The Bigger Picture: How Eating Plant-Based Affects the Environment


Some people argue that being on a plant-based diet is not just good for your health, but also better for the environment. What we choose to eat or not eat is the most significant factor of the personal impact we have on the environment.[1]

The earth’s surface is covered by oceans and other bodies of water and approximately 8 billion acres of arable land – the equivalent of about 6 billion football fields.

An estimate of 2 football fields is required to produce food enough for only one person/year consuming a standard meat-based diet. If all 7 billion of us on the face of the earth were consuming a standard meat-based diet, we would need at least two planet Earths to feed us all, and we only have one.

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By contrast, on just one football field of arable land, it’s estimated that food can be produced to feed 7 people for an entire year when they are consuming a predominantly plant-based diet.

By reducing our animal-based food consumption we are paving the way for a brighter, greener future. Here’s how:

1.     We could potentially add up to 49% to the global food supply without expanding croplands.

2.     We would significantly reduce carbon emissions.

3.     We would significantly reduce waste byproducts that end up in our oceans and as seafood byproducts.[2]

 Why is this Important?

These reductions would consequently reduce threats such as climate change, and other intended and unintended threats to the condition of our home planet Earth. For example, research shows that industrial animal agriculture is at the heart of our environmental crisis because it uses over half of the world’s arable land resources, uses the majority of our freshwater stores, and drives greenhouse gas emissions. Not to mention how it causes extensive air and water pollution, land degradation, deforestation and is pushing countless species to the brink of extinction.[3]

 If you care at all about environmentally friendly practices, then here are two perspectives to consider while deciding to shift away from animal based foods.

From a Water Perspective

According to the United Nations, most of the water we consume globally is used to produce our food. They explain that the production of meat products consumes tens and oftentimes hundreds of times more water. For example, in order to produce 1 kilo of meat we consume 15,000 litres of water, as opposed to 1,500 litres used to produce 1 kilo of wheat.

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An average of 2,025 litres of water are consumed for every 150 grams of meat. And only an average of 69 litres is consumed for the same amount of fruit. Other plant-based products such as oats consume 355 litres and soybeans take 412 litres.[4] Moreover, the Water Footprint Network, states that it takes around 3,785 litres of water to produce just approximately 4 litres of milk. When you think about it and consider that the production of just 1 kilo of animal protein requires hundreds of times more water that 1 kilo of wheat or grain protein, you can see that by reducing the amount of animal products you eat will preserve an enormous amount of fresh water.

From a Greenhouse Gas Emission Perspective

Science Time reports that the highest total of livestock-related greenhouse-gas emissions comes from the developing world, which accounts for 75% of the global emissions from cattle and other ruminants, and 56% of the global emissions from poultry and pigs.

What Does that Mean?

It means that the production of animal protein is partially responsible for the emission of harmful gasses that are warming up the planet, and destroying wildlife habitats. For example: The production process of 1 kg of beef emits 300 kg CO2. Meat and milk from small ruminants are estimated to emit 165kg and 112kg CO2/1kg of protein respectively. Cow milk, chicken products and pork have lower global average emission intensities (below 100 CO2-eq/kg.) 

However, almost 44% of livestock emissions are in the form of methane (CH4)[6]. Methane is a gas that warms up the earth 20 times faster than carbon dioxide.  This indicates that “the real war against climate is being fought on our plates, multiple times a day with every food choice we make” says Nil Zacharias, Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of One Green Planet. “One of the biggest challenges facing our planet, and our species is that we are knowingly eating ourselves into extinction, and doing very little about it.”[7]


[1] Baroni, L., Cenci, L., Tettemanti, M. and Berati, M. 2006. Evaluating the environmental impact of various dietary patterns combined with different food production systems. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1-8:

[2] Jalava M, Kummu M, Porkka M, Siebert S, and Varis O (2014).  Diet Change–a solution to reduce water use? Environ. Res. lett. 9(7):1-14.

[3] One Greet Planet: Five Ways Eating More Plant-Based Foods Benefits the Environment.

[4] "Frequently Asked Questions." UN World Water Day. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, n.d. Web. 2 Apr 2012.

[5] Gerber, P. J., H. Steinfeld, B. Henderson, A. Mottet, C. Opio, J. Dijkman, A. Falcucci and G. Tempio. 2013. Tackling climate change through livestock - a global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. 115 pp.


[7] One Greet Planet: Five Ways Eating More Plant-Based Foods Benefits the Environment.


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