Will veganism save the world?

16 July, 2019 Share socially

From the large-scale protests inspired by teenage activist Greta Thunberg to small, everyday lifestyle changes we can all make, there has been a lot of focus recently on what is needed to protect the environment and fight climate change and we are more aware than ever before that the planet’s fate depends on the action we take now. Food consumption, and everything associated with it, is one of the key factors damaging the environment. From farm to table: the supply chain is long, complex and affects us all. This is why it is important to consider how sustainable and environmentally friendly our lifestyle is.

Intensive farming is one of the main sources of pollution affecting the Earth’s climate: 0.01m2 of land is enough to produce one gram of protein from, for example, peas or beans, but 1m2 is needed to obtain the same amount of protein from sheep or cattle. Moving away from a meat and dairy diet to become vegan or vegetarian is considered to be the most effective step an individual can take to lessen their own impact on the environment.

Vegetarianism and veganism (as well as the lesser known flexitarianism) are on the rise globally especially in rich countries - the number of U.S. consumers identifying as vegan grew from 1% to 6% between 2014 and 2017, a 600% increase, according to GlobalData and the number of vegans in Great Britain quadrupled between 2014 and 2018. Just Eat's "Healthy Food Delivery" report, revealed that in the last six months the demand for healthy food deliveries have grown by 150% in Italy. With demand rapidly increasing, brands are already experimenting with products and solutions to suit vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian consumers. The UK launched more vegan products than any other nation in 2108. Veggie Pret, the British fast-food brand by Pret a Manger, is expanding into the City by gobbling up 94 EAT outlets and Wicked Kitchen, the Tesco range of vegan ready meals won the PETA Food Award 2018 and sold over 4 million lunches in the month following the launch. Although Europe is leading the way, the States is following suit with major brands such as Chipotle and Taco Bell recently touting their vegan and 'other lifestyle' dining options and alternative dining supermarket brands such as CauliPower experiencing phenomenal growth.

Will veganism save the world?

Vegans, Vegetarians and Flexitarians are also influencing change in other sectors including fashion. Orange Fiber, an all-Italian start-up, produces fabric made from the citrus based fibres of discarded oranges and Salvatore Ferragamo has been quick to create a beautiful capsule collection with the new material. According to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition's 2019 Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report, 75% of consumers view sustainability as very or extremely important. Half of shoppers said they would switch brands if a competitor is more environmentally and socially directed and fashion brands have quickly taken this on board.

Going back to food: is a drastic reduction in meat and dairy consumption enough to save the planet? No way. Eating healthily is not enough, indeed, it can have an adverse affect on the environment. The BBC developed a simple calculator to demonstrate the impact on the environment of eating certain foods for example, an apple or an avocado – try it for your favourite food. The results are alarming and could result in what is becoming known as ‘climate despair’.

So, how can we take positive action as consumers?

What is clear is that we need to be conscious consumers. We are facing serious issues which must be addressed by changing our habits. We need to recognise the distinction between what is healthy for us as individuals and what is good for the environment as the two do not always go together. The much lauded Goji berry has many fantastic health benefits but do they outweigh the cost to the environment of transporting them from China wrapped in single-use plastic?

Brands also have an important role to play in addressing the crisis we face by taking positive action through their business decisions and providing consumers with the support they need to change their habits. Last November, Casino installed an aromatic herb greenhouse in one of its supermarkets. Instead of picking up pre-packaged herbs, the customer takes a number and an assistant collects their bouquet of fresh herbs thus reducing unnecessary packaging and giving the consumer control over how much they buy.

Will veganism save the world?

Intermarché is experimenting with "Moche", a line of good but ugly fruit and vegetables that are saved from the rubbish bins. In doing so they have developed a great marketing tool and raised awareness about food waste. And on a strategic level Whole Foods has supported the Global Animal Partnership programme which establishes the 5 parameters of animal welfare and provides certification to those who respect them.

Will veganism save the world?

In Italy according to a survey by the Osservatorio Giovani (Istituto Giuseppe Toniolo) 80% of the respondents say they are ready to change their habits to limit their personal environmental footprint and are willing to reduce food waste whilst in the UK and US, 96% of people feel their own actions, such as donating, recycling or buying ethically, can make a difference according to research by Futerra.

Any positive environmental action, if well communicated, can produce good results for companies as well as for Mother Nature. The future is not certain but if we are committed to improving it for subsequent generations then we need to all play our part in affecting meaningful change now.

This article originally appeared in Mark Up Magazine and features an illustration by Ahmad Qatato, Designer - FutureBrand Milan.