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Coconut, Almond, Soy or Dairy: How Sustainable is your Milk?

Posted on by Alisa Fleming in News, Nutrition Headlines with 10 Comments

Alisa Fleming ~ I receive many inquiries about ‘which milk alternative is the most nutritious’ and ‘how do they stack up to dairy?’ In reality, these questions are very subjective and depend on how the individual defines healthy and what nutrients they need from their milk. But, there are things that we can quantitatively measure, and that make an impact on our health from the outside in, such as the environmental effects of the milk we drink. I recently stumbled upon the So Kind Culture and quickly realized that choosing the most sustainable milk is about far more than organic vs non-organic.

Choosing the Most Sustainable Milk or Milk Alternative

The chart above is from So Delicious Dairy Free (they also offer a more detailed breakdown of environmental impact in a chart by category), and it shows at a glance why coconut and almonds are the new darlings of the dairy-free and vegan industry. The carbon footprint is calculated with respect to the food production. How abundant is the product in nature and how quickly does it regenerate? What and how many resources are used up to produce it and what pollutants are emitted? How difficult is it to harvest and what is involved in its transport? With these factors alone, it does become evident that non-dairy vegan varieties are a more sustainable milk choice than dairy.

But this is purely a food calculation. It doesn’t even begin to take into account how each manufacturer addresses sustainability. The companies that are producing this sustainable milk can take environmental conservation even further and in ways that I never imagined. Here are just some examples from the So Kind Culture at So Delicious:

Choosing the Most Sustainable Milk or Milk Alternative

Water Conservation: Producing sustainable milk does use up water, whether in the production process or in the product itself. Fortunately, companies are able to help restore this precious resource as they go through special initiatives. For example, So Delicious is working with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) for water conservation. Through their program, they have annually kept 10 million gallons of water in stream in Oregon’s critically dewatered Middle Deschutes River.

“Greening” the Staff: How a company nurtures their staff and maintains their offices also has a huge impact on the environment. These are some really cool ways that So Delicious is fostering a lower carbon footprint with their employees:

  • Running an office still involves resources, but using 100% recycled paper products, biodegradable cleaners and soaps, energy-efficient lighting, low-flow water fixtures, and rechargeable batteries, and keeping a good recycling program makes a difference.
  • An Alternative Commuting Program rewards employees for taking alternative forms of transportation by collecting and redeeming points for each mile traveled, whether it’s by bike, bus, or carpool. The company allows staff to redeem points for gift certificates at sustainable businesses in the local community.
  • An employment “perk” involves offering employees free upgrades for light bulbs and water-saving devices in their own homes!

Choosing Organic Ingredients: Not all almonds and coconuts are organic or even sustainably harvested, and there is also the issue of additional ingredients added to the milk, from sweeteners to cocoa. Choose a sustainable milk where the primary ingredient is organic, non-GMO, and/or responsibly harvested. Likewise, some type of sugar is often the second ingredient in flavorful milks – companies like So Delicious opt for organic sweeteners.

Low-Impact Packaging: Merging form, function, and sustainability is no easy feat. Not to mention, more packaging is involved than simply what we see on the shelves – there is ingredient packaging, shipment boxes, and packaging to protect the packages in shipment. Companies like So Delicious are continuously looking for ways to make packaging more efficient and increase the potential for sustainable milk. This involves redesigning to do away with unnecessary packaging, using 100% recycled packaging, and selecting product packaging that can in turn be recycled.

In the end, vegans and dairy-free consumers can take heart in knowing that they are supporting more sustainable milk, but looking beyond the milk alternative itself, to the practices of the company producing the product, can have an even more positive effect on the environment.

Choosing the most Sustainable Milk (Vegan / Dairy-Free or Dairy)

Want a discount on non-dairy milk? Click here for a So Delicious Coupon

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About Alisa Fleming

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, Senior Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

View all posts by Alisa Fleming →

Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living

10 Comments

  1. KatieFebruary 4, 2013 at 11:44 amReply

    You know I LOVE this post! I wish I had had this chart last semester for my Bio of Foog and Agriculture class! Ah well, bookmarked for next year!

  2. AltaFebruary 4, 2013 at 12:28 pmReply

    Interesting comparisons! So what I really wonder – how does this change if one makes their own coconut or almond milk? Hmm… :)

  3. RickiFebruary 4, 2013 at 1:02 pmReply

    Fascinating! Thanks so much for the info, Alisa. I feel even better about my milk choices now. :)

  4. Hallie @ Daily BitesFebruary 4, 2013 at 2:20 pmReply

    Really interesting stuff, Alisa. Thanks for taking the time to point these things out. It really is so important to consider where our food comes from.

  5. ColetteFebruary 5, 2013 at 6:30 amReply

    Wow — fascinating! I wonder where hemp fits on the sustainability chart…

    • Alisa FlemingFebruary 5, 2013 at 7:11 amReplyAuthor

      That’s a good question Colette! I’m thinking it ranks as pretty darn sustainable :)

  6. MaggieFebruary 6, 2013 at 9:23 amReply

    Fascinating! I do think about this a lot with the foods we eat. Sometimes it’s hard to eat local and consider sustainable practices with the expectations I have for the food that goes into our body! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Amy @ Simply Sugar & Gluten-FreeFebruary 13, 2013 at 5:57 pmReply

    I had no idea!! It’s so amazing…and I am kind of proud to say that I’m a coconut milk fan. Great post!

  8. Dairy-Free Industry Gains Popularity, Siphons Share of the Milk MarketMarch 27, 2014 at 5:40 pmReply

    […] People are becoming more aware of their ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT. Many consumers are picking dairy-free specifically to reduce their personal impact on the earth. For concerns about dairy milk, milk alternatives, and the environment, see this article: How Sustainable is your Milk? […]

  9. Nutritious Creamy Vegan Pasta Primavera Recipe - Go Dairy FreeApril 22, 2014 at 9:21 amReply

    […] Coconut, Almond, Soy or Dairy: How Sustainable is your Milk? […]

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