Is Veganuary Good for the Environment?
Updated: Nov 7
What is Veganuary?
Veganuary is an annual challenge run by a UK nonprofit organisation that promotes and educates about veganism by encouraging people to follow a vegan lifestyle for the month of January. Since the event began in 2014, participation has increased each year. In 2023, they had 700,000 people sign up.
Veganuary describes its mission as “January encourages and supports people and businesses alike to move to a plant-based diet as a way of protecting the environment, preventing animal suffering, and improving the health of millions of people.”
What is Veganism?
So Veganuary is a month-long campaign… but what is being vegan?
Vegans do not eat animals or animal-based products like meat, fish, seafood, eggs, honey and dairy products such as cheese. People follow a vegan diet for many reasons - personal health, animal well-being or minimising environmental impact.
Why Do Veganuary
There are three main reasons that people chose to do Veganuary. These are:
- to reduce the impact on our planet,
- to better protect animals,
- to improve their health.
In 2021, 21% of people people who participated in Veganuary listed their primary reason being its environmental benefits, 46% of participants said it was the protection of animals, and 22% said it was for health reasons.
The impacts of global warming are starting to be seen more now than ever. Extreme weather conditions and diminishing habitats are just some of the things coming to the worlds attention. As more information about the impact of meat emerges, people are increasingly choosing to leave it off their plates and opt for more environmentally conscious diets.
The dairy industry is widely known to have some awful consequences on the environment. Cows produce Methane. This is a powerful climate-altering gas, which over 20 years is 84 times as warming as CO2. The United Nations states that methane has a much higher warming potential than C02 and that its atmospheric volumes are continuously replenished making effective methane management a potentially important element in countries’ climate change mitigation strategies.
With 60% of global methane emissions coming from human activities and 27% of this coming from animal agriculture it is clear why lots of people chose this as a motivator for participating in Veganuary.
It is not only the methane that they produce which is the problem with dairy cows. The second problem is that there are just so many of them. There are 270 million cows who have been bred into existence for their milk. Because of methane emissions and other climate-destroying processes, the 13 largest dairy firms in the world have been found to have the same combined greenhouse gas emissions as the whole of the United Kingdom.
As of 2018, there are only 13% of the world's oceans that can be classed as "wilderness", or areas that haven't been negatively impacted by human activity.
Scientists at the Wildlife Conservation Society have declared that fishing, as well as run-off waste and chemicals from industrial farms, are the two most significant ways in which humans are negatively impacting ocean ecosystems. These harmful activities coupled with the influx of plastic pollution (46 per cent of which comes from fishing nets) are disrupting ocean life and, in turn, depleting ocean resources.
Since the 1960s, dead zones in the oceans have doubled every decade. This is because the levels of algal blooms in the ocean (caused by run-off animal waste and fertilizers from industrial farms pollute our rivers and, subsequently, our coastal waters). The algal blooms suck so much oxygen out of the water that everything within that area has no choice but to flee or die.
Not contributing to this for an entire month is, therefore, a great way to help the environment.
One of the biggest problems with agriculture is the amount of land which it uses. This is not only for the animals themselves, but the land used to grow the food which they eat. Animals eat a lot more calories than they return with their meat, milk or eggs.
While the number of farm animals continues to rise with demand, the amount of farmland does not. Research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.
Tips On How to Start
Going vegan can seem daunting - so we’ve put together our top three tips on where to start.
1. Take it slow.
Like any other lifestyle change, going vegan not only takes getting used to, but it takes time to determine what will work best for you.
You could start by removing meat or dairy one day a week and go from there. Or you could try changing one meal at a time, having vegan breakfasts during your first week, adding a vegan lunch during week two and so on. You could even try changing one product at a time by swapping cow's milk for almond or soya milk, or butter for coconut oil or margarine.
2. Try new things.
Becoming vegan will not only provide more opportunities to try new fruits and vegetables but also the chance to try meat alternatives. Treat your taste buds to new foods and new flavours.
3. Get to know your vegan substitutes.
There is now a huge variety of different vegan substitutes. Whether you are looking for milk, cheese, sausages or even your favourite takeaway - there are so many options. Finding and knowing these options could make it easier to recreate your favourite meals… without the meat!
It is all Good?
A Vegan diet also often promotes foods such as Avocados, mushrooms, almonds and cashew nuts.
Avocados are a staple in many vegan recipes - but they also guzzle up huge amounts of water. A single mature tree in California, for example, needs up to 209 litres every day in the summer. This is a huge amount in the dry summer months in water-stressed regions such as California, where many commercial avocado crops are grown, and puts huge pressure on the local environment.
Mushrooms are also a staple in many vegan diets, however, the common button, chestnut and portobello mushrooms emit up to nearly 3kg of CO2 /kg of mushroom product. Most of the emissions come from the energy needed to keep the rooms where mushrooms are cultivated warm.
Finally, there are almonds and cashew nuts. These nuts are not only commonly consumed in veganism for their nutrients, but they are also used to make products such as dairy alternative milk. These nuts are some of the most water-intensive large-scale crops grown on the planet. Tree nuts consume 4,134 litres of fresh water for every kg of shelled nuts that we purchase. They also need comparatively large amounts of pesticide and fertiliser, which makes their environmental impact disproportionately large.
Here at ZeroSmart, we see Veganaury as a good thing. Eating a vegan diet could be the “single biggest way” to reduce your environmental impact on the earth, a new study suggests. Cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual's food carbon footprint by up to 73 per cent.
By going vegan for a month, you would not only save 30 animal lives, but also 620 pounds of harmful carbon dioxide emissions, 913 square feet of forest, and 33,481 gallons of water. Reports have shown that consumption of dairy, as well as meat, must be reduced significantly in rich nations to tackle the climate emergency.
What do you think of Veganuary? Have you done it? Will you do it next year?
If you enjoyed this article on Veganuary, check out our blog on the best vegan documentaries and where to watch them.