National week without meat – Why joining makes a difference

 In GiantLeaps

This week is the Dutch ‘National week without meat’. An initiative to get as many people as possible to go without consuming meat (and fish) for a week. Stakeholders from different platforms have joined forces. Restaurants offer a special vegetarian menu, plant-based meat replacements are on offer in many supermarkets and caterers and companies have pledged to only serve vegetarian meals to their employees for a week. At the beginning of the week, over 28000 people signed up to join. Amongst them actors, athletes and influencers.

Eating more plant-based products and less animal products is one of the main drivers of climate friendly diets. At GiantLeaps we are often asked why this is a driver with such a great impact on climate change.

The most common way to measure the climate impact of any product is through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). With these assessments all stages in the life cycle of a product are researched to identify emissions to the environment. The impact on climate change is expressed in CO2-equivalent. This is a unit for which the effect of all greenhouse gases (like methane, nitrous oxide) are converted to the amount of CO2 needed to have the same impact. For example, a kg of methane has the same impact as 25 kg CO2 and therefore has a climate impact of 25 CO2-equivalent.

Looking at the life cycle for plant-based products up to delivery to the store where you purchase them, the life cycle is relatively simple. As depicted below, the simplified stages are; land preparation, seed production, growing of crops and plants, harvest, processing, transportation, retail.

infographic Life Cycle Assessment plant-based product

For animal products the simplified stages of the life cycle are; land preparation, feed production, animal husbandry, processing, transport and retail. The first main reason for animal products having a greater impact on the climate is that the entire life cycle of plant-based products needs to be run several times to complete the animal life cycle once. The stage of ‘feed production’ is in fact the entire life cycle of plant-based products as pictured above. It takes up to 20 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of beef.

infographic Life Cycle Assessment animal products

The second reason for animal products having a bigger climate impact comes from the animal husbandry stage. Animals produce greenhouse gases through their digestive systems. Especially ruminants have a big impact, since they produce methane. A greenhouse gas with a climate impact that is 25 times higher than CO2.

So, what is actually the amount of CO2-equivalents saved when going meatless for a week? First of all, this greatly depends on what your regular habits are. If you normally eat beef every day of the week, the benefits will be much higher than if you eat chicken every other day. If you eat about 175 grams of meat every day, equally divided over the categories chicken, beef and pork, going meatless for a week will save about 17.5 kg CO2-equivalent. That is the equivalent of driving 70 kilometers. If all 28000 participants stick to their pledge, the savings will be almost 50 ton CO2-equivalent. The same as driving around the equator 870 times.

Did you forget to sign up, or only hear about this challenge today? Never mind, if you start your week now and keep it up for seven days, your impact will be exactly the same.

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