Is vegan better for the environment?

We have heard a great deal about a plant-based diet and the benefits for the environment.  It has been said that avoiding meat and dairy is the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth (Guardian, 2018).  The argument goes that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, they use 83% of farmland and produce 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth. EAT-Lancet Commission 2019.

Photo Credit – Annie Spratt Unsplash

Vegan diets and the environment

More recent research has shown that although meat and dairy still top the list of carbon intensive foods, we must not assume that all vegetables and fruit are created equal on the carbon scale.  For instance, imported fruit such as blueberries and strawberries flown into the UK carries a very high carbon footprint – as does asparagus when it is air freighted from Peru.  There are also many imported vegan foods that have a very high-water intake which increase the carbon footprint.  Examples include avocados, almonds and cashew nuts, mushrooms and cocoa.  Food ingredients such as palm oil and cocoa are grown on plantations in tropical areas which are often stripped of the virgin forest to make way for these commercial crops.  Deforestation has a huge effect on biodiversity and increases the carbon footprint of chocolate and other products grown in this way

Photo Credit – Etty Fidele Unsplash

Cocoa is also a major driver of tropical deforestation and one of the biggest contributors to global biodiversity loss after beef, pork, and poultry meat,” Joseph Poore, Oxford University.

In fact, the 2019 study from researchers at Oxford University found that food production was the largest stress to biodiversity through habitat destruction and nutrient pollution.  Our food production methods – industrialised farming – negatively affect more than 70% of birds and mammals that are listed as threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Factory farming is destroying Earth

Industrialised farming has transformed the farming landscape worldwide.  Large farms which account for only 1 per cent of the world’s farms, occupy 65 per cent of the agricultural land.  These megafarms which rely on synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides and high-yield cereal hybrids have been responsible for tripling food production since 1960.

The trouble is factory farming has had devastating effects on the environment and is associated with some horrific animal welfare issues as well as negative effects on human health.

“Efficient farming is not just a matter of production.  It is also about environmental sustainability, public health and economic inclusivity.” James Lomax, a United Nations Environment Programme Programme Manager, 2020.

Reasons to avoid industrialised farming

  • It is not cheap. According to some estimates, the greenhouse gas emissions from industrialized farming which pollute air and water and destroy wildlife cost the environment the equivalent of £2.2 trillion each year.
  • It can facilitate the spread of bacteria & viruses from animals to humans. Intensive livestock farming can effectively serve as a bridge for pathogens, allowing them to be passed from wild animals to farm animals and then to humans.
  • It speeds up anti-bacterial and anti-microbial resistance. Growth hormones, anti-biotics and anti-microbials are all used routinely on factory farms. Over time, microorganisms develop resistance, making these medicines less effective. In fact, about 700,000 people die of resistant infections every year.   A shocking prediction from the World Health Organisation (WHO) is that by 2050, these illnesses may cause more deaths than cancer.
  • It relies on pesticides that have serious effects on health. See our blog that includes Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals for more details here.
  • It relies on chemical fertilisers that are pollutants and are carbon heavy. Agricultural fertilisers are based on ammonia which accounts for about 1.5% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.
  • It contaminates soil and water. Agriculture plays a major role in pollution, releasing large volumes of manure, chemicals, antibiotics, and growth hormones into water sources. This poses risks to both aquatic ecosystems and human health. In fact, agriculture’s most common chemical contaminant, nitrate, can cause ‘blue baby syndrome’, which can lead to death in infants.
  • It has caused epidemics of obesity and chronic disease. The popularity of processed foods has increased in almost all communities. Obesity is also on the rise globally and many suffer from preventable diseases often related to diets, like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers.
  • It is an inefficient use of land. In order to support the growth of livestock farming, huge tracts of land are now devoted to producing animal feed, biofuels and industrial ingredients rather than vegan crops.

The best ways to avoid factory farming are to shop locally for fresh, in-season produce.  If you eat meat, find a local organic farm and buy direct.  If you have green fingers, grow as much of your own food (organically) as possible – this way it is freshest and most nutrient dense.  Avoid packet and processed meals and try to cook from scratch as often as you can.

Why is Greenscents vegan?


Greenscents is certified vegan with The Vegan Society.  The range is designed to make shopping for environmentally friendly laundry and household products easy and our vegan certification supports the environmental objectives of our business.  However, being vegan is only one part of being truly green.  Our organic certification means that our ingredients are not part of the industrialised farming process and our palm oil free certification means we do not contribute to deforestation and tropical forest loss.  For more information on the ethics of the Greenscents range click here.

Further reading