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Carbon Paw Print: Dogs and the environment

dogs and the environment

Dogs are ideal companions. They’re surprisingly good for human health and they are often seen as family members and loyal friends. But what effect do dogs have on the natural environment around us? We’ve been surprised by how many people we’ve talked to who want to discuss the environment and how dogs and Natura turf fit into that picture. We’re thrilled that there is an audience who wants to be “green”. Allow us to nerd out a bit and do a deep dive on the relationship between pets and the environment. We’ll go over some of the ways dogs affect their environment and we’ll also delve into some tips to reduce the environmental impact of the dogs you own or take care of.

How is Environmental Sustainability Measured?

A carbon footprint is an estimated measure of the greenhouse gases produced by something over a certain period. When released into the atmosphere, greenhouse gases absorb energy from the sun, trapping heat in the atmosphere like a greenhouse traps heat and moisture in its enclosure.
Simply put, lowering one’s carbon footprint means contributing less to global climate change. It is not the intention of this article to shame anyone or invoke an environmental moral high ground. Many people simply don’t know the impact that, say, one’s choice of dog food has on the environment. It’s just what you do. Pet owners and pet business owners engage in unsustainable practices every day, and we could all use a nudge toward sustainability.

Oftentimes, considering one’s environmental impact can be stressful and overwhelming, especially when it feels like environmental activists want you to change your whole life and routine to reduce emissions. Keep in mind that any positive change you can make is worthwhile, no matter how minor it may seem. If this article convinces you to make one small change, you’re doing the world a favor.
What is their “Carbon paw print”?

Dogs vary widely in their individual impact on the environment. Larger dogs may have a carbon footprint comparable to that of a human in modern American society, while smaller dogs will consume less and therefore have a lighter impact on the environment. It’s important, therefore, to look at the impact of pets on the environment from a wider perspective.

On the whole, a 2017 study estimated that feeding dogs and cats creates around 64 million tons of carbon dioxide in the US, per year. That’s about 1% of the country’s total emissions—a more significant figure than it sounds. The study argues that most of these emissions are a result of pets’ diets. Though dogs and cats are generally smaller and require less caloric energy than humans, pets get more of their energy from animal-derived products and therefore their diets have a generally higher environmental cost than human diets per calorie. Animal husbandry tends to produce more than its fair share of emissions due to many factors, including animals’ water, food, and land needs. In fact, raising livestock generates around 15% of total greenhouse gas emissions—that’s more than all emissions produced by transportation combined.

How to Feed Dogs Sustainably

What does this mean for us on a day-to-day basis? Because dogs and cats are a significant source of carbon emissions, it would serve us well to reduce the environmental impact wherever possible—particularly when it comes to pets’ diets. Many dogs are regularly overfed, and one of the simplest ways to reduce dogs’ environmental impact is to feed them an appropriate amount rather than overfeeding. This seems like a simple, manageable, and healthy step we can all take. We recommend looking to this chart to help guide you to how much you should be feeding your dog—also, be sure to consult your vet.

Furthermore, it’s worth considering what kind of protein your home or facility’s dog food is composed of. Beef is one of the worst offenders when it comes to carbon footprint per pound of protein. This is due to the large swaths of land required by cows as well as the significant methane emissions that they produce.
Poultry and fish are less impactful alternatives and insect-based protein is the gold standard when it comes to reducing environmental impact in dogs’ diets. Whether insect protein is a bridge too far is completely up to you and your workers or family, but it’s worth noting again that any small effort you put in can make an impact. Just because you don’t want to jump on the insect train doesn’t mean you can’t make a positive impact in your home or facility by changing to another, more efficient protein.

Is Dog Waste Good for the Environment?

Dog waste can be a double-edged sword when it comes to sustainability.

It is environmentally responsible to pick up dog waste—otherwise, the waste can pollute ground and surface water, harbor pests, bacteria, and parasites, and create a generally unsanitary environment for humans and dogs alike. But that doesn’t mean dog waste can’t contribute to environmental wellness. Dog poop is compostable, but it’s important that you use it only on non-consumable vegetation. That also means that you’ll want to make a separate composting pile or bin for use on non-consumable vegetation. According to the EPA, dog waste is a safe soil additive for revegetation and landscaping when it is composted properly.

If you’d like a step-by-step guide on composting dog waste, the EPA has a PDF with the relevant information here. Always check with your local government bodies to determine if you can legally compost dog waste.

Whether you choose to compost dog waste or not, you can immediately reduce the environmental impact of dog waste by discontinuing the use of plastic poop bags to opt for biodegradable alternatives. It’s not just greenhouse gas emissions that negatively affect the environment; single-use plastics are a big problem, particularly for marine ecosystems.

Reconsider Your Choice in Grooming Products and Services

Another environmentally harmful culprit is pet grooming products. Less sustainable products use single-use plastic containers and contain things like formaldehyde, synthetic fragrances, petrochemicals, alcohols, and other chemicals that affect the natural world when disposed of.

Some companies are transitioning to the use of recycled aluminum packaging or otherwise sustainable materials. These same companies often push for more natural ingredients in their products. Do your research to find products that align with your ecological scruples as well as your budget. Of course, these products are oftentimes more expensive—but if you run a pet business, premium products add to your business’s image and may mean you can earn higher margins.

If you’re a dog owner, it may be worth your time to research local grooming, boarding, and training services to find nearby businesses that use sustainable practices and products. Not only will the sustainable products reduce you and your pet’s impact on the environment, shopping local means fewer travel emissions and an increased sense of community. Ask the businesses near you what they’re doing to save water, reduce the use of single-use plastics, and reduce overall emissions at their business. If they’re prepared to answer these questions, you may have found a sustainable pet business.

If you’re a pet business owner yourself, it’s also worth considering what you would say to someone who asked these questions of you. Environmental consciousness is increasing every day, and you wouldn’t want to scare off potential clients or customers by being unprepared to discuss some important aspects of the pet business world such as sustainability practices. Everybody wants to feel good about what services they patronize and where they spend their money. You can provide an important service and make people feel good about their impact on the natural environment.

Look Green, Act Green

If you’re a pet business and you want to give an immediate “green” impression to your customers or clients, a green and healthy dog yard will go a long way. Natura turf is the only artificial turf that works with real grass to give you a green, healthy, and mud-free yard. Unlike plastic bags and grooming product bottles, Natura is a long-term use solution and is designed to work with your natural grass permanently.

Natura dg turf is also 99% recyclable so if you do ever dispose of the turf, you can do so with peace of mind that the material can be repurposed. Natura doesn’t just look green. The turf blades protect real grass so your yard can stay alive to do its part in absorbing carbon dioxide. To be clear, we are a plastic product, but our product has a considerably smaller carbon footprint than traditional turfs and other hard surface solutions. Outdoor ground cover alternatives require a 4-6″ underlayment of rock—which must be quarried and transported. We are focused on making our products even better as other materials become more readily available, but for now, our lightweight solution can help nature thrive while not requiring the excess that other solutions require.

Dogs can understand the importance of the natural world as well. Dogs sniff the ground to occupy themselves and learn more about the world around them. Impervious and/or artificial surfaces—like traditional artificial turf or gravel installations—place a barrier between dogs’ noses and the ground, preventing the dogs from stimulating themselves by smelling the natural ground. Without this healthy stimulation, dogs can turn to other, less desirable ways to occupy themselves. Simply put, dogs behave better when they can smell the natural ground.

Learn more about Natura Turf here.

Sustainability is About the Pursuit—Not the Destination

Dogs are trusted companions and, in a way, they’re born advocates for the natural world. By owning or taking care of a dog, we connect more strongly to the natural environment around us. When we go on a walk or sit outside with them, dogs make us acutely aware of the ecology around us by sniffing the grass, chasing squirrels, and simply being dogs. When we see the world through their eyes, we understand just how important it is to protect and advocate for the environment.

Hopefully, with this article you can identify some way you can make any degree of change to the way you take care of your dog or run your pet business. Though it may seem like an insignificant change, choosing a new dog shampoo or adjusting your pooch’s diet will add up over time. We can all make a difference in tiny, manageable ways and the reward for our effort is a world our dogs will be happy to run, play, and sniff in. They’re worth it!

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