The environmental benefits of vegan diets

For those who are still not convinced that plant-based (vegan) diets are likely better for the environment than average Western omnivorous diets: here is an avalanche of studies based on life cycle impact assessments, including meta-analyses, studies in academic peer-reviewed journals and studies performed by independent major scientific organizations. (For the health studies, see here)

Comparison of food products and meals (life cycle analyses and product environmental footprints)

These studies compare the environmental footprints (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions or land use) per amount (e.g. kilogram or calories) of food products. The plant-based foods have lower foodprints.

Poore J. & Nemecek T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science 360(6392):987-992.

Clark M. & Tilman D. (2017). Comparative analysis of environmental impacts of agricultural production systems, agricultural input efficiency, and food choice. Environmental Research Letters 12(6).

Clark, M. A., Springmann, M., Hill, J., & Tilman, D. (2019). Multiple health and environmental impacts of foods. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Pieper, M., Michalke, A. & Gaugler, T. (2020). Calculation of external climate costs for food highlights inadequate pricing of animal products. Nat Commun 11,6117.

Blonk Consultants (2011). Milieuanalyse van dranken in Nederland. Blonk Milieu Advies, Gouda.

Blonk Consultants (2011). Naar een gezond en duurzaam voedselpatroon. Blonk Milieu Advies, Gouda.

Blonk Consultants (2009). Naar een gecombineerde meetlat voor milieu- en dierenwelzijn. Blonk Milieu Advies, Gouda.

Blonk Consultants (2008). Milieueffecten van Nederlandse consumptie van eiwitrijke producten. Gevolgen van vervanging van dierlijke eiwitten anno 2008. Blonk Milieu Advies, Gouda.

CE Delft (2011). Life Cycle Impacts of Protein- rich Foods for Superwijzer. Delft.

CE Delft (2010). Milieuanalyses voedsel en voedselverliezen. Delft.

ADEME (2014). Documentation Base Carbone® V11.2. Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie.

Reijnders L. & Soret S. (2003). Quantification of the environmental impact of different dietary protein choices. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78(suppl):664S–8S.

Carlsson-Kanyama A. & González AD. (2009). Potential contributions of food consumption patterns to climate change. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89 (suppl): 1704S-9S.

Gonzalez AD e.a. (2011). Protein efficiency per unit energy and per unit greenhouse gas emissions: Potential contribution of diet choices to climate change mitigation. Food Policy 36:562-570.

Mekonnen M.M. & Hoekstra A.Y. (2011). The green, blue and grey water footprint of crops and derived crop products, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 15(5): 1577-1600.

Mekonnen M.M. & Hoekstra A.Y. (2012). A global assessment of the water footprint of farm animal products, Ecosystems, 15(3): 401–415.

Leach A. e.a. (2012). A nitrogen footprint model to help consumers understand their role in nitrogen losses to the environment. Environmental Development 1(1):40–66.

Metson G. e.a. (2016). Potential Impact of Dietary Choices on Phosphorus Recycling and Global Phosphorus Footprints: The Case of the Average Australian City, Frontiers in Nutrition DOI: 10.3389/fnut.2016.00035.

Global Footprint Network (2015). National Footprint Accounts 2011.

Wuppertal Institute (2009). Resource productivity in 7 steps. How to develop eco-innovative products and services and improve their material footprints.


Comparison of diets

These studies compare the environmental impacts (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions or land use) for different diets, including omnivorous and plant-based diets. The plant-based diets have lower environmental impacts.

Eisen, M. B., & Brown, P. O. (2022). Rapid global phaseout of animal agriculture has the potential to stabilize greenhouse gas levels for 30 years and offset 68 percent of CO2 emissions this century. PLOS Climate1(2), e0000010.

Kim, B. F., Santo, R. E., Scatterday, A. P., Fry, J. P., Synk, C. M., Cebron, S. R., … & Neff, R. A. (2020). Country-specific dietary shifts to mitigate climate and water crises. Global environmental change, 62, 101926.

Poore J. & Nemecek T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science 360(6392):987-992.

Röös, E., Bajželj, B., Smith, P., Patel, M., Little, D., & Garnett, T. (2017). Greedy or needy? Land use and climate impacts of food in 2050 under different livestock futures. Global Environmental Change, 47, 1-12.

Aleksandrowicz L, Green R, Joy EJM, Smith P, Haines A (2016). The Impacts of Dietary Change on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Land Use, Water Use, and Health: A Systematic Review. PLoS ONE 11(11): e0165797.

Springmann M. e.a. (2016). Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 113(15):4146-51.

Erb K.-H. e.a. (2016). Exploring the biophysical option space for feeding the world without deforestation.Nature Communications 7:11382 doi:10.1038/ncomms11382.

Peters, C. J., Picardy, J., Wilkins, J. L., Griffin, T. S., Fick, G. W., & Darrouzet-Nardi, A. F. (2016). Carrying capacity of US agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, 4(1), 1.

Hallström, E., Carlsson-Kanyama, A., & Börjesson, P. (2015). Environmental impact of dietary change: a systematic review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 91, 1-11.

Van Dooren C. e.a. (2014). Exploring dietary guidelines based on ecological and nutritional values: A comparison of six dietary patterns. Food Policy 44:36–46.

Westhoek H. e.a. (2014). Food choices, health and environment: Effects of cutting Europe’s meat and dairy intake. Global Environmental Change 26:196–205.

Scarborough P. e.a. (2014). Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Climatic Change 125:179–192.

Meier, T. e.a. (2014). Balancing virtual land imports by a shift in the diet. Using a land balance approach to assess the sustainability of food consumption.Germany as an example. Appetite 74: 20–34.

CE Delft (2012). Milieueffecten van verbeteropties voor de Nederlandse eiwitconsumptie. Delft.

Risku-Norja H. e.a. (2009). Dietary choices and greenhouse gas emissions – assessment of impact of vegetarian and organic options at national scale. Progress in Industrial Ecology 6(4):340-354.

Baroni L. e.a. (2007). Evaluating the environmental impact of various dietary patterns combined with different food production systems. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 61:279–286.

Stehfest E. e.a. (2009). Climate benefits of changing diet. Climatic Change 95:83–102.

Stehfest E. e.a. (2008). Vleesconsumptie en klimaatbeleid. Nederlands Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving (PBL).

PBL (2010). Rethinking Global Biodiversity Strategies: Exploring structural changes in production and consumption to reduce biodiversity loss. Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), The Hague/Bilthoven.

Fairlie S. (2007). Can Britain feed itself? The land 4, winter 2007-8.

Pimentel D. & Pimentel M. (2003). Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and environment. Am J Clin Nutr. 78 (suppl): 660S-3S.

Environmental impact of animal food production

These studies calculate the total environmental impacts (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions or land use) of the livestock and fisheries sectors. These sectors have relatively high impacts compared with other economic sectors.

Gerber PJ. e.a. (2013). Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome.

Hertwich E. e.a. (2010). Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials, A Report of the Working Group on the Environmental Impacts of Products and Materials to the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management. United Nations Environment Programme.

Pelletier N. & Tyedmers P. (2010). Forecasting potential global environmental costs of livestock production 2000–2050. PNAS 107 (43) 18371-18374.

Steinfeld H. e.a. (2006). Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. Food and Agricultural Organization, United Nations. Rome.

JRC-IES (2009). Evaluation of the livestock sector’s contribution to the EU greenhouse gas emissions. European Commission – Joint Research Centre – Institute for Environment and Sustainability

Worm B. e.a. (2006). Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services. Science Vol. 314 no. 5800 pp. 787-790.

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