Do you Have to be Vegan to be an Environmentalist?

Close up of protective child hands embracing tree trunk in summe

Photo by bilanol

You have been looking into environmentalism because you feel passionate about helping our planet. However, you have learned recently that being Vegan is a powerful way to help the environment. It makes you wonder if being Vegan is a requirement when attempting to save the environment.

Do you have to be a vegan to be an environmentalist? You do not need to adopt a vegan diet to be an environmentalist.  A plant-based diet has a positive impact on the environment. However, you can still advocate for the protection of the environment without giving up an animal-based diet by adopting other lifestyle changes.

Activism and environmentalism take many forms. Someone who is vegan may not necessarily consider themselves an environmentalist. Perhaps they only became Vegan for health reasons, not an attempt to save the planet. Likewise, a person who considers themselves an environmentalist may be a meat-eater. The two are not mutually exclusive.

What Makes Someone an Environmentalist?

According to Merriam-Webster, an environmentalist is “a person who is concerned with or advocates the protection of the environment.”

Environmentalists are passionate about keeping their communities’ air, water, and soil clean. On a larger scale, someone who cares about the environment is also concerned with the earth’s overall survival. This survival includes the health and well-being of billions of plants, diverse kinds of animal species, and the survival of human beings.

An environmentalist might be concerned about local bee populations, and how it will affect crop yields. An environmentalist might be concerned with the global increase in temperature and how it affects sea life (killing the coral reef, which is home to many types of sea plants and animals.) Environmentalists care about bringing more greenery back into cities (for mental health, as well as re-invigorating wildlife and better controlling urban climates.)

There are all different kinds of ways to express your concern about the environment and many ways to put that care and concern into actionable steps.

Why the word ‘Environmentalist’ has Become Stigmatized

Many people assume that environmentalists, aka tree huggers, care more about the planet than they do people. This is simply not true. To care about one’s environment is to care for oneself and one’s community.

If we consume and abuse our natural resources, our species will not survive. When a famine occurs, greater poverty occurs. When resources dwindle, wars break out. There is much more at stake when it comes to protecting the environment than simply ‘protecting our parks.’  Western societies, like the United States, have stigmatized the word ‘environmentalist’ to be a taboo word.

For example, environmental protection agencies, like the United States EPA, are often seen by conservative political parties as infringing upon the free will of Americans. When the truth is, without the EPA, people could use and abuse the environment completely unchecked. If there were no ramifications for this, it could destroy entire ecosystems that are critical not just for the survival of animal and plant species, but for our own. Without the EPA, we would surrender our parks and beach fronts to the whims of humanity.

How Being Vegan Aids One’s Environmentalism

While you do not need to be a vegan to be an environmentalist, it sure does help.  A recent Science Mag article found groundbreaking evidence that meat and dairy production accounts for 60% of the overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Not only that, but the study discovered that meat and dairy do not even contribute a significant level of calories and protein to one’s diet to merit such high agricultural gas emissions. In fact, the researchers found that meat accounted for a meager 18% of calories and only 37% of the protein in the global diet.

That means that most calories and protein ingested by human beings comes from plant-based items (vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes.)

The University of Oxford discovered that plant-based diets could actually reduce one’s carbon footprint, contributed by food consumption, by 73%. The choice to eat plant-based helps reduce greenhouse gases. If everyone stopped eating meat and dairy, we would see a significant drop in greenhouse gas across the globe.

Not only that but if everyone were to eat plant-based, the global use of farmland would decrease a staggering 75%. What does 75% of the world’s farmland look like? Well… combine all of Europe, The United States, China, and Australia. That is how much farmland would no longer be needed for animal farming.


If you are looking for the quickest and most effective way to make an impact on your environment, becoming Vegan makes you a more efficient environmentalist, hands down. However, it is not a requirement. It is simply one way to be mindful of the environment.

If you Can’t Be Vegan, at Least Cut Back on the Beef

Cattle ranching accounts for 80% of deforestation in every single country located in the Amazon region. The deforestation of the Amazon caused by cattle ranching contributes 340 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere per year. That is 3.4% of global emissions (in one region). (

Deforestation for Agricultural Purposes

Agriculture, while helping to expedite farming practices to feed more people and allow people more leisure time, has had dire consequences on the global environment. Agriculture is the single largest cause of deforestation and degradation.

In 2019, parts of the Amazon rain forest burned, and cattle ranching zones were in large part to blame, drawing an undeniable link between Brazil’s beef industry and the deforestation in the Amazon.

However, meat and dairy are not the only agricultural industries wreaking havoc on forested lands. Thanks to the products’ rising demand, soy, palm oil, cocoa, and coffee are some of the biggest culprits.

For this reason, governments and companies must make conscious choices to buy products from areas that do not commit such egregious environmental crimes.

How to be Your Own Version of Environmentalist

Perhaps going Vegan is not your thing, for whatever reason. That’s okay! There are plenty of other ways to advocate for the planet and be an ally to your environment.

Be a Conscious Consumer

You do not necessarily need to stop “eating meat” to make environmental changes. You can, however, become a more conscious consumer. Find out where your foods are being sourced. Make sure they are being ethically farmed.

Lots of local farms would be happy to give you a tour of their farms and their method of slaughter to ensure the food you’re eating was raised and slaughtered humanely to gain your business. It is helpful to pay local farmers directly to stimulate your local economy.  Also, by doing so you eat meat from animals that were not abused, tortured, or inhumanely slaughtered.  Think of it as healthy meat.

On a larger scale, we encourage you to familiarize yourself with the brands that you might be used to endorsing, but whose practices are unethical. Coca-Cola, for example, is guilty of fracking in poor communities, polluting the water of said communities, and then forcing those communities to buy their brand of water (Dasani) to enjoy clean drinking water.

By not continuing to give money to such companies, you are making conscious efforts to only endorse brands whose ethical practices are adequate. If everyone did this, companies like Coca-Cola would not be able to keep the doors open and would thereby be forced to change their practices to adhere to public demands.

Use Sustainable Practices

There are hundreds of ways to live more sustainably that do not have to hinder your daily lifestyle and comfort level. Recycling, for example, is a sustainable practice that is easy to incorporate into your lifestyle.

Other ways to live more sustainably are:

  • Conserve household energy (install energy-efficient appliances, and unplug things not in use)
  • Drink water from the tap, versus buying bottled water
  • Eat locally (choose a farmer’s market over a supermarket)
  • Invest in reusable bags
  • Don’t buy food products with excess packaging
  • Change your settings on Amazon to limit excessive packaging on your orders
  • Grow your own food! (plant a garden, herbs, veggies, fruits, or oxygenating plants for indoors)
  • Recycle (with your local trash-pick up or a designated recycling facility)
  • Purchase upcycled clothing, as opposed to buying new clothing
  • Sell your clothing or donate
  • Take shorter showers
  • Walk and bicycle more (drive less!)
  • Purchase fair trade products
  • Ditch plastic and paper straws (only use steel or reusable bamboo straws)

Why Reusable Products Make Such a Huge Difference

You might think that one single person cannot make a difference by using reusable products. After all, Starbucks will continue using their disposable paper cups, and despite the new laws in place, small-town restaurants will continue using straws. Does it actually make a difference if you use a reusable canteen or straw?

Yes! Yes, it does.  If only fifty people stopped using disposable water bottles and instead used only reusable flasks, bottles, and canteens, it would prevent over 2,600 plastic bottles from making it into our environment. Now imagine if everyone in the entire world ditched disposable water bottles?? Small changes make huge impacts.

Plant an Entire Forest in your Lifetime

Can’t commit to a meat-free lifestyle? No problem. You can plant an entire forest over your lifetime as this couple did. Over two decades, a husband and wife in Brazil planted 2.7 million trees, restoring an entire forest that had been wiped out by agricultural deforestation.

If you were to commit to a project like this, you would be helping countless animal species to thrive and survive in a protected forest. When the Salgado family planted their 2.7 million trees, animals that hadn’t been seen in decades returned to their sanctuary of trees.

Plant a Garden to Sustain Native Insects

Native bee populations are dwindling all over the world for many reasons, urbanization and the loss of habitat being the leading cause. However, bees can still thrive in urban areas if habitats are created for them!

Bees, especially species like bumblebees, are crucial for plant pollination, which helps to orchestrate healthy and large crop yields. Without bees, agriculture as we know it would greatly suffer. This is why planting native plants to provide nectar for food and pollen for germination is an excellent way to help the environment.

Bees are typically active between early spring and late fall, so native plants thrive during these seasons. Why native plants? Because native plants have the exact nutrients your local bee needs. Miraculously, native plants tend to evolve alongside their pollinating friends.

Not sure what native plants your bees need to thrive? Check out this list of native plants through the National Wildlife Federation.

You can also plant a garden to attract bees, but you could also build habitats for them. Bumblebees, for example, source their homes from abandoned nests and other clever nooks and crannies. If you are looking to help local bumblebees, helping them to find a home is a great way to do so. Maybe you don’t have much of a green thumb but are an excellent wood-worker. Build a birdhouse (or save an old one) and make it accessible for your local bees to inhabit.

Protest on Behalf of the Environment

Being a Vegan is one way to protest and take a stand against unethical environmental practices. However, getting out, attending rallies, protests, and taking a loud stand is another way to practice environmental activism.

By now, you have surely have heard of Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old activist from Sweden who has loudly protested countries’ denial and inactivity regarding climate change. She and many other people have been gathering by the millions to protest a lack of action regarding climate change. You can too.

Websites like Global Climate Strike will inform you of any and all climate strikes regularly occurring around the globe. Not only that, but they organize social media strikes as well. While it may seem pointless to march around with signs, it has the potential to create change, you’d be surprised.

As they say, the squeakiest wheel gets the grease. Young people, especially, are demanding governments and corporations commit to a net-zero carbon emission agreement by 2030. What would something like that require? A switch to renewable energies and eliminating the use of fossil fuels. How do governments make such changes? By being forced into a corner by its people. This is why being an active, protesting environmentalist, like Greta Thunberg, can be as effective as being Vegan. (Though, spoiler alert, Greta is a Vegan for environmental reasons.)

Record Wildlife Sightings

If you cannot march and shout, doing something as simple as recording wildlife sightings is an excellent alternative and a tremendous help to environmentalism. Recording wildlife in the area you live can provide crucial information that assists conservationists in protecting species and the environment.

The government can use such evidence to assess the health of an environment and adjust it accordingly. Not sure where to start with recording wildlife? Visit the National History Museum for more information, and use these following tips:

  • Record in words what was observed (both plant and animal species)
  • Record a picture of what was observed
  • Where it was observed
  • When it was observed
  • Who made the observation?
  • What other environmental observations did you make (was it especially cold for that time of year? An excess of mosquitos?)

Educate Yourself and then Educate Others

One of the very best ways to help the environment is to educate yourself and then educate others. The only way we can save species and ecosystems is by educating ourselves. We must know what a healthy ecosystem looks like, in order to discern what an unhealthy ecosystem looks like. We must familiarize ourselves with what ethical, environmental practices are and what unethical practices look like.

Then share your knowledge and empower others to make smarter, more environmentally conscious choices.

The Key Take Away

Being an environmentalist looks different for everyone. Activism cannot be placed in a box; it expresses itself differently in every person. For some, being a Vegan is an easy way to make an impact on their environment. Others may find it difficult to change their diet but have zero reservations in sailing the ocean, country to country, meeting with global leaders to fight climate change.

It is important you find a way to express your environmental activism. There is not a requirement to be Vegan, though, as research suggests, it can make a significant impactful. Remember, changing daily habits by being a conscious consumer, and living a more sustainable life can also have huge impacts.

Always continue to educate yourself and those around you. You never know what kind of spark can ignite environmental passion in others, and what form of activism that might take.

Leave a Reply