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As my question indicates, what is the most viable dairy alternative from a sustainability perspective (ignoring the importance of nutritional value)? From a life-cycle analysis are some options more environmentally friendly than others?

  • I think nutritional value is one of the key variables. If Xmilk has 20 nutrients but costs 2O gallons of water, and Ymilk has 30 nutrients but costs 20 gallons of water then Y milk is the most viable. This is an over simplification of course. – Escoce Dec 3 '15 at 19:27
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    For sustainability, location is often an important factor because transportation may have a big influence on the impact. Where do you live? – THelper Dec 4 '15 at 7:58
  • While I agree nutrition has some influence over sustainability, I do not believe it to be the primary factor of sustainability. For example are we talking caloric nutrition, the amount of sugar, calcium, vitamins etc... (all of this will be of greater importance depending on whether one is aiming to lose weight, is diabetic etc... Nutrition is perhaps too subjective). I am from the Chicago area. However, my primary inquiry was the analysis of production (ie. effect on deforestation and other environmental influences). – sensitivestoic Dec 11 '15 at 22:12
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    Interesting question. I can't give a good answer, but I suspect it will come down to the tricky process of balancing different kinds of environmental impact. E.g. most almonds are grown in California, where they increase demands on already scarce water; while deforestation and clearing of fragile ecosystems is a problem for soya. I guess the thing to do is go for whichever one you can find from a good supplier with traceability and high standards (e.g. look for organic, fair trade, companies with strict and independently audited environmental policies). – aucuparia Dec 14 '15 at 14:14
  • All good points. Are there any primary resources for tracing a company's overall responsibility? Too many companies tend to greenwash their products rather than being forthright about how they are produced. – sensitivestoic Dec 14 '15 at 14:16
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I would argue that by using non-dairy you are already putting yourself into the top 20% of low impact because any plant based alternative to dairy is significantly better than dairy itself.

As you have pointed out the question of one type of plant over another then becomes quite subjective.

The only other thing you could consider is looking at the attitude of the companies you purchase from; some will be more bothered about sustainability than others. Check the corporate responsibility pages of their websites, ro look at their financial statements to see how they are investing in sustainable practices or mitigation.

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I cannot answer the questions completely but I have experience in Coconut cultivation and processing. In our part of the world (Southern part of India), Coconut farming is very sustainable since most of the process is manual and Coconut grows very well here without special care. Extraction of Coconut milk is very labor intensive and uses some machinery. The tricky part is processing the milk so that it can be stored. We haven't quite figured out a way to do it without noticeable change in flavor. South Indian cooking uses freshly squeezed Coconut milk and we rarely use it as a Diary alternative.

Again, this is my personal experience and it completely depends on where you source it from.

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