How Going Vegan Can Impact Your Carbon Footprint?

Like a shadow, your carbon footprint follows you, reflecting the environmental impact of your lifestyle choices.

If you’re seeking to lighten this shadow, one impactful decision you can make is going vegan. By eliminating meat and dairy from your diet, you’re not just saving animals, but you’re also significantly reducing your contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

The meat and dairy industry is a major contributor to climate change, and by turning to a plant-based diet, you’re effectively shrinking your carbon footprint.

This guide will show you how going vegan can be a powerful step towards a more sustainable future.

Key Takeaways

  • Going vegan is a powerful way to reduce your carbon footprint, dramatically decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Your carbon footprint is the total sum of greenhouse gas emissions from your lifestyle choices, such as household energy use, transport, food, and other products.
  • Your diet greatly impacts your carbon footprint. A proper vegan diet can reduce food-related carbon emissions by up to 73% compared to a meat-based diet.
  • The meat and dairy industry significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, with a single kilogram of beef producing around 100 kg of greenhouse gases.
  • Choosing local, organically grown vegan foods and reducing food waste can further minimize your carbon footprint.
  • Not all vegan foods are created equal in terms of sustainability. Corn and avocados, for example, have high environmental costs due to their farming practices and resource requirements.

What Exactly Is Carbon Footprint?

Carbon footprint is the total sum of all the greenhouse gas emissions that occur for a product to be produced or for an activity to take place.

Simply put, every product you buy and every activity you engage in is likely adding to your carbon footprint.

Let’s break it down. The four principal categories contributing to your footprint are:

  • Household energy use
  • Transport
  • Food
  • Other contributors (essentially, all the products you buy, ranging from utensils to clothing to TVs).

Each of these has its own footprint, and your personal carbon footprint is the combined total of all these individual footprints.

Imagine it this way: every time you switch on a light, drive your car or buy a new shirt, you’re leaving a carbon imprint. These imprints, when combined, create a carbon footprint. Understanding this is a crucial first step in reducing your carbon emissions and making more environmentally conscious decisions.

calculating your carbon footprint

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Diet Has a Big Impact on Your Carbon Footprint

You might be surprised to learn that a significant chunk of your carbon footprint comes from your dietary choices. Researchers at the University of Oxford found that going vegan could reduce a person’s food-related carbon footprint by up to 73%.

This massive decrease is due to the high energy and resource consumption of livestock farming. Livestock requires large volumes of food, and the process of raising, killing, processing, transporting, and storing these animals is energy-intensive and produces excessive greenhouse gases.

The difference between vegan and animal-based products is striking:

environmental cost of food

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As you can see, even a shift from a meat-eating diet to a vegetarian one can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. However, the greatest reduction is seen when switching to veganism.

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The Meat and Dairy Industry Is the Worst Offender

Often, it’s the meat and dairy industry that contributes most significantly to your carbon footprint.

A 2014 study published in Climatic Change revealed that meat and dairy consumption accounts for significantly higher greenhouse gas emissions compared to plant-based diets.

The research, which involved over 55,000 individuals, found that meat-eaters had dietary greenhouse gas emissions up to 102% higher than vegans.

Let’s delve deeper. For each kilogram of beef produced, an average of 100 kg of greenhouse gases are released, 49% of which are methane emissions. Methane is significantly more damaging to the environment than CO2, making this industry a major contributor to climate change.

But it doesn’t stop there. The 13 largest dairy firms collectively emit as much greenhouse gas as the entire United Kingdom. That’s a staggering fact that highlights the severe environmental impact of these industries.

How To Minimize Your Carbon Footprint as a Vegan?

Choosing the right vegan foods can further lower your carbon footprint. Not all vegan foods are equal in this regard. Factors such as transportation, volume, and growing methods significantly impact a food’s carbon score.

A 2008 study found that transportation accounts for 11% of a food’s life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with final delivery adding another 4%. So, by opting for locally grown vegan products, you can offset your personal carbon footprint by up to 15%.

Sourcing your food locally reduces transportation emissions and supports local farmers and economies.

Additionally, consider the volume of food required. Foods with higher nutritional density allow you to consume less volume, further reducing your footprint.

Growing methods also matter. Organic farming practices tend to emit fewer GHGs than conventional ones. Thus, choosing organically grown foods can offer additional carbon savings.

Finally, be mindful of food waste. Wasted food is a significant source of GHGs. By planning meals, using leftovers, and composting scraps, you can further shrink your carbon footprint.

Least Sustainable Vegan Foods

While making conscious choices to reduce your carbon footprint by going vegan is commendable, it’s essential to know that not all vegan foods are created equal.

Corn and avocados, for example, are surprisingly high on the list of least sustainable vegan foods.

Over the next few paragraphs, we’ll explore why these seemingly benign foods can have a larger environmental impact than you might expect.


Turning to a vegan diet, you’d naturally assume all plant-based foods are sustainable, but consuming non-organic corn might harm the environment more than you’d expect.

Non-organic corn farming is a major culprit in soil degradation due to its heavy reliance on synthetic fertilizers.

Corn depletes the soil of nitrogen and other vital nutrients, necessitating the application of synthetic fertilizers such as ammonia. This cycle of depletion and artificial replenishment isn’t sustainable, and it’s further exacerbated by the difficulty in avoiding surplus application.

The runoff from these excess fertilizers contaminates water bodies, while the leaching into the atmosphere contributes to air pollution and has an impact on mortality.

Carbon emission marked in USA map

Therefore, consuming non-organic corn indirectly contributes to these environmental hazards.


Despite its popularity in vegan dishes, the humble avocado is surprisingly one of the least sustainable plant-based foods you could consume due to its high water and land requirements.

This fruit’s production process is notorious for causing deforestation, as vast land areas are cleared for farming. This not only releases significant greenhouse gases but also eliminates forests’ carbon-sink role, amplifying the negative environmental impact.

All in all, avocados’ carbon footprint is significantly worse than that of many other vegan foods – the production of 2 avocados emits almost twice as much (846.36g CO2) greenhouse gases as growing 1kg of bananas (480g CO2).

Moreover, the water consumption of avocado farming is alarming. It takes a staggering 227 liters of water to produce a single avocado, more than four times the amount needed for an orange!

different fruit and their salt light pollution level

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Therefore, while avocados are a staple in many vegan diets, their environmental cost is considerable and worth pondering over.


It’s clear that our dietary choices play a crucial role in shaping our carbon footprint.

By choosing a vegan lifestyle, we can significantly reduce our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and help foster a healthier planet.

However, it’s also important to note that not all vegan foods are created equal. Some plant-based foods, like avocados and non-organic corn, have a surprisingly high environmental impact. 

Being mindful of the origin, production methods and sustainability of the foods we consume is just as important as making the decision to eliminate animal products from our diets.

Two More Recommendations for Your Plant-Based Journey

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