottom of the sustainable materials list. Many people forget to factor in how much water and food the cows consume, how much land they take up, how much waste and methane they produce, and the amount of chemicals used in the tannery industry that harm its workers.
  • Humans around the world drink 5.2 billion gallons of water and eat 21 billion pounds of food each day. Cows around the world drink 45 billion gallons of water and eat 135 billion pounds of food each day - nine times as much water and seven times as much food as all humans. Source
  • If every family in the UK removed the meat from just one meal a week, it would have the same environmental impact as taking 16 million cars off the road. Source
  • A 2018 Greenpeace report found that “global meat and dairy production and consumption must be cut in half by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change and keep the Paris Agreement on track. If left unchecked, agriculture is projected to produce 52% of global greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades, 70% of which will come from meat and dairy.” Source
  • Even the most environmentally damaging plant milk type (almond) is better for the planet than dairy milk. Source   

Farming

  • Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon rainforest destruction. Sources: [1][2][3]
  • 77% of the world’s farmland (and 85% of the farmland in the UK) is used to graze farmed animals or to produce crops to feed farmed animals. Source 
  • Animal agriculture contributes an estimated 18% to total greenhouse gas emissions from the five major sectors for greenhouse gas reporting. For the agriculture sector alone, farmed animals constitute nearly 80% of all emissions. Source [p. 112]
  • Henning Steinfeld, Chief of FAO’s Livestock Information and Policy Branch and senior author of United Nations’ Livestock's Long Shadow report, said in 2006: “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.” Source 
  • Avocados can be accused of having a high environmental impact as they have a total water footprint of 1,981 mᶾ/ton. When looking at animal products, the largest water footprint is from cow's meat (at 15,400 mᶾ/ton), followed by sheep (10,400 mᶾ/ton), pig (6,000 mᶾ/ton), chicken (4,300 mᶾ/ton) and eggs (3,300 mᶾ/ton). So avocados' water footprint is still less than the lowest animal product. Sources: [1][2]

Diet

  • A 2018 Oxford University study – which is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet – found that ‘avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on Earth’ as animal farming provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of our farmland. Sources: [1][2]
  • A study published in Environmental Research Letters found that eating a plant-based diet has three times more positive environmental impact than washing your clothes in cold water; four times more than hang-drying clothes or recycling; and eight times more than upgrading light bulbs. Source
  • 32% of Brits believe the government should be promoting vegan and plant-based diets to address the current climate emergency. Source 
  • We can always be more sustainable in our food choices, but an off-the-shelf vegan diet is the most sustainable of all diets. Source
  • The average annual amount of CO2 emitted by typical UK diets:
  • Meat-eater - 2,055 kg
  • Vegetarian - 1,391 kg
  • Vegan - 1,055 kg Source
  • 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals who are then eaten by Western countries. Sources: [1][2][3]
  • A 2019 United Nations report urged people to eat less meat and dairy to help combat climate change. Source
  • John Hopkins University found that, on average, a vegan diet is the most environmentally friendly of all diets and would cut emissions by 70%, while a Western-style diet
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