If you regularly visit coffee shops, keep up with the newest food trends, or are just generally concerned with the environment and your health, chances are you’ve played around with plant-based milk alternatives at one point or another. If not, ehm.. where have you been? In this article, we dig into the billion-dollar industry that capitalises on the milking of oats and nuts whilst remarkably transforming consumer decision making.

DANSIC21, and this year’s case competition, is all about sustainability and individual practices contributing towards a circular economy. It is no surprise that we ended up here, talking about the dairy industry, which is one of the greatest contributors to climate change and other environmental issues such as deforestation, desertification and soil degradation. With way over 7 billion people on the planet to feed, agriculture and other forms of land use are significantly increasing anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. More specifically, animal agriculture is closely linked to the emission of methane, which has 28 times higher impact on global warming than carbon dioxide. But what does your double-shot grande latte have to do with all of this?

Considering that one glass of dairy milk results in almost three times more greenhouse gas emission than any plant-based option, the latter seems to be the obvious choice. And for many people, it is the favourable option, not because they’re lactose intolerant or follow a vegan diet, but because of the positive surge in accessibility and increased understanding around their impact on the planet. However, vegan alternatives come with issues of their own.

Photograph: Luigi Giordano/Getty Images/iStockphoto

When you think of alternative alternatives, the list goes on longer than you can count: oat, rice, soy, almond, cashew, macadamia, hemp, coconut, pea and pistachio just to name a few. One may assume that older generations would frown upon the idea of drinking “milk” made out of nuts and legumes, however, the original concept dates all the way back to the 1950s. That’s when the very first dairy-free milk alternative, soy milk, started appearing on supermarket shelves in the United States. Soy milk remained the most popular alternative, predominantly because its profile closely resembles that of cow’s milk, and has a significantly high protein content. It was blazing the trail up until the early 2000s, when almond milk came into vogue, so much so that in 2013 its sales exceeded soy milk’s. In the past couple of years, several brands and manufacturers jumped on the plant-based bandwagon, propelling a positive shift towards more environmentally-conscious purchasing decisions.

As with most things on the market that require mass production and crop cultivation, there comes a dark side when we closely examine the production, supply chain and environmental impacts of the final product. Here’s a quick overview of the most popular milk substitutes and some of the concerns around them that you may want to consider before your next purchase:

  • RICE - low nutritional value

It is one of the most inexpensive alternatives on the market, however, on top of being a water-guzzler, rice milk offers very little in terms of nutritional content and environmental benefits.

  • ALMOND - poor bees

Despite being the ruler of the plant-based liquid kingdom for years, recent studies raised serious concerns about the detrimental effects of almond tree plantations in California. High demand for almonds resulted in unsustainable pressure on beekeepers to get bees to pollinate enough cropland, subsequently killing large amounts of bees. Almond trees are also the most water-intensive dairy alternative, though requiring smaller territory of farmland than other variants.

  • COCONUT - exploitation of workers

Since coconut plantations require a tropical climate, the pressure is extremely high on workers in such regions of the world to meet the global demand for the plant. This often results in the underpayment of workers and deforestation in the area.

  • HAZELNUT - delicious and friendly

If you are in doubt about what to replace your trusty almond milk with that has a relatively similar flavour profile but is more environmentally friendly, hazelnut milk is your friend. Interestingly, hazelnut trees have the ability to pull carbon from the atmosphere instead of increasing it, whilst being pollinated by the wind, instead of bees. A sweet deal, quite literally.

  • SOY - ramp up the protein

Coming close to the end of the list, we must come back to this trusty old friend, soy. It fell out of favour as it contains some hormones similar to the ones found in the human body, however, it’s still the most nutritious, high-protein milk alternative on the market. Its drawback is similar to most other crops—it’s grown in massive quantities which has often resulted in deforestation.

  • OAT - the new star

It seems to be the safest option out there, at least for now. Oat milk shows stellar results in sustainability metrics, and we already grow plenty of it for other agricultural purposes, offering excess crops to be used for milk production without the need for additional plantations. Oat can also grow in cooler climates, thus not linked to deforestation in developing countries.

Ultimately, as long as you aim to move away from dairy and replace it with any plant-based alternative, you’re doing a great job for the planet. Most options will have some sort of shortcoming, but even the smallest of changes in your daily consumption can help move towards more sustainable practices on a larger scale. We hope you found some useful information above and will check back soon for more.

This year at DANSIC, we’ve been talking a lot about the importance of waste management, the reduction of plastic use, and ways to popularise these topics. Our discussions often revolve around the concept of the circular economy, also referred to as circularity. It is a framework for designing an economy that is restorative and regenerative, in which economic activity builds and rebuilds overall system health. Ultimately, it’s an approach aimed at creating value and prosperity through innovative design. It can be done by extending product lifespan and by relocation waste from the end of a supply chain to its beginning, creating a circular system.

Its foundation lies in the idea that through the use of creativity and innovation, we can re-think and re-design how our economic system functions, and shift our perspective and methods away from a linear approach. The notion itself has deep historical and philosophical roots, synthesising various schools of thought: the functional service economy (performance economy) of Walter Stahel; the Cradle to Cradle design philosophy of William McDonough and Michael Braungart; biomimicry as articulated by Janine Benyus; the industrial ecology of Reid Lifset and Thomas Graedel; natural capitalism by Amory and Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawken; and the blue economy systems approach described by Gunter Pauli.

If you prefer visuals over text, here’s a quick animation to give you a brief overview:

A circular economic system is underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, which could represent long-term resilience whilst generating new business and economic opportunities as well as environmental and social benefits.

The three underlying principles of the circular economy are:

  1. Reducing waste and pollution through innovative design

  2. Keeping using and re-using products and materials

  3. Regenerating natural systems

Whilst these are applicable on a systemic level, there is plenty of initiatives we can take up in our own lives to contribute to a positive change. Imagine a plastic water bottle that you may buy every week when out and about. Have you ever thought about the 450 years it will take for it to decompose in a landfill when you’re sipping on the sparking water? Next time you throw the bottle in the bin, try visualising that. It can be useful in understanding the linear take-make-waste model, and how you could help transition towards a more circular recycle-reuse-use-resue-remake approach.

If you’re keen on implementing a couple of everyday practices that support circularity, here’s a checklist for inspiration:

  • Understand rubbish rules

There might be certain recycling rules in place in the area you live, so make sure you’re familiar with what type of waste you can mix, which labels or lids you have to take off or leave on etc.

  • Avoid impulse shopping

As you have probably heard it, the most sustainable clothes you can wear are the ones you already own. Remember that!

  • Give away what you don’t need

One man’s waste is another man’s treasure. Instead of getting rid of old clothes, items, tools you no longer need, see if you can gift it to someone else who could make good use of it.

  • Be prepared

Water bottles, shopping bags, coffee cups, cutlery.. try to think in advance when you’ll need these and bring them with you instead of buying disposable ones each time.

  • Use less packaging

This applies both to the items you purchase in shops and gifts you would normally wrap in layers of pretty but disposable layers. Check if there are a zero-waste shops you can access, and possibly mix up parts of your shopping routine.

We hope you found some inspiration in this article and possibly some motivation to implement some of the ideas from above. Remember, one person may not make a significant difference but being the change you want to see in the world can be extremely powerful.

What is known today as the 2030 UN Goals were first proposed by Colombia in 2011 in a preparation event for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio+20. On the actual event of Rio+20, the idea was picked up, and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and its targets were presented.

An Open Working Group was established to define its working methods and executability. In 2015, the 193 member states of the UN agreed on a resolution for the 17 UN Goals for 2030, and later, in 2017, a list of targets and indicators were published.

That is how the popular SGD Goals came about.

What is more important than how they came to exist, is how they are going to be achieved. As the name indicates, most goals are to be accomplished by 2030, more specifically between 2020 and 2030. However, some goals have no end date. In order to track the progress of each goal, https://sdg-tracker.org/ was created, a website that shares data regarding the goals in a transparent and widely available format. Similarly, the Global "SDG Index and Dashboards Report" is an annual publication that tracks countries' performance on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, highlighting the key challenges that each country faces when implementing them.

The 17 SDGs are:

  1. No Poverty

  2. Zero Hunger

  3. Good Health and Well-being

  4. Quality Education

  5. Gender Equality

  6. Clean Water and Sanitation

  7. Affordable and Clean Energy

  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth

  9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

  10. Reducing Inequality

  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities

  12. Responsible Consumption and Production

  13. Climate Action

  14. Life Below Water

  15. Life On Land

  16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

  17. Partnerships for the Goals

Each SGD typically has 8 to 12 targets, and each target has between 1 and 4 indicators to measure their progress.

The UN goals are unprecedented because they are a call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. Furthermore, they promote multidisciplinarity between the economic, socio-political and environmental sectors. The implementation must be executed worldwide, through governments and private partners. Moreover, we, citizens of the world, should also be engaged too. In order to create awareness, the SGD Goals need to be represented by advocates, events and webinars, all in place to make them more accessible and known among the general public.

As a social innovation club, DANSIC is committed to spread information regarding the UN goals. We partnered up with Go Impact in order to help spread the message. Go Impact is a mobile app that releases simple, actionable tasks related to the 2030 UN Goals, and inspires individuals to take action and contribute to achieving the 2030 targets. You can check them out here, and help us spread the message. Talk to your friends, demand your leaders to take action and make small changes in your own lifestyle as well. We believe that together we can achieve the UN goals by 2030.