Do you want to be a more sustainable pet owner? Succeed with these tips

Facing the demands of sustainability as a pet owner doesn't mean you should feel overwhelmed, says Alvar Pet's marketing manager Hanna Lemmetti. Instead, integrating individual small acts of sustainability into your daily life and gradually adding more can significantly reduce both your carbon footprint and your pet's carbon pawprint.

Sustainability is a matter close to the hearts of many SATO RentHome residents, playing a vital role in all aspects of daily choices. This was also evident in the results of our Great Cat Survey conducted in autumn 2023, where over 90% of pet-owning respondents considered living in an environmentally respectful manner important or very important.

To make the transition from words to actions effortless, we sought advice from Hanna Lemmetti, the founder of Alvar Pet, a company that produces climate-friendly dog food, on how to reduce your pet's carbon pawprint.

"Owning a pet can be environmentally friendly, provided there are sustainable options and knowledge available," says Hanna.

While sustainability has become a key trend in many sectors, shaping the direction of industries, the pet industry has seen trends leading it in quite the opposite direction. Recently, there's been much talk about "human grade" food, which is overly rich in protein and would be suitable for human consumption too. Feeding pets with such food, like chicken fillets fit for humans, significantly increases their environmental impact.

A young woman with brown hair treats a black-and-grey spaniel with a zero-emission treat in front of a wooden storage shelf.
Hanna delights Alvar Pet's customer support Mari's dog Kuura with a zero-emission treat.

The trend of humanizing pets has also led to a significant increase in consumer spending on pets.

"For example, people are now buying much more stuff for their dogs than before. If there aren't sustainable and high-quality options available, these items may need to be replaced frequently."

Every pet owner should consider their pet's impact on the climate. So, what can a sustainable-minded owner do to minimize this impact?

Small acts make a big impact

In everyday life, sustainability often consists of small actions. When accumulated, they lead to significant outcomes.

"Any action is better than none. It's not necessary to make a huge overhaul all at once," Hanna says.

"Instead of feeling overwhelmed by all the demands related to sustainability, you can start by incorporating individual small acts of sustainability into your daily life and gradually add more."

Knowledge is invaluable in this. Understanding the various emissions produced in daily life makes it easier to identify areas for improvement.

The biggest emissions come from the food bowl

According to Hanna, reducing your pet's carbon pawprint should start with their food bowl, as the largest emissions come from their diet.

"The climate impact of food varies among different pets. For herbivorous pets like turtles, their diet is inherently more environmentally friendly compared to carnivorous pets like cats, which require animal protein in their diet," Hanna explains.

"One study has even identified the turtle as the most environmentally friendly pet choice due to their small size, minimal space and water requirements, and natural herbivorous diet."

In the case of dogs, studies show that over half of their climate impact comes from their food.

Hanna points out that the ingredients in pet food play a significant role in emissions: "While the entire production process is important to consider, the most significant factor is the ingredients. In Alvar Pet's carbon footprint calculations, ingredients account for over 75% of a product's emissions."

"For example, the annual difference in emissions between beef and insect protein is enormous."

The origin of the ingredients also significantly affects the carbon footprint. Hanna advises paying attention to where the ingredients come from.

"If the source of carbohydrates is rice produced in Asia, it significantly increases the food's environmental impact. However, replacing the popular lamb-rice combination with a Nordic fish-oat option can cut the carbon pawprint by more than half."

Did you know that as a SATO resident, you get a great benefit from Alvar Pet? Read more ›

For cats, Hanna recommends offering domestic options.

"Cats can be quite picky eaters," Hanna laughs. "But it's worth trying to see if they would accept a local freshwater fish like smelt or bream as their main protein source."

Many people don't realize that dry food is a more sustainable option than wet food. Wet food involves transporting a lot of water across distances, while dry food is more nutrient-dense. If necessary, you can add water to dry food before serving it to a pet who is fussy about drinking.

Two Selkirk Rex cats on a kitchen counter. The owner, a young person with black hair, gives one of the cats a treat.
SATO's Great Cat Survey introduced Lukas's cats Paju and Mesi to the SATO community.

Consider sustainability in accessory purchases

Besides food, pet accessories also impact their carbon pawprint. Here, the old saying holds true: cheap often comes at a high cost.

"With dog and cat toys, leashes, and harnesses, the cheapest option is usually not the most environmentally friendly, nor is it the most economical in the long run, as they often need to be replaced frequently," Hanna explains.

"When building habitats for pets like those in cages, aquariums, or terrariums, it's also worth comparing the durability of different options: are there long-lasting furnishings available?"

Hanna's tip is to buy accessories second-hand whenever possible. Online marketplaces and social media groups are great places to find new accessories, especially when a puppy outgrows its harness and needs a larger one.

Hanna also recommends replacing cat litter with an environmentally friendly option, like biodegradable wood pellets.

Pets bring and deserve goodness

Despite the environmental impact, the positive aspects pets bring should not be overlooked.

"Pets enrich our lives. They have a proven positive effect on the mental health of those around them. And dogs, in particular, encourage their owners to engage in regular physical activity."

Rather than forgoing a pet entirely, consider the environmental impact of pet ownership in your daily life and strive to minimize it.

Hanna also has a message for those wondering if pets are suitable for apartment living.

"The size of the apartment does not determine a pet's happiness. For dogs, it's important that they get enough exercise and engaging activities. Neither of these is tied to the square footage of an apartment."

More important than square footage is how you integrate your pet's life and care into your daily routine and ensure their well-being. This is also a part of sustainable pet ownership.

Checklist for a sustainable pet owner

  • Focus on the food bowl! If possible, avoid red meat. Prefer domestic, locally produced food with short transportation distances. Dry food is a more environmentally friendly option than wet food.
  • Avoid disposable items. When purchasing accessories, invest in long-lasting, high-quality products that don't need to be replaced frequently. Pay attention to materials and where the products are made.
  • Remember to recycle. Old pet accessories, food packaging, and biodegradable cat litter can and should be recycled!