Although the concept has been around since the 1980s, sustainability has become more than just a trending buzzword in the last five years. Everything from manufacturing processes, packaging materials, product ingredients, and how companies operate has been called under scrutiny, largely led by consumers. Companies of all kinds – including those in the pet industry – are reevaluating their current practices and evolving to new standards.
The topic of sustainability is deeply rooted in food security and the responsible management of resources as the world’s population continues to grow. The global population of humans is estimated at 7.9 billion people today – which is more than double what it was 50 years ago. This raises a concern about whether there will be sufficient resources and a hospitable environment necessary to support the lives of people in future generations.
Too much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses accumulating in the atmosphere is unhealthy for the earth, as well as the many diverse forms of life that inhabit it. This strain on resources is compounded by the number of pets we keep, the supplies and food they need to grow, and the waste generated as a result of their care. That’s why today, more than ever, it’s important to learn about sustainability and what steps can be taken to help ensure a better tomorrow.
Why is Sustainability Important?
Let’s start by looking at the current state of pet ownership. In the United States, it’s estimated that almost half of all households own at least one dog, and about a quarter own at least one cat:
|2020 U.S. Estimates1,2||Population||Pet-Owning Households|
|Children (0-14 yr)||60 million||–|
When we compare this to the human population, we actually have more dogs and cats than we do kids ages 14 or less, by a margin of millions! Clearly, we LOVE our pets!
Despite the many rewards of pet ownership, our pet-centric way of life does take a toll on the environment. In a single year, we feed our pets upwards of 9.8 million metric tons of pet food. This results in 5.6 million tons of waste produced annually. Since pet waste is a direct product of their food intake, pet food manufacturers have a big responsibility for environmental stewardship for the products we produce.
So, what is sustainability as it relates to pets?
A recent definition is: “the conscientious management of resources and waste necessary to meet the physiologic requirements of companion animals without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their environmental, social, or economic needs.”3 In other words, when we consider all of the inputs we need for the responsible care of our pets, and all of the waste streams generated, the net impact is what will ultimately influence our ability to contribute to long-term sustainability.
What action is Nulo taking to improve the sustainability of our products?
Our mission is to become an ever more sustainable company as we inspire people to live “Healthier Together” through active, healthy lifestyles with their pets. Here are a few areas we’ve been busy focusing on to help reduce our environmental impact:
We are transforming the way we work – from how we source raw materials, to how much energy we use in our offices – to ensure every part of our operations and extended supply chains help people, pets, and the planet thrive.
Sustainability Facts: According to a study by the National Environmental Education Foundation, almost 90 percent of employees engaged in their company’s sustainability work say it enhances their job satisfaction and overall feelings about the company.4
- Nulo is a proud member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC), a nonprofit organization that accelerates sustainability in the pet industry through education, implementation tools, and collaboration. As a nonprofit, PSC offers companies like ours many tools designed to help them align with responsible, sustainable business practices, such as supply chain, good governance, efficiencies, and strategizing. Our membership in PSC delivers education and inspiration, and engages employees in taking sustainable actions.
- In addition to being a proud member of PSC, Nulo has also partnered with a third-party sustainability firm that helps organizations like ours plan, source, deliver, finance, and measure the wider impact of our products and services. This initiative involves a comprehensive assessment of our products and business from cradle to grave, allowing Nulo to quantify our existing carbon footprint and identify key opportunities for improvement as we work towards lowering our potential impacts on climate change.
Ingredient selection has a critical role in defining your pet’s food costs, quality, format, and the potential carbon impact they contribute to the final product.
Sustainability Facts: The North American Renderer’s Association estimates that as much as 50% of the live weight of an animal is considered inedible for grocery cuts and would end up going to landfills if it wasn’t used to nourish our pets. It’s estimated the process of producing animal protein meals (i.e., chicken meal, turkey meal, and salmon meal) has the same effect on greenhouse gas emissions as removing more than 12 million cars from the road.5
- Nulo’s kibble recipes feature industry-leading levels of animal-based protein, and we achieve this using a combination of frozen meat, poultry, and fish as well as dried protein meals to supply essential amino acids for your dog or cat. By using protein meals, we are reducing the net carbon footprint of our formulas while still providing your pet with the optimal nutrition they need.
- Nulo’s Challenger™ line is made with certified organic grains like oats, millet, barley, and rye as well as fish that are sourced through Marine Stewardship Council-certified fisheries. The spirit of Challenger is reaching beyond conventionally-grown ingredients and choosing sustainability, with additional emphasis on sustainably and ethically sourced ingredients.
Our food and treat production
Pet foods are produced using several different technologies today, including extrusion, retort canning, freeze-drying, baking, and many others. Depending on the size of a manufacturing facility, their energy and resource usage, their waste streams, and operational efficiencies, they can each have different environmental impacts.
Sustainability Facts: In general, major environmental impacts of commercial facilities are land use, energy use, and water use. Compared to many human food manufacturing sectors like milk, cheese, bakery products, and snack foods, pet food production has a lower relative carbon footprint.6
- One of Nulo’s treat bakeries is 100% solar-powered, off-setting an estimated 1,456 tons of greenhouse gases each year.
Pet food packaging serves a lot of important purposes, including protecting your pet’s food from environmental contamination, prolonging its shelf-life, and providing essential information to you about the nutritional composition and usage instructions. But packaging that accumulates in landfills is taking a toll on our environment.
Sustainability Facts: Containers and packaging make up a major portion of municipal solid waste, amounting to 82.2 million tons of generation in 2018 in the U.S. (28.1 percent of total generation).7
- Our kibble, freeze-dried, and treat packaging are produced in a Certified B Corporation™ facility. B Corp is a non-profit organization that recognizes companies with environmentally innovative production processes and those that sell products or services with a positive environmental impact.
- Nulo’s Challenger™ line is part of the TerraCycle® recycling program, where our customers can request an envelope to send in their packaging to be diverted from landfills into renewable products.
- Our cans are made from 100% recyclable steel and aluminum.
- The TetraPak® cartons are made of 71% recycled paperboard from Forest Stewardship Council™ certified forests.
What are some ways you can live more sustainably with your pet?
You can also take steps to lessen the impacts of climate change that encourage solutions and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Actions that we all take today can help shape the world for years to come. Not only are these actions good for the environment, but they are also good for personal and community health, environmental stewardship, and quality of life.
- Monitoring your pet’s food intake and body condition. Feeding too much food and treats in excess of what your pet actually needs contributes to pet obesity8, increases the amount of waste your pet generates, and compounds the resources needed to produce the food. Your veterinarian is an excellent resource to help you determine the ideal body condition and feeding amount for your pet’s age and lifestyle.
- Spaying or neutering pets if they’re not intended for breeding. It’s estimated that approximately 3.1 million dogs and 3.2 million cats enter U.S. animal shelters every year.9 By proactively preventing unplanned litters, you can help to reduce the population of pets without forever homes. Discuss the options with your veterinarian so you can decide what’s right for you, your family, and your pet.
- Reducing landfill waste by recycling packaging whenever possible. It’s estimated that of all municipal solid waste generated in the U.S., food containers and packaging make up nearly a third, and only slightly more than half (54%) is being recycled.7 This leaves lots of room for improvement, especially for steel and aluminum cans and paperboard containers which are 100% recyclable. If you’re unsure which materials can be recycled or where to recycle them, the EPA has several great tools for building your recycling knowledge.
- Properly disposing of pet waste. Dog and cat feces present a public health risk due to the potential for pathogenic, parasitic, or antibiotic-resistant microorganism transmission through direct contact or contamination of municipal waterways; especially, in urban areas where human and animal populations are dense. Abandoned pet waste carried into nearby streams or lakes by stormwater also contains nutrients that can encourage excessive algae growth and release ammonia, which can be toxic to fish and other aquatic wildlife. The best methods of disposal of pet feces include passage through sanitary sewage lines (i.e., flushing) or in municipal solid waste channels (i.e., landfill).
Final Thoughts on Sustainability
The topic of sustainability isn’t just a trend, but rather an opportunity for brands and retailers in the pet industry to exceed the evolving expectations of environmentally conscious pet owners everywhere. While sustainability practices and eco-friendly products won’t change the world overnight, embracing small changes now can have a lasting impact on our future.
References for Additional Reading:
- American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). 2017-2018. U.S. Pet Ownership Statistics.
- The World Bank. 2019. Population, total – United States.
- Acuff, H. L., Dainton, A. N., Dhakal, J., Kiprotich, S., and Aldrich, G. 2021. Sustainability and pet food: Is there a role for veterinarians? The Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice. 51(3): 563-81.
- National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). 2017. Activating the Workplace by Engaging Employees in Sustainability.
- National Renderers Association (NRA). 2014. Rendering is Recycling Infographic.
- Egilmez G, Kucukvar M, Tatari O, Bhutta MKS. 2014. Supply chain sustainability assessment of the U.S. food manufacturing sectors: A life cycle-based frontier approach. Resour Conserv Recycl. 82:8-20.
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2018. Containers and Packaging: Product-Specific Data.
- Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. 2018. 2018 Pet Obesity Survey Results.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). 2019. Facts about U.S. Animal Shelters.