How big is dog food’s carbon pawprint?
August 10, 2019
Since the public became aware of single-use plastic poisoning soils and choking waterways, wildlife, riverine and marine animals, many have started asking how they can better protect the earth that supports us and our pets.
From the way you drive to the food you eat, there are literally thousands of things you can do to reduce your negative impact on the environment.
Maybe you are cycling to work on Fridays to reduce your use of fossil fuels. Or trying Meat Free Mondays to reduce your global ecological footprint. Maybe you’ve wondered about pet food, which has a carbon “paw” print of its own.
Let’s unpack that. Commercial dog foods are generally 20% – 40% protein, The Conversation explains, and cat food 30% – 60%. “Meat-based diets for humans and animals alike,” they continue, “have much larger ecological footprints than plant-based diets, because it takes lots of land, water and food to feed pigs, cows, sheep, poultry and farmed fish.”
The good news is that pet food companies across the planet are thinking about it, too.
They understand that “making our pet food sustainably today is critical to ensuring people and pets share a healthy world tomorrow.” That’s Nina Leigh Krueger, President of Nestlé Purina PetCare in the United States.
Swanson, Carter et al point out in a paper on the Nutritional Sustainability of Pet Foods (12) that pet food brands can do this by lowering the negative impact of “product design, manufacturing processes, public education, and policy change. A coordinated effort across the industry that includes ingredient buyers, formulators, and nutritionists may result in a more sustainable pet food system.”
Sound like a mouthful? Here are a few ways you can check if the pet food brand you’re using makes the grade on sustainability as well as nutritional goodness for your pet.
Checklist: is your pet food brand protecting the future? Yes, if it:
- treats water with respect. There’s a limited amount of drinkable water on earth, and many do not have enough. “Water scarcity affects 40 percent of people around the world, and that percentage will only rise,” says Mars, which owns Royal Canin. Responsible brands practise water stewardship – reducing overall consumption and reusing waste wherever possible. It’s important to pick a supplier that is hyperconscious about the water consumption in their production process.
- creates less waste. We’re talking about the production process again, but also the packaging. Colgate Palmolive, which owns Hills Pet Food, “Colgate has reduced the amount of waste per ton of production sent to landfills by nearly 41% since 2010”. Ideally, you want a brand that produces zero waste, which means they reduce waste, or repurpose any excess materials and energy. Think reusable or recyclable packaging.
- has a long-term vision. There is no quick fix for sustainability. The human population continues to rise, and this means that natural resources are increasingly strained. A company that wants to continue operating in the uncertainty of climate change needs to improve its operations and policies over an extended period to ensure its efforts have a lasting positive effect. Look for brands that have thought about their ecological impact beyond 2050.
- chooses eco-friendly suppliers. It’s great for a brand to have products and processes that consider the environment, but what about the elements and ingredients that make up those products and processes? There’s no skip with nature – every action has an impact. If the raw materials a company is using aren’t mined responsibly, or the energy it’s buying to run the factory isn’t produced renewably, this adds to the negative impact the pet food your dog or cat has. A brand with a long-term vision and intent to reach zero waste and treat natural resources with respect will also engage the services of third parties and suppliers who do the same. Look for brands who use suppliers that “preserve soil and promote clean water, biodiversity and other factors that create healthy ingredients and a healthy ecosystem” suggests Nina from Purina. It’s a win-win for everybody – planet, pets, and people! 😊
The more of these sustainable practices a company commits to, the better for you, your pet, and the future. Armed with these insights, you can explore your favourite pet food brands with a new lens and make more informed purchase choices for your pets and our planet. It’s all about balancing nutritional needs, quality and impact and, as a consumer, it’s cool to know that supporting companies who prioritise climate progress alongside your pet’s well-being can change the world for the better.
Curious about dog food that treats certain conditions? Us too. Check out this article on medicine in a meal. If you’ve got an older dog, s/he might need a change in diet, not less food. Tap here for our blog about optimal diets for senior dogs.
 Swanson, Kelly & Carter, Rebecca & P Yount, Tracy & Aretz, Jan & Buff, Preston. (2013). Nutritional Sustainability of Pet Foods12. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.). 4. 141-150. 10.3945/an.112.003335.
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