It is now widely known that cow’s milk is not environmentally friendly due to the dairy industry’s extensive water use, land use, and greenhouse gas emissions. However, it can be hard to tell which milk alternative is the most sustainable choice. Soy milk is a great option because soybeans use much less water than other milk alternatives such as almond milk. Silk Organic Unsweet Soymilk is Non-GMO Project verified and certified organic. Silk is a completely dairy-free company, which is great. However, its parent company, Danone, owns brands that sell dairy products, so by buying Silk, you are still indirectly supporting dairy farming. Silk has taken many steps to becoming more sustainable and has partnered with programs to recharge groundwater. However, some of these steps only include vague goals for the future without any current updates on Silk’s sustainability progress. Overall, while Silk could be more transparent about their sustainability efforts, I like that Silk’s soybeans are responsibly sourced and believe that this product is a great milk alternative.
Silk Soymilk is Non-GMO Project verified as well as certified organic. However, this product does include some problematic ingredients. One of these ingredients is Vitamin A Palmitate, which is often derived from palm oil, a major cause of deforestation. Oil palm plants require a lot of land, and many palm oil plantations are getting this land by cutting into forests. This also releases massive quantities of carbon pollution into the air as well as endangering the species living in those forests. Organizations such as RSPO do provide certifications for sustainable palm oil production, but Silk does not indicate any certifications for their palm oil or whether this ingredient was sourced sustainably at all. Soymilk in general uses much less water than its competitors—both cow’s milk and other milk alternatives. According to the USDA, 90% of U.S. soybean farms rely on only rain as a water source, and this number is increasing. Raising dairy cows requires a vast quantity of both land and water. On top of this, cows produce methane, which adds to greenhouse gas emissions. While milk alternatives are more environmentally friendly than cow’s milk, some are still wasteful. Almonds are a very water-intensive crop, requiring about 1.1 gallons of water to produce a single almond! This makes almondmilk a poor dairy alternative. Other dairy-free milks such as coconut milk are problematic because of the poor treatment of coconut farmers. Despite the extra ingredients they use, I gave Silk a 2.6 in this category because I want to emphasize how soymilk is one of the best milk alternatives out there in terms of sustainability.
Silk says that their soybeans are sourced from the U.S. and Canada. This is good because soybean farming can be a cause of deforestation in locations such as the Amazon, Atlantic Forest, and the Chiquitano Dry Forest, which are all in South America. There are also concerns over the labor laws and rights of soybean farmers in Brazil, as this is where many of the world’s soybeans come from. Again, since Silk only sources from the U.S. and Canada, neither of these issues are a problem for this product. Interestingly, much of the increased demand for soybeans, which is causing deforestation, comes from farms. The majority of the world’s soybeans, around 80-90%, go into livestock feed. This includes feed for cows (dairy and beef), chicken, and pork. Therefore, choosing soymilk as an alternative to cow’s milk is actually helping slow deforestation instead of contributing to it. Choosing soymilk or any other milk alternative decreases the demand for dairy cows, since you are no longer consuming their milk. Therefore, less dairy cows are needed, which means that less soybeans are needed to feed them.
Silk was founded in Boulder, Colorado by Steve Demos. It is now owned by the parent company Danone, specifically Danone North America. While Silk only sells dairy-free products, Danone owns companies such as Horizon Organic and Oikos, which use dairy. So unfortunately, by buying Silk’s milk alternatives, you are still indirectly supporting dairy farming. Additionally, Silk was involved in a lawsuit in the fall of 2009 which accused the company of switching from organic to non-organic ingredients without properly notifying their consumers. For example, they stopped putting the “organic” label on their packaging without giving advance notice to retailers or consumers. Fortunately, when I look on their website today, there seems to be a clear distinction between their organic and non-organic products. While looking through Silk’s website, I found some steps that they are taking to be more sustainable. All of their cartons and creamer bottles are now recyclable, and they have planted 25 miles of California native plants in their almond farms to support bees and other California wildlife. Silk also partners with a groundwater recharge program in California and with Change the Course to help preserve the Colorado River Basin. However, a lot of the sustainability promises on their website used words like “we are working towards...” or “our ambition is to...” without providing any actual evidence of progress. These goals included: making all packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025, “working toward” making their paperboard out of Forest Stewardship Council-certified materials, and employing Bee Better practices at their almond farms by 2025. While I think these goals are great, and I am hopeful that Silk will follow through, I wish this company showed their current progress instead of making vague promises for the future. Overall, since Silk does not use dairy, it is already more sustainable than its dairy-full alternatives. While Silk should do more to reduce their footprint in regards to their other products, I think Silk is a good brand to go to for soymilk.