Dogs improve our lives in countless, invaluable ways. Whether you’re in need of a cuddle on the couch or a stroll in the park, our canine companions take the title of “man’s best friend” seriously. In fact, numerous studies have shown that sharing your life with a dog can have positive impacts on both your mental and physical health.
However, there is one significant downside to modern pet parenting. To the surprise of many well-meaning animal lovers, dogs create a considerable carbon footprint (or, ahem, pawprint). As carnivores, their meat-centric diet requires large amounts of land, energy, and water to produce — and, in turn, greenhouse gases.
As eco-savvy pet parents know, there are some carbon-conscious changes you can safely make to your dog’s diet. But in all likelihood, meat — and its significant environmental impact — will still be on the daily menu.
"Decreasing meat consumption is difficult to achieve and maintain our pets' appropriate nutrition needs," says Dr. Michelle Burch, DVM. "Dogs are omnivores, needing both meat and plants to maintain vital health."
So, what’s a concerned pet parent to do? To take care of the environment while taking care of your pup, consider offsetting your own carbon footprint.your own carbon footprint.
Carbon Footprints: Dogs vs. Humans
When it comes to carbon emissions, dogs put up some big numbers. According to a study by Pim Martens, Professor of Sustainable Development at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, the average carnivorous pup will contribute between 4-19 metric tons of greenhouse gases over the course of their lifetime.
“If you have a cat or a dog, you need to realize that it has an impact,” says Martens. “A lot of the sustainability issues we face, a lot of climate change and biodiversity loss, I think it's a matter of people not being aware of it.”
However, as humans, our own carbon output is more problematic. Each and every year, the average global citizen contributes four metric tons of greenhouse gases, while the average American adds a whopping 20 metric tons annually**.**
So no, we can’t feed our dogs sprouts and kale. But most of us can find ways to scale back our own carbon output. One of the easiest ways to make a big difference? Traveling smarter.
Carbon Cost Comparison: One Flight from New York to Cleveland
First, let’s start with the numbers:
10 metric tons = Roughly, the average lifetime greenhouse gas emissions from an average-sized dog consuming a meat-based diet
10 metric tons = The amount of co2 emissions created by a commercial aircraft traveling between New York City and Cleveland, Ohio
While dogs may have meat-heavy diets, their carbon pawprints are fairly low compared to the travel habits of airborne humans. An alarming study on the aviation industry found that by 2050, air travel could account for 25% of the world’s “carbon budget.”
To offset your pet’s environmental impact, consider making the following changes when traveling by plane:
If it’s nearby, don’t fly: In general, charter buses and trains are the most eco-friendly modes of travel. When possible, take the extra time and save some co2.
Book nonstop flights: Nonstop flights may be pricier, but by taking the most direct route between two points, they require less fuel.
Forgo first class: Luxurious sleeping pods (and even roomier chairs) take up significantly more space than economy seats, creating a larger carbon footprint.
Pack light: More luggage means more fuel! Limit yourself to a carry-on when possible.
Carbon Cost Comparison: 5 Round-Trip Drives from NYC to LA
Again, to put our pets’ pawprints in perspective, let’s take a look at the numbers:
10 metric tons = Roughly, the average lifetime greenhouse gas emissions from an average sized dog consuming a meat-based diet
10 metric tons = The amount of co2 emissions created by 5 round-trip drives from New York City to Los Angeles
In the United States, motor vehicles cause 75% of carbon monoxide pollution, according to the EPA. Even if you rely on a car for daily transportation, you can still significantly lower your carbon footprint and offset your pet’s contribution. Consider the following tips:
Limit small trips: Starting your car’s engine generates harmful emissions, especially during cold weather. To limit your pollution, try to combine small errands into one larger trip.
Maintain your vehicle: Regular maintenance, oil changes, and servicing can improve your car’s emissions and gas mileage.
Check your tires: Keeping your tires inflated to the ideal pressure for your vehicle will optimize your gas mileage.
Lighten up: Lighter cars use less fuel. When purchasing a car, opt for the smallest vehicle that suits your needs. Avoid storing heavy objects in your trunk, and skip the weighty roof rack if you don’t regularly need it.
Work from home: The average one-way commute for American workers is almost 27 minutes, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Working from home even one day a week can add up.
Why Carbon Offsets Are So Important
Like most pursuits, pet parenting requires some compromises. To feed your four-legged family member a healthy, species-appropriate diet, you’ll have to accept a certain amount of negative environmental impact. Although there are steps you can take to optimize your dog’s diet — including feeding appropriate portions and switching to lower-impact proteins, such as chicken — meat is all but unavoidable for most pets.
That’s why carbon offsets are so important. By examining and refining your own consumption habits, you can “make up” for your dog food’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Healthy pet, healthier planet — as animal lovers, that’s what we call a win-win.