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


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

About Author

Alisa is the founder of, Food 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, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.


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  2. Also, for dairy cows to lactate they need to calve – the calf is taken within 5 days – these calves are called Bobby Calves and are slaughtered ….. Blood and bone or veal ….. In Australia half million are calves are “wasted” each year …. All adds to water, energy and increases carbon footprint to the above numbers, but the current methods of dairy farming is mass production with no consideration to the death of many Ynot animals … Buy dairy milk from a life sustainable farm – costs more – product is rare – I am trying all the milks in the article and even a mix

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  6. 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.

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