What You Eat Matters


Believe it or not, your daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner choices have a significant impact on your carbon footprint. Your food footprint (or “foodprint”) is a measure of all the CO2 emissions resulting from food production, transportation, and storage. Because the majority of food lifecycle emissions are created during production, altering your eating habits can be one of the most effective ways to shrink your foodprint. 

Reducing your consumption of beef, lamb, and dairy will have the most substantial impact on your foodprint due to their high carbon intensity. Ruminant mammals like cows, sheep, and goats emit large quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Producing all this meat and dairy also often requires pesticides and fertilizers, both of which use significant amounts of energy. Petroleum-based fertilizers are especially harmful because they emit high quantities of nitrous oxide, a gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

  • All meats are not created equal: The average pound of beef consumed in the United States is responsible for 20 pounds of carbon emissions while a pound of chicken is responsible for less than two. Dropping red meat one day per week would reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as consuming only locally-grown products for an entire week.
  • Limit your dairy consumption: Cheese generates the third-highest emissions after beef and lamb. Skipping dairy two days a week and you will see health benefits (animal fats are closely correlated to obesity, diabetes and many forms of cancer), but you’ll also avoid 27.2 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions for every 2.2 pounds not eaten. 
  • Eat more vegetables: A vegetarian’s foodprint is about two thirds that of the average American and less than half that of a meat lover. For a vegan it is even lower. According to the Environmental Working Group’s calculations, if everyone in the US followed a vegetarian diet it would be equivalent to taking 46 million cars off the road or not driving 555 billion miles. Going meatless every Monday for a year is equal to taking your car off the road for 320 miles or line-drying your clothes half of the time.

Graph showing sample diet foodprints in tCO2e/capita