Earth Day Sustainability Challenge: Week 1

Did you know that producing just 2.2 pounds of beef emits the same amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which contribute to climate change as driving 64 miles in an average passenger car? The production of meat, beef, in particular, takes many natural resources and other inputs including energy, land, and water. For these reasons, the first week of The Sustainability Co-Op’s Earth Day Challenge will focus on meat consumption.

Beef is the biggest culprit when it comes to its impact on the environment. Much land gets converted for cattle ranching purposes as well as to produce the feed for cattle (about 60 percent of areas deforested in the Amazon are to feed and raise cattle). This not only results in a loss of biodiversity, but contributes to climate change since forests are key to keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Cows also emit methane, a potent GHG that has a global-warming potential higher than that of carbon dioxide, through a process called enteric fermentation (or in other words, cow burps). What’s more is that the production of beef is also very water intensive: around 850 gallons of water– or 34 ten-minute showers—  is needed to produce an eight-ounce steak.

This week we challenge you to cut down on your meat. Try avoid eating meat this Monday (you can participate in the Meatless Monday campaign), and Thursday. If you can do more, go for it! But don’t do more than you can handle– think about this being the start of a lasting habit. Will you be able to do the same thing next week?  How about for the next month? If not, maybe rethink and tweak your plans for eating meat this week to ensure and reflect what you would be able to commit yourself to doing in the future. You can always “one up it”, adding more meatless days once you feel ready.

If you are worried about being creative when it comes to meatless dishes, there are many resources to help you with coming up with delicious plates with no meat (check out the Minimalist Baker, for instance). Don’t eat a lot of meat as it is?  You can still participate in the challenge by cutting down on your cheese this week. Cheese is also on the list of foods with higher GHG footprints (producing 2.2 pounds of cheese emits the same amount of GHGs as driving 32.1 miles).

Cutting down on meat consumption can have a substantial effect on our environmental footprint. Americans especially consume a lot of meat (more than three times the global average), although over the past decade American consumption of meat has dropped 10% (Nice!). According to EWG, if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, over a year it would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road.

If your four-person family skips steak once a week, it’s like taking your car off the road for nearly three months.

If you want to learn more about the carbon footprint of the food you eat, check out EWG’s Meat Eater’s Guide to see what other products are GHG-intensive or our own post “Things Everyone Should Know About Agriculture, Cattle, & Emissions.”

If you are planning on participating in the Sustainability Challenge, we want to know! Share with us your pictures and stories via comments on this post or through Twitter and Instagram, tagging us (@sustain_cooptve on Twitter and @sustainability_cooperative on Instagram) and including #SustainabilityChallenge or #SustainabilityMadeSimple.

Also, keep an eye out for next Sunday’s Sustainability Challenge! On top of cutting back on your meat, we will add another tip that we encourage you to try to implement in your own lives for a more sustainable and healthy life!

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