Telecoupled environmental impacts of current and alternative Western diets

Perrine C.S.J. Laroche*, Catharina J.E. Schulp, Thomas Kastner, Peter H. Verburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Low-meat and no-meat diets are increasingly acknowledged as sustainable alternatives to current Western food consumption patterns. Concerns for the environment, individual health or animal welfare are raising consumers’ willingness to adopt such diets. Dietary shifts in Western countries may modify the way human-environment systems interact over distances, primarily as a result of existing trade flows in food products. Global studies have focused on the amount of water, land, and CO2 emissions embodied in plant-based versus animal-based proteins, but the potential of alternative diets to shift the location of environmental impacts has not yet been investigated. We build on footprint and trade-based analyses to compare the magnitude and spatial allocation of the impacts of six diets of consumers in the United States of America (USA). We used data on declared diets as well as a stylized average diet and a recent dietary guideline integrating health and environmental targets. We demonstrate that low-meat and no-meat diets have a lower demand for land and utilize more crops with natural nitrogen fixation potential, yet also rely more widely on pollinator abundance and diversity, and can increase impacts on freshwater ecosystems in some countries. We recommend that governments carefully consider the local impacts of the alternative diets they promote, and minimize trade-offs between the global and local consequences of dietary shifts through regulation or incentives.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102066
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Early online date23 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - May 2020


  • Dietary change
  • EAT diet
  • Ecosystem services
  • Land use change
  • Telecoupling
  • Trade
  • Trade-offs


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