I am looking for an environmentally conscious replacement for white yogurt. I do have a couple of ideas for foods that could work well, but I have very little clue if they are a better choice from the environmental perspective. Similarly, I do not have much information on how the different substitutes compare to white yogurt in terms of nutritional value and mineral and vitamin content. Although I care about the latter as well, my primary question is about the former, i.e. environmental assessment.

Here are options I am comparing (feel free to add another, if you know about any):

  1. 2x White Yogurt, packed in 500g plastic cups with Alu cover; produced in Switzerland from Swiss milk
  2. 1l Almond “Milk”
  3. 1l Oat “Milk”
  4. 1l Cashew “Milk”
  5. 1l Rice “Milk”
  6. 1l Soy “Milk”
  7. 1x 500ml Coconut Milk (assuming dilution 1:1 with water)


  • I live in Switzerland
  • The yogurt is produced in Switzerland from Swiss milk
  • The standards for animal welfare in Switzerland are very high (Wikipedia).
  • The above consumption is roughly per one week.
  • The above links should give you an idea about where and how the products are manufactured. Unfortunately, they rarely give complete information, but you can safely assume that all but the Soy and Oat "Milk" are produced from ingredients that come out of Europe (not 100% sure for Soy).
  • All the milk replacements including the coconut milk are packed in Tetra-Pak kind of container. This is not recycled in Switzerland. Neither the plastic cup from the white yogurt. The Al cover is recyclable.
  • The coconut milk (option 7) can be packed in aluminum can. How does this change its environmental impact, assuming all other things being equal? (Aluminum cans are recyclable in Switzerland)


I realize that answering the question rigorously is very difficult and requires lot of information that may not be readily available. I hope to see answers from some Europeans that may have worked in nutrition and environmental research and may have invested some time earlier to dig to diverse aspects of the problem.

This answer on EarthScience.SE is potentially useful: CO2 emissions per calorie (food).

  • 2
    Welcome to Sustainability.SE! Given the complexity of the question (which you note), perhaps it makes sense to separate into two or more questions? For instance, the issue of packaging could be it's own question, as well as country of origin.
    – LShaver
    Jul 27, 2018 at 20:33
  • rather see here for the last reference: sustainability.stackexchange.com/a/5937/3293
    – J. Chomel
    Jul 31, 2018 at 5:47
  • Why only 1x 500ml Coconut Milk?
    – J. Chomel
    Jul 31, 2018 at 6:59
  • 1
    @J.Chomel: Cocunut milk is usually quite thick and I assume I would consume it 1:1 with water.
    – Martin
    Aug 1, 2018 at 19:52
  • Well defined question. You get an upvote for that. Sep 1, 2018 at 2:05

3 Answers 3



In a paper unearthed recently by our friend LShaver question, a key point is that the worst identified menace today is Biodiversity loss, beyond Nitrogen cycle disruption, and way beyond Climate change... safety guides of 9 earth process

So my answer will encourage you to diversify!, locally.

For example, think about the extremes:

  • if there is only milk - too many cows, farmland everywhere, high nitrogen into our underground water and so on.
  • if there is no milk - no cows, this means "open" alpine landscape disappears replaced by only forests, with loss of diversity associated to it.

Documented study

In this documented paper for milk replacements (esu-services .ch, maybe colleagues of yours?), the figures stacks so:

Environmental impact of whole milk

Leaving Cashew and Coconut out of the scope, this seems to point to oat drink as the optimal replacement.


I would say it depends on the circumstances you are replacing it for. If your desire is for tangy flavor in baking you could use a cultured sourdough starter.

I would do what Ideogram suggests and just make you're own. If you're concerned about using CO2 just because cooking you're going to find yourself a very hungry sustainability person. It's not like the folk packaging yogurt don't also have to heat it.

Homemade crème fraîche requires no heating, and only heavy cream, and buttermilk to make a tasty tangy creme, that is a bit sweeter and less thick than sour cream.

If you are looking for alternative for vegan reasons, then many of the substitutes you've listed are ok, but won't really have the consistency of yogurt if you're wanting to use them as a substitute.

Dairy can be high impact, but good dairy farms can put more carbon in the ground depending on their practices.


How about soy yogurt?
The numbers in this report for Germany, (so, close to Switzerland,) give me the following g-CO2 per kcal ratios*:

Yogurt (white, non-bio): 2.6
Soy yogurt (white/plain): 1.0
Milk (cow, non-bio): 2
Soy drink 0.9
Oat drink 0.6
(Almond drink: similar to oat drink)

I proposed soy yogurt (or other plant-based yogurt alternatives) because they seem most like yogurt, also nutrition profile wise. As said in J. Chomel's answer, if you are fine to replace it with a milk replacement, oat drink seems to be a good option with an even lower carbon footprint. However, oat drinks tend to have more carbs and less protein and fat, compared to soy milk and yogurt. (I don't know about almond, cashew and rice milk. From Wikipedia, almond milk seems to have more fat, rice milk also much more carbs and little protein).

Unlike J.Chomel's answer, the numbers above only include CO2 footprint.

* Just dividing grams of CO2 per kg given in the report, by the calories (kcal) per 1kg given on:

  • this website,
  • products in my fridge, with 63 kcal/100g for soy joghurt, and 45/49 kcal/100g for soy and oat milk, respectively.)

The numbers I got won't be perfectly accurate, since the "dilution" of those drinks can vary, as well as the sugar content in soy yogurt, and other factors ... all changing how many calories per kg a product has.

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