Is plant-based milk really environmentally-friendly?

The trend of switching from animal products to plant-based products is also emerging in Switzerland – although still slower than in other countries. Plant-based products such as milk alternatives are getting more and more popular and consumers are having a better choice than couple of years ago. Nowadays you can find milk alternatives in the shelves made of soy, almonds, oats, coconuts, rice, cashews and many more. Due to my curious nature, I started to ask myself if drinking milk alternatives which are not produced in Switzerland are really better for my carbon footprint? And if so, which plant-based milk has the lowest environmental impact? Having a look at the swiss water footprint, agricultural products account for 81% of the total water footprint. Of those agricultural products, milk consumption is representing 10% of it – right behind meat, crop and sugar.

A study conducted in 2017 by ESU-services Ltd., a company which is doing research in the fields of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), shows that whole milk is connected to a larger environmental impact than plant-based alternatives. The production of raw milk and its livestock farming is the main reason for the higher damage to our planet compared to vegan alternatives. Additionally, chilling is unavoidable compared to plant-based milk and that implies an additional impact on the environment.

Environmental impact of plant-based milk alternatives compared to cow’s milk. Source: ESU-services Ltd (2017). http://esu-services.ch/fileadmin/download/wenzel-2017-LCA-vegan-drinks.pdf

Among plant-based options, almond drink is the environmental looser. The huge amount of water needed for the cultivation of the plants is a major factor – around 6’098 litres of water is needed to produce 1 litre of almond milk. More than 80% of the world’s almonds are produced in California which was fighting droughts for the last decade. The transport is – also in the case of rice drink – a second factor of the higher overall impact.

Concerning soy milk, it is important to differentiate where the soy comes from. People who consume soy are often accused of harming the environment due to the soy-linked deforestation in the amazon. Whether soy consumption harms the environment depends on the location of its cultivation. It goes without saying that the huge monocultures in South America – mainly cultivated as animal feed – is an ecological disaster. In fact, most of the soy milk we consume here has its roots in Europe. Alpro, the European market leader and its organic subsidiary company Provamel have reintroduced soy bean cultivation in France to source non-GMO soy beans and building shorter supply chains towards a more sustainable agriculture. As shown in the graph, the production of 1 litre soy milk consumes less water, less land and less CO2 compared to cow’s milk.

Soy milk compared to cow’s milk Source: Alpro, Sustainability Report (2018). https://www.alpro.com/corporate/en/sustainability-report

What about oat milk? “The future is oats” is written in the sustainability report 2017 of Oatly, a Swedish company producing oat milk. The greenhouse gas emissions of oat milk production is 80% lower than cow’s milk. Over 95% of the oats are cultivated, manufactured and most of the products even packaged in Sweden.

Oat Milk vs. Cow’s Milk Source: Oatly, Sustainability Report (2017) https://www.oatly.com/uploads/attachments/cjlnzy1v4000k1vqp2eqbsujq-sustainability-report-2017-eng.pdf

In Switzerland, oat drinks are usually produced in Germany (Alnatura) or France (Coop Karma) – and if you want it from oats cultivated in Switzerland to save the packaging, you can easily make it at home. If I made you curious, go to https://minimalistbaker.com/make-oat-milk/  and check the recipe – it’s quite simple!

Generally speaking, it can be said that consuming plant-based milk instead of cow’s milk has a much lower environmental impact – especially in the case of oat milk. If we want to go a step further, we can also think of alternatives cultivated, processed and packaged in Switzerland. An article about food scientists in Sweden who started to produce milk made of potatoes recently caught my attention (if you are interested go to http://sciencenordic.com/scientists-are-making-smoothies-potato-milk). After some investigation about this, I found out that this was recently discussed on “Schweizer Bauer” – a platform for swiss agriculture. Who knows, maybe we are soon able to drink locally cultivated potato milk to lower our environmental impact even more.. until then, we continue producing oat milk with swiss cultivated oats ourselves!

 

Sources:

Alnatura, 2018. Produktinformation Haferdrink ungesüsst. Online: https://www.alnatura.de/de-de/alnatura-produkte/produktsuche/bio-haferdrink-ungesuesst-1l (10.10.2018)

Alpro, 2018. Sustainability Summary. Online: https://www.alpro.com/corporate/en/sustainability-report (02.10.2018)

Coop at home, 2018. Bio Hafer Drink. Online: https://www.coopathome.ch/de/supermarkt/milchprodukte-eier/milch/spezialmilch/karma-bio-hafer-drink/p/5783015 (11.10.2018)

Naylor, T., 2018. Ditch the almond milk: why everything you know about sustainable eating is probably wrong. The Guardian, 05.09.2018. Online: https://www.theguardian.com/food/2018/sep/05/ditch-the-almond-milk-why-everything-you-know-about-sustainable-eating-is-probably-wrong

Oatly, 2017. Sustainability Report. Online: https://www.oatly.com/uploads/attachments/cjlnzy1v4000k1vqp2eqbsujq-sustainability-report-2017-eng.pdf (03.10.2018)

Schweizer Bauer, 2017. Milchalternative aus Kartoffeln. Online: http://preview.schweizerbauer.ch/pflanzen/forschung/milchalternative-aus-kartoffeln-39142.html (01.10.2018)

ScienceNordic, 2017. Scientists are making Smoothies with potato milk. Online: http://sciencenordic.com/scientists-are-making-smoothies-potato-milk (01.10.2018)

Wenzel, P. & Jungbluth, N., 2017. The environmental Impact of vegan drinks compared to whole milk, Schaffhausen: ESU-Services. Online: http://esu-services.ch/fileadmin/download/wenzel-2017-LCA-vegan-drinks.pdf (09.10.2018)

WWF Schweiz, 2012. Der Wasser-Fussabdruck Schweiz, Zürich. Online: https://www.google.ch/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwics8HKjo3eAhUly4UKHSCfA9cQFjAAegQICBAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.blw.admin.ch%2Fdam%2Fblw%2Fde%2Fdokumente%2FNachhaltige%2520Produktion%2FUmwelt%2FWasser%2FDer%2520Wasser-Fussabdruck%2520der%2520Schweiz.pdf.download.pdf%2FDer%2BWasser-Fussabdruck%2Bder%2BSchweiz.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0mKfN2dQQCqYup-HY8aJIB (10.10.2018)

The tall, blonde and beautiful (Swedish) Oatly

 

(warning: a serious message is following)

In such a digitized world that is the reality of today, information has never been so easily accessed. Hand in hand with increased technology and public awareness, we’ve never been so aware of climate changes and how the changes are about to impact our planet and our way of living, because I think most of us know it’s not anymore a question about ‘if’ but rather about ‘how much’.

Okay, let’s throw ourselves into the blistering north of this world, to a rural(well not really) country called Sweden. I’m sure some of you have heard about Sweden, especially because of the global confusion with Switzerland (not even gonna mention the World Cup).

(Oatly.com, 2018) http://Available at: https://www.oatly.com/int/ [Accessed 16 Oct. 2018].

Oatly was founded back in the 1990’s at the University of Lund, in the southern parts of Sweden. What they do in a nutshell, is creating sustainable oat drinks. Such as oat-milk, oatgurt, cold on the go drinks, ice cream and some cuisine alternatives (Oatly.com. 2018).

The reason why I wanted to spread the word about this Swedish company is quite simple: The way that they do their marketing as a sustainable alternative to milk. It’s not a secret to anyone that green thinking is something that’s taking up more and more space in the average individual mind. Their green nudging efforts are part of what made them so successful. Green nudging is explained as; “…nudges that aim at promoting environmentally benign behaviour”. (Schubert, C. 2016).

(Oatly billboard in Rotterdam, 2018.) http://Available at: https://www.livekindly.co/oatly-rotterdam-dairy-not-for-humans/ [Accessed 16 Oct. 2018].

To further break down the concept, green nudges aims for consumers to preserve their self-image. Restructuring the message communicated to be more informal should incline pro-environmental behaviour (Schubert, 2016). This aligns well with the concept of societal marketing. A brand’s personality is influenced by its marketing efforts, the way a brand communicates its message and to what degree of sincerity, could affect consumers perception of those behind the brand, in the aspect of how genuine they are with their messages (Hoeffler, S. and Keller, K. 2002). This is what makes Oatly a popular company. Perez (2015) found that over 60% of all the millennials feel a personal responsibility for the welfare of this planet and that around 2/3’s would like to be employed by a green employer.

It’s safe to say that Oatly is a company who wants to have a brand image which aligns with all of these concepts, and in my opinion, they’re doing pretty good.  Here are three extracts from their self-declaration:

  • We are not a perfect company, not even close, but our intentions are true. We would like to be judged by the good we do and not just the pretty words we say.
  • We promise to be a good company which means that our drive to help people upgrade their lives always comes before the reckless pursuit of profit.
  • Our goal is to always deliver products that have maximum nutritional value and minimal environmental impact.

To wrap up this blog post I just wanna declare to you, that my intentions were never to talk someone into quitting cow’s milk. That’s entirely up to each and every individual. But I’m completely sure that most people who are reading this at some point felt like they wanted to have a positive impact on the environment. Although something that I hear often (which is mostly from the older generation) is;  “but if I change my habits as an individual, it won’t have an impact on the bigger picture”.

But that’s where people are mistaken. Every little step toward a more sustainable living is, in fact, one step closer, however crazy that may sound. We’re all creatures of habitat, which might be the main reason why we are reluctant to change. That doesn’t mean we’re not capable of changing.

Jonathan

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ogd9Vcby6NM

(Perfect example of innovative marketing)

Source list: 

Hoeffler, S. and Keller, K. (2002). Building Brand Equity Through Corporate Societal Marketing. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 21(1), pp.78-89.

Oatly.com. (2018). Oatly. [online] Available at: https://www.oatly.com/int/ [Accessed 16 Oct. 2018].

Perez, E. (2013). College students’ attitudes towards green hotel practices. Available at: http://stars.library.ucf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2450&context=honorstheses1990-2015 [Accessed 17 Oct. 2018].

Pointing, C. (2018). Giant Vegan Milk Billboard in Europe Reminds Consumers that Dairy is Not for Humans. [online] LIVEKINDLY. Available at: https://www.livekindly.co/oatly-rotterdam-dairy-not-for-humans/ [Accessed 16 Oct. 2018].

Schubert, C. (2016). Green Nudges: Do They Work? Are They Ethical?. SSRN Electronic. Available at: Journal. https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/129284/1/847307131.pdf[Accessed 16 Oct. 2018].