Veganuary has reached its target of 350,000 participants all eschewing animal products for one month.
Some people do it for their health, others for animals, but increasingly people are quitting animal products to help protect the planet.
We asked Joseph Poore from Oxford University to crunch some numbers for us based on 350,000 people taking part. We asked him what impact our participants would have on the climate, on pollution and water usage.
In terms of the climate, Poore calculated that all those people switching to a vegan diet for 31 days would save 41,200 tonnes of CO2eq – according to the Guardian’s online carbon calculator that’s the same as 450,000 flights from London to Berlin. Pretty impressive, but it really should not come as a surprise.
The impact of animal agriculture on climate change has increasingly come under the spotlight, and changing our diets is probably the easiest – and definitely the fastest – way to bring down our own personal emissions.
The World Wildlife Fund’s Footprint Calculator is a very useful tool for working out whether we stray over our own personal carbon budget. And what it shows is that, without addressing diet, it is very difficult not to over-spend.
Animal agriculture has a profound effect on both water quality and water usage. Poore calculated that by not eating animals for one month, our 350,000 participants could spare 160 tonnes of PO43-eq (eutrophication) from waterways, which has the same impact as preventing 650 tonnes of sewage from entering our waterways.
Animal agriculture is a thirsty business, and water is becoming increasingly scarce. In the spring of 2019, the head of the Environment Agency warned that within 25 years, England won’t have enough water to meet demand. He said he wanted to see wasting water become "as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby".
However, in his list of actions we can take to save water, there was no mention of diet. Poore, however, calculated that our 350,000 participants would spare 2.5 million litres of water, which is enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
The number of animals raised and killed for human food is astronomical, and the smaller the animals, the bigger the number of lives sacrificed.
Veganuary’s participants in 2020 could spare one million animals just during that one month.
Of course, it would not save the animals in farms or slaughterhouse today, but their actions will have a knock-on effect. Fewer animals will be bred, reared and slaughtered as demand drops.
Already, beef and pork sales are plummeting, and The Times recently reported that 3.6 million fewer animals were eaten in the first six months of 2019. Encouragingly, the sale of vegan foods is rising.
But what about when Veganuary is over? Do all those participants return to their old meat-centric habits? They do not.
A new Kantar study commissioned by Veganuary shows that people who cut out animal products for January 2019 maintained reduced consumption levels until at least July 2019.
Veganuary’s own survey suggests that around half of all respondents plan to remain vegan after the end of the month, but for those who do not plan to stay vegan, their consumption of animal products declines. It seems that Veganuary has a lasting impact on eating habits.
Kantar calculated that the total volume of this reduction was at least 4,452,603kg, however the real figure is likely to be much higher as their data excluded items where animal products were one of several ingredients, such as ready meals and any food consumed outside of the home.
The Kantar study was based on data from its shopper panel that continuously tracks purchases from 30,000 British households. As well as showing lasting changes, it found that many more people go vegan in January than anyone – including Veganuary – knew.
A truly significant 1.3 million people actually went without animal products in January 2019, 10 times more than officially signed up to Veganuary in 2019.
Increasingly, high-profile participants support, participate in and promote Veganuary as a means of environmental activism.
Among the class of 2020 is Dragons’ Den’s Deborah Meaden, who told us: “It is hard to believe we can in any way reduce our impact on our planet without changing our eating habits.
"I gave up eating fish a while ago and have been reducing my meat and dairy consumption steadily and Veganuary has given me the motivation to go the whole … erm … 'Not Hog’.
"Planning for and considering Veganuary has made me more aware of my diet… to think carefully and reflect on the impact I am having on the planet and of course, animals. When I reach the end of January it will give me a moment to consider how I take this forward and I am convinced it will have lasting impact.”
EastEnders’ Kellie Bright is also taking part and this year became a Veganuary Ambassador. Her motivation is also to better protect the planet.
Bright says: “I cannot keep eating meat and dairy while wanting to do something about climate change. There is no better thing we can do to reduce our carbon footprint and the time to do that is now.”
Chris Packham told us his motivation: “As I’ve become more and more aware of our impact, the impact our diet has on the environment – and of course the species that live in it – I’ve become increasingly concerned to minimise the negative aspects of that impact.” He has remained vegan.
And George Monbiot has joined Veganuary as an Ambassador. He sums it up well. "If we are serious about protecting the living planet and all its inhabitants, we must accept that meat and dairy are extravagances we can no longer afford."
Toni Vernelli is international head of communications and marketing at Veganuary.