Almond milk is one of the most popular plant milks on the market, and my personal favorite dairy-alternative. I use it all the time in coffee, cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, baking, everything and anything! I normally go with the unsweetened or original flavor because I found the other varieties were too sweet. But, you can do some experimenting when it comes to taste, because it’s hard for me to tell you what you will like. I am going to focus on what you, hopefully, came here to see: how your choice can impact the environment.
Almonds are a bit controversial as a dairy alternative due to the fact the crop requires year-round irrigation. Adding on to that, about 80% of the world’s almonds are grown in California, where there is a severe drought. But, the demonization of almonds as the cause of the California drought is slightly misguided. LA times reported in 2015 in the last 20 years most almond farmers have worked hard to reduce their consumption, largely with techniques like drip irrigation. Though the number of almond trees has increased more than 60% in that period, water consumption has remained flat.
This almond-frenzy goes back to a point I have made before, and will probably make again: every alternative or food item will create some sort of effect. However, considering the staggering difference in food and vegetable production versus meat production, vegetarian and vegan options already reduce your footprint drastically. (You can see your carbon footprint by following this link).
So, you have already worked to lower your impact. Great! Now let’s see which companies might be counterintuitive to your goals. I looked at some popular almond milk producers to see which one could be considered the most sustainable or eco-friendly. Most information was taken from the company’s website, but in some cases I found it necessary to branch out for more information.
As a disclaimer, I live in California which means the impact of transportation is minimal. Therefore, I will not be addressing transport as a factor in sustainability since these companies will be based locally for me. If you want the most sustainable almond milk, research your area for local almonds and make your own!
Produced in California, the Blue Diamond Growers is the world’s largest almond handler and the company exports to more than 80 countries. The site boasts these notable sustainable measures:
- Uses the latest tools to employ low volume irrigation methods to maximize irrigation efficiency
- Employs the use of compost material for soil fertility
- Shreds brush pruned from the trees in the orchard to increase soil organic matter content, eliminating burning of orchard waste
- Has converted our plants to LED lighting to reduce energy requirements
- Adopted the latest innovations in plant nutrition to minimize the amount of fertilizer used, reducing volatilization to the atmosphere and leaching beyond the root zone
converted all trucks to low-emission vehicles to reduce air pollution
Concerning the almond milk itself, here are some key points:
Packaging: Refrigerated product is either gable-top 64 fl oz cartons with a white plastic pour spout fitment, or screw-capped HDPE plastic 96/10 fl oz jug/bottle. Shelf-stable cartons are a laminate of three materials: high-quality paperboard, polyethylene, and aluminum (there is no leaching of aluminum or aluminum components through the plastic layer).
Thoughts: One thing I found interesting on the website is that the company has its own PAC which “allows the cooperative to maintain a strong voice in the state and federal legislature and within various trade and regulatory agencies.” How they spend the money can be found on this website, where you will see which Congress members the PAC supports. Although this may not directly affect their environmental impact, I thought it may be worth noting in consideration of the overall picture of vegan and compassionate living. The sustainability statement on the website shows an effort to make an eco-friendly product, and let the consumer know their specific actions in working toward this goal.
While the website boasts more about how making plant-based products versus dairy products already reduces their carbon footprint, they also take extra measure towards resource conservation including
- Purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates through the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to offset the electricity used in our manufacturing facilities with clean wind sources
- Purchasing Water Restoration Certificates through the BEF which is used to help fund waterway restoration programs in areas of critical need (infographic here)
Set up a Zero Waste Recycling and Composting program in their offices
Information about their parent company can be found here.
Packaging: Recyclable where facilities exist. You can see if there is a facility near you.
Thoughts: Purchasing certificates to offset your output and usage was a new concept to me, but it seems to create a positive impact according to the research I did. The parent company is the same for So Delicious, which makes my favorite French Vanilla coffee creamer, and is adamant about their dedication to the environment. There may not be relations between the 2 subsidiaries, but I’d like to think it’s a good sign. No mention of organic products is disappointing since this type of farming is better for the planet than industrial farming (more details about organic farming and climate change here).
This is my top pick because of the thoroughness of their FAQs page, providing much more information about the product than any of the other sites researched for this post. Some highlights concerning their sustainability efforts are:
- Bottles are 100% recyclable
- About 90% of the almonds they buy are grown and processed within a 20 mile radius of their bottling facility
- They design their manufacturing facilities for responsible resource use and maximum efficiency
- They repurpose more than 90% of post-production byproduct, which is mainly water solution, and 100% of which is repurposed for irrigation on farms near the facility
- Use of the more methodical, more precise, and more efficient drip-irrigation method Even more impressive is their efforts to team up with Rainforest Alliance Certified farms for their coffee products and their palm oil supplier is part of the GreenPalm program to ensure sustainable palm oil sourcing. Califia Farms also informs their customers the coconut ingredients come from Indonesia and the Philippines.
Organic: Not the full line
Artificial Ingredients: No
Packaging: foam-free packaging alternative, insulation made from cotton fibers, inside a recyclable corrugated box
Thoughts: Like I said before, I found the website offers a transparency not often found on other large company websites. Therefore, I feel more secure in the environmental dedication and implementation of sustainable and healthy options with Califia Farms than with the others. Plus, this is the only company that even referenced organic ingredients, although the products actually containing them are not mentioned.
There you have it! Some good, some not so great. My only issue is the scarcity of full blown organic product. Although there is a good amount of information provided by these companies, I am also painfully aware that we, as consumers, may never be able to get the full story. But, perfection is not attainable and doing our best with what we have can go a long way.
Which almond milk brand is your favorite? Would you like to see more posts like this in the future? Let me know what you would like to see!