1 Feb 2019

Environmental benefits of eating less meat

Analysis for National Week Without Meat

The National Week Without Meat (Nationale Week Zonder Vlees) was held for the first time last year (2018) in the Netherlands. The next event is planned for 11–17 March this year. The aim of National Week Without Meat is to promote a flexitarian (semi-vegetarian) diet so that the Dutch eat less meat and fish and more vegetarian dishes. Participants are encouraged to try out vegetarian meals. The idea is to make people more aware of the positive impact of eating less meat and show how easy it is to go without meat (and fish) for a day. For the National Week Without Meat, Blonk Consultants made a quantitative assessment of the environmental benefits of eating less meat. The National Week Without Meat was initiated by Isabel Boerdam, author of the book De Hippe Vegetariër (The Hip Vegetarian). It is supported by organisations such as the Green Protein Alliance and numerous companies.

Environmental impact of our dietary pattern

The National Week Without Meat aims to show that eating less meat can ease the environmental burden of our dietary pattern. To demonstrate this, the organisation behind the initiative (a foundation) asked Blonk Consultants to quantify the reduction in environmental impact of eating less meat. We used the life cycle assessment method to calculate this reduction in impact.

A participant in the National Week Without Meat who eats no meat for a week without eating other products to compensate for the meat cuts out 13.3 kg CO2 equivalents, which is the same as a car journey of more than 75 kilometres, and saves more than 130 litres of water and almost 9 square metres of land use. .

Replacing meat

We also looked at the impact of replacing meat with products advised by the Netherlands Nutrition Centre, such as eggs, tofu, meat substitutes, nuts and pulses. In these cases the reductions in the carbon footprint and land use impact are lower. The climate change reduction is 10.2 kg CO2 equivalents, or a car journey of 58.1 kilometres, and the reduction in land use impact is 5.8 square metres. Water use is actually increased (142.3 litres), due to the high water inputs in the cultivation of nuts. .

Large scale reduction in meat consumption

The National Week Without Meat aims to inspire a large proportion of the Dutch population to eat less meat. What is the reduction in environmental impact if one person eats no meat on one day of the week for a whole year? The reduction in climate change impact is 98.7 kg CO2 equivalents, or a journey in an average car of more than 560 kilometres. The reduction in land use impact is more than 66 square metres and the reduction in water use is almost 970 litres. Of course, these savings would be lower if the meat is replaced with products such as eggs, tofu, meat substitutes or nuts.

It should be noted that if a very large group of consumers replace meat in their diet with alternative products, this may result in changes to the life cycles of these products and the way nutrients are consumed. More extensive calculations would then be needed to determine the final environmental impact, taking account of various efficiency and substitution effects.

Read more about the analysis and the literature consulted in the full report (in Dutch).

More information

If you have any questions about this study or the environmental impact of meat or meat substitutes, contact Megan Jason at megan@blonksustainability.nl or call +31 (0)182 579970.