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Practical Sustainability: Reduce Your Meat Consumption

This month's Practical Sustainability column proposes that you consider reducing your meat consumption for a direct impact on greenhouse gas emissions. 

According to a 2013 study published by the United Nations, Tackling Climate Change through Livestock, 14.5% of the greenhouse gas emissions related to human activity are generated by the global livestock industry, with beef and cattle milk responsible for the greatest emissions (41% and 20% of the industry sector's emissions respectively) by animal species.

Earlier this month, I attended the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, an annual event for sustainability professionals.  James Cameron, filmmaker and environmentalist, was the keynote speaker at Greenbuild’s opening plenary session.  He presented a compelling case for reducing our consumption of meat and animal products for environmental reasons.  His vegan diet (which avoids all animal products) may not be for everyone.  But it did get me thinking about what would happen if each of us made a small change in our dining habits.     

So what adjustments can we, as individuals, make to reduce our consumption and our impact and what is it worth in environmental terms?  According to the Environmental Working Group, "If everyone in the U.S. ate no milk or cheese just one day a week, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles - or taking 7.6 million cars off the road." 

For me, this looks like a day that begins with soy or almond milk in my coffee, oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast, a salad at lunchtime made with greens, chick peas, carrots, walnuts, beets and avocado, and a tofu stir fry with green beans and mushrooms for dinner.  This isn’t a sacrifice in terms of enjoyment or nutrition.  So I’ve been cutting out meat and dairy two to three days each week since I learned how easy it can be to make an immediate impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

There are health benefits to a non-meat diet as well.  Vegetarian diets tend to be higher in fiber and lower in fat and cholesterol than meat-based diets.  According to Harvard Women’s Health Watch, there is some evidence that vegetarians are at lower risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer (particularly colon cancer, whose only “convincing” dietary association is with consumption of red meat) and Type 2 diabetes.

So when you get up tomorrow morning, think about drinking your coffee black and making it a day with no meat or dairy.  Now that’s what I call Practical Sustainability!



Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at

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