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Researchers query category’s sustainability performance

Plant-based alternatives are often surrounded by a sustainability halo, which can lead to a higher willingness to pay.

However, without a defined toolset of sustainability indicators to assess the category’s sustainability performance, researchers in Scandinavia are querying whether plant-based alternatives are, in fact, more sustainable.

In a new systematic scoping review, published in Nature Food​, a team from Stockholm University and the University of Copenhagen has split up the performance of plant-based alternatives into three categories: environmental, nutritional, and socio-economic performance. The results are in.

Are plant-based alternatives more environmentally sustainable?

In short, yes. The researchers examined ample assessments of environmental impact factors, determining that plant-based alternatives tend to have a lower environmental impact than conventional animal-based products.

In general, they are associated with less CO2 equivalent, less water use, and less land use, as well as lower ecotoxicity, acidification, and eutrophication potential.

There were some exceptions, however. One life cycle assessment, for example, found that almond milk is more water-intense than dairy milk and has a higher environmental footprint in general when assessed on a cradle to consumer system boundary assumption.

Two studies found that the production of plant-based dairy alternatives has a higher energy demand than conventional dairy.

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