Live Sustainably: Eat Less Beef

Cow eating hay

Growing healthy cattle requires a great deal of energy, water, and space.

Processing, preparing, and keeping the beef fresh until it gets to our kitchens requires even more on top of that.

From calving to plate, beef is responsible for:

  • 5 to 10 times the greenhouse gas emissions of other meats
  • 160 times the land use required for potatoes, wheat, and rice
  • 11 times the water use needed to raise chicken and pork, and is often produced in areas where land and water are already sensitive to use

Americans eat a lot of beef (but less than they once did)

Beef carbon footprint resource use graph
Data Source: Eshel et al, PNAS, 2014 (figure by D. Brown)

For a typical American, eating beef-related products accounts for about half of the carbon emissions from our diet, and about 8-12% of our total carbon emissions as a consumer.

For other reasons, Americans are eating about 20% less beef than they were in 2005. That reduction has had roughly the equivalent pollution-saving benefit of taking 39 million cars off the road.

What about locally-raised, grass-fed, organic, free-range beef?

The answer is that, even after adding up all the most sustainable beef production practices, it's only about 30% better than typical USDA beef in a grocery store. It's still far more of a burden than just about any other major protein source, and truly sustainable beef is hard for most people to acquire.

But if you are going to eat beef, it’s better to seek locally-raised beef.

A meaningful step every person can take to fight climate change

Passing on your favorite burger can seem like a sacrifice. But this is a real opportunity to do something meaningful to reduce your carbon footprint! There are no costs involved, and it can actually save money.

Plus, it's one of the few high-impact actions every family can take to fight climate change and improve the overall health of sensitive ecosystems for future generations.