Across the United States, more and more people are reducing, reusing and recycling their resources to help ensure a better future for our planet. While many are willing to reduce drive time, reuse equipment and recycle paper, they’re unaware of how significant an impact their dietary habits have on the environment. Small changes towards adopting a more plant-based lifestyle can significantly improve your clients’ health while supporting a healthy planet.
- Understand the environmental impact of diet.
- Identify how increasing the amount of plant-based food in your diet reduces your carbon footprint.
- Determine ways to help your clients incorporate plant-based meals into their lifestyle.
By now, many of your clients are embracing ways they can support sustainability efforts. Whether they’re working from home to reduce vehicle emissions or recycling plastic and paper, they are interested in improving the future of the planet. What fewer people realize is how great an impact diet has on sustainability. Educating your clients about how their dietary habits can have a significant effect on the planet is the next piece of information they need to continue on their personal quest toward sustainability.
Plant-based Diets Require Fewer Resources
The planet has a variety of precious resources, including arable land and water; however, they are in limited supply and must be utilized in efficient ways. The demand for these precious resources is high and directly correlated with our dietary habits (Pimentel, D & Pimentel, M, 2003).
Worldwide, the livestock sector is one of the largest contributors to environmental problems, due to deforestation, desertification, overuse of freshwater, inefficient use of energy, diverting food for use as feed and emission of greenhouse gases (UNEP, 2012). By embracing a more plant-based diet rather than standard American diet—which is high in animal products—the food supply has the potential to adapt and, in turn, support a shift to a more sustainable planet.
Recent studies have reviewed the impact of dietary choices on the environment and found large disparities in the amount of resources required to produce different foods and their impact on the environment. According to reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the livestock sector in the United States is the primary user of arable land, which is significantly higher than required for vegetable crops. Plant-based diets require less arable land and are more sustainable—an equivalent amount of animal-based protein requires 6 to 17 times the amount of land than plant-based protein (Koneswaran & Nierbenberg, 2008).
The Earth’s surface is 75% water. Of the Earth’s total water resources, only about 1% of it is actually usable and available for human consumption. Animal proteins take 26 times as much water to produce than plant-based proteins such as beans, nuts, and seeds (Reijnders & Soret, 2003).
Fossil Fuels and Emissions
The livestock industry is a major contributor to global warming because of the greenhouse gases it emits, including CO2, methane and nitrous oxide. Although differences in fossil fuel requirements for vegetable protein and meat protein production can differ depending on the intensity of agriculture, research concurs that less fossil fuel is used to support plant-based diets than animal-based diets. Livestock use anywhere from 2.5 to 50 times more fossil fuels than plant-based protein (Koneswaran & Nierbenberg, 2008). Even a slight shift towards a plant-based diet can reduce the amount of fossil fuel used, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the environment.
Make the Plant-Based Change
While eating locally and seasonally is important, incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet has an even greater environmental impact (Weber & Matthews, 2008). Help your clients understand that this doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposal—even small, gradual changes will make a difference.
Encourage clients to substitute one meal for one plant-based meal per week. Instead of consuming a traditional breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage links, a slice of toast, and hash browns, offer a more sustainable option like a plant-based smoothie made with blueberries, banana, hemp milk and plant-based nutritional supplement.
Rather than focusing on what to avoid, encourage clients to add plant-based foods to their current meals. For instance, add greens to their favorite quesadilla and top it off with a locally-sourced salsa and seasonal avocados. Delicious!
Making dietary changes to support a more sustainable environment is the next step in your clients’ pursuit of sustainability. By embracing more plant-based meals, they can complement their current efforts in creating a more sustainable environment for generations to come.
Pimentel D, Pimentel M. (2003). Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 660-663. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/660S.full.pdf+html
United Nations Environment Programme. (2012). Growing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Due to Meat Production. Retrieved from http://www.unep.org/pdf/UNEP-GEAS_OCT_2012.pdf
Koneswaran G, Nierbenberg D. (2008). Global Farm Animal Production and Global Warming: Impacting and Mitigating Climate Change. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116(5), 578–582. Retrieved from http://www.n cbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2367646/pdf/ehp0116-000578.pdf
Reijnders, L., & Soret, S. (2003). Quantification of the Environmental Impact of Different Dietary Proteins. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/66 4S.full.pdf+html
Weber, C., Matthews, HS. (2008). Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States. Environmental Science and Technology. 42, 3508–3513. Retrieved from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es702969f