Sustainability: who cares and what matters?

By September 13, 2022ISDose

Sustainability: who cares and what matters?

Sustainability questions remain front-and-centre for business, but new studies shed light on both the ways in which we underestimate the popularity of such measures and the effectiveness of an increasingly popular, pragmatic response: plant-based meat.

Why it matters

The climate crisis is a huge problem, but it remains politically contentious even if the reality is far less fraught. Doubts have always played a big part in halting action.

This is a major conversation in advertising as brands weigh whether talking about climate credentials (and hopefully spurring action through acting on them) is the right thing to do.

Well, here are a couple of stats we think might help you out.

What people think

Americans tend to think that climate action is unpopular, even if they support it.

In an interesting study published in Nature Communications, researchers looked at what people think other people think about climate change, by asking respondents to judge the public popularity of legislative measures, including the Green New Deal or Carbon, to tackle the crisis.

Across the 6,000 respondents, most believed that only a minority of Americans (37%-43%) want action, in contrast to the between 66% and 80% of that actually do want action.

The trouble is that “People conform to their perception of social norms, even when those perceptions are wrong,” explains Gregg Sparkman, professor of psychology at Boston College, speaking to Grist, which reported the study. This, he adds, can result in a “spiral of silence”, in which people limit what they express based on their understanding of social norms – even if that understanding is incorrect. This should also go for mentions of climate in advertising – it’s more popular than you think.

The effectiveness of commercial actions

The conversation around plant-based meat comes from a noble aim pragmatically addressed: rather than convincing the world (including developing countries that are only just starting to eat meat at a regular frequency like the West has done for decades) to go vegetarian or vegan, we may do better to replace meat while keeping its prestige.

But the methods that companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat use to build plant-based meats from the protein-up require a huge amount of processing. But how much?

While both Impossible and Beyond have done their own studies (just 11% and 10% of emissions versus animal meat, respectively), some independent research is emerging.

Ars Technica reports that Johns Hopkins University researchers have brought together a literature review of the (relatively few) available published reports which have found that plant-based meats emit just a fraction of the gas for the same amount of protein:

  • 7% of the emissions required to produce beef
  • 57% of the emissions to produce pork
  • 37% of the emissions to produce chicken.

There were also significant water savings:

  • 23% that of beef
  • 11% that of pork
  • 24% that of chicken

And land savings (vital if we’re ever to reclaim the huge swath of carbon-capturing forest we’ve already lost):

  • 2% that of beef
  • 18% that of pork
  • 23% that of chicken

In addition, plant-based milks – often questioned for their water use – are also far better:

  • Soy milk uses just 7% of the land and 4% of the water of animal milk prodution while emitting under a third of greenhouse gasses.
  • Oat milk uses just 8% of the land and water and just 29% of greenhouse gases.

Almond milk is more troublesome. While it uses just 59% of the water it takes to farm animal milk, if you start comparing equivalent amount of protein, it uses more water and emits more gas.


Author Name:  Grist, Ars Technica

This article first appeared in

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