In a 2019 report by the Pet Sustainability Coalition, 91% of industry professionals anticipated an increase in demand for sustainable pet products. And 50% expected that demand to grow rapidly. 

Their predictions were correct. Sales of sustainability marketed pet treats grew by 70% from 2015 to 2019 and continue to outpace products without sustainability claims.

These days, sustainability is more than a trend — it’s a “structural change that will impact our lives for a very long time.” Even during the COVID-19 crisis, pet owners expressed their preference for sustainable products. A recent survey found that, despite the current situation, 22% of consumers would like to see more sustainably sourced pet foods on the market. This interest surpasses that of other trends like plant-based protein and fresh or freeze-dried foods.

Sustainability is about more than environmentally-friendly packaging. Here are a few things customers consider when determining the sustainable qualities of what they feed their pets.

Sustainably-sourced ingredients

Consumers are paying more attention to ingredient lists on their pets’ food, not only to know what those ingredients are and how they contribute to pet health but the sourcing information behind those ingredients. 

Sustainable sourcing takes into account factors like the environmental effects of farming and manufacturing practices, the welfare of the animals used as protein sources, and the overall nutritional content of the ingredients.

Revised agricultural and manufacturing methods

In the U.S., dog and cat foods “constitute about 25–30% of the environmental impacts from animal production in terms of the use of land, water, fossil fuel, phosphate, and biocides,” a 2017 report notes. 

Fortunately, there are many innovative farming practices that decrease emissions, such as using zero-emissions farm equipment and greenhouse gas-focused breeding programs. On the production side, sustainable practices include those that conserve natural resources, are non-pollutive, and promote employee and food safety.

Healthy livestock = healthy pets

The health of the animals sourced for pet food production contributes to the health of the pets eating it, thereby supporting a sustainable system. 

Consumers want to know that all livestock raised for human and pet food is free of disease, receiving proper care, and treated kindly. Animal welfare is now a consumer expectation and a priority in the food industry. Several companies have received recognition for their animal welfare initiatives.

Quality nutrition, minimal food waste

Food that doesn’t deliver on nutritional content isn’t promoting the health of the animal eating it. Consumers may consider this food waste, prompting them to seek out products that contain quality ingredients and lack unnecessary fillers. 

But pet food uses up a lot of animal protein — the average dog food includes 20-40% protein, and the average cat food contains 30-60% percent. Although not all of that protein comes from animal sources, most of it does. That’s a large ecological footprint, especially if it’s human-grade animal protein.

Trimmings, organs, and other byproducts from human food production can help cut down on that footprint, while still providing a quality ingredient source for pet foods. These parts might otherwise end up in landfills, where they won’t be doing the environment any favors. 

However, there is a need for more customer education on the use of byproducts in pet food. These ingredients can provide valuable nutritional content in pet food, but consumers often associate leftovers from human food production with diminished quality.

Certified sustainability

So how can pet food companies prove their commitment to sustainability? While it helps to communicate sustainable values with transparency and storytelling, it’s more efficient to verify sustainability claims right on the label. 

There are several certification and accreditation programs out there that help communicate a company’s commitment to sustainability. Here are some of them: