Is Eating Avocados Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

Is Eating Avocados Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:21 Minutes

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Avocados are a delicious and trendy fruit. They have exploded in popularity over the past few decades, with their US consumption increasing by around 500% between 1985 and 2021. Avocados also have lots of health benefits, including generous helpings of vitamins C and E, as well as magnesium and potassium. They are a classic staple on toast, in salads, and of course, as guacamole. But there can also be many unethical and unsustainable aspects of avocado farming. So we had to ask: Is eating avocados ethical and sustainable?

Eating avocados is fairly unethical. Cartels have infiltrated and corrupted much of the avocado trade in Mexico, leading to instances of violence, child labor, and forced labor. However, in many parts of the industry, Mexican avocado workers still make five times the minimum wage. 

Eating avocados is very unsustainable. They have an extremely high carbon footprint, contribute to wildlife loss and deforestation, and use plastic packaging. However, they contribute minimally to environmental damage when it comes to pesticide use. 

In this article, we will assess both the ethical and sustainability practices of the avocado industry. Through these two lenses, you will be able to gain in-depth knowledge of the overall impacts of the avocados that you eat!

Here’s How We Assessed the Ethics & Sustainability of Avocados

The Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems (SAFA) is one of the ways we measure the externalities of our actions, like the consumption of avocados. It is a holistic assessment based on the potential impact of food and agriculture operations on the environment and people. Those impacts are changes in our environment that can have adverse effects on the air, land, water, fish, and wildlife or the inhabitants of the ecosystem.

“Ethical: The discipline concerned with what is morally good and bad and morally right and wrong”

Encyclopedia Britannica

Ethics and sustainability are closely interconnected concepts that share a common objective: the well-being and preservation of our planet, including all its life and future generations.

“Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

Basically, all goods and services you buy—including avocados—leave an impact on people, animals, and our environment. And when it comes to food in general—and avocados in specific—the following are key factors for their ethics and sustainability:

To understand the overall environmental impact of avocados, we must assess each of their key factors. This Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems (SAFA) is a tool developed for assessing the impact of food and agriculture operations on the environment and people. And this tool helps us to evaluate whether eating avocados is ethical & sustainable.

Here’s How Ethical & Sustainable Eating Avocados Is

The overall ethics & sustainability of avocados is very low. This is mainly because the Mexican avocado industry is plagued by cartel corruption. In terms of sustainability, they have a very high carbon footprint, contribute to deforestation, and use plastic packaging. Compared to other fruits, they are considerably unsustainable. 

Avocados have some positive qualities when it comes to ethics and sustainability. For example, Mexican avocado farmers tend to make much more than the minimum wage, and avocados also have very low pesticide usage. However, despite these things, they are still somewhat unethical and very unsustainable overall. 

So, let’s have a look at the ethics & sustainability impact of each key factor of avocados!

Key Assessment FactorsEthics & Sustainability
Social and economic conditions of avocadosAvocados’ social and economic conditions are fairly bad. Although avocado pickers make more than average, cartels have compromised the ethics of the industry. This has opened the door for violence, child labor, and forced labor. 
Seasonality of avocadosAvocados’ seasonality is from January to March, though they can still grow year-round. They are imported from Mexico regardless of season, and so they maintain lower sustainability, no matter the time of year because of continuous transportation.
Land requirements for avocadosAvocados have a low land yield, contribute to Mexico’s deforestation, and are grown in monocultures. Thus, they are very unsustainable at this stage. 
Water footprint of avocadosAvocados have a moderate water footprint of about 50 inches of water per year. They require a significant amount of irrigation, yet need very little water to clear up pesticide runoff. 
Agrochemical usage for avocadosAvocado agrochemical use is moderate. They use few pesticides, but they also use harmful nitrogen fertilizer.
Carbon footprint of avocadosAvocados have an extremely high carbon footprint of around 0.85kg (1.9lbs) of CO2e per pound of avocados. The main reasons for this are transportation emissions, deforestation due to high land use, waste management, and significant water consumption.
Waste generation of avocadosAvocados waste generation is fairly high. Most of their waste, both organic and packaging, ends up in landfills. 

These are the overall summaries, but there is a lot more to the story. In the next few sections, we will dive deeper into each stage to illustrate to you all the important aspects of avocados’ ethics & sustainability.

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Social and Economic Conditions for Avocados

Avocados’ social and economic conditions are fairly bad. Although avocado pickers make more than average, cartels have compromised the ethics of the industry. This has opened the door for violence, child labor, and forced labor. 

Everything we consume was made or harvested by somebody. In past centuries, this was often someone who lived in your community and who you might have even known personally. But through the rise of globalized distribution systems, we have become increasingly alienated from the people who make our food. This leaves a lot of room for exploitation and abuse, both of which are rampant in the food industry. Here, we will look at how the avocado industry fares in relation to these ethical questions.

How ethical & sustainable are the social and economic conditions of growing avocados?

In short, cartels’ involvement in the Mexican avocado industry compromises their ethics significantly. Therefore, despite their higher wages, avocado farming in Mexico can be very unethical. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Seasonality for Avocados

Avocados’ seasonality is from January to March, though they can still grow year-round. They are imported from Mexico regardless of season, and so they maintain lower sustainability, no matter the time of year because of continuous transportation.

Every fruit has a natural season in which they grow, usually lasting a couple of months, which can range depending on the region. However, international demand for every kind of fruit is year-round. This demand is often met by importing fruits from tropical places which can grow year-round, or by growing them in greenhouses. Both of these methods use more resources and are thus less sustainable than conventional farming. Here, we will look at how the avocado industry accommodates year-round demand.

How ethical & sustainable is it to grow avocados in-season vs out-of-season?

  • When is the natural season for growing and harvesting avocados: Avocados are at their best in the winter from January to March. However, they do grow year-round in Mexico. 
  • How are avocados naturally grown in-season: In-season avocados are mainly grown in Mexico. They grow on trees and take around 6–7 months to mature.
  • How are avocados grown out-of-season: Avocados don’t have strong seasonality, and so their out-of-season growth is much the same as their in-season growth. They are still grown in Mexico at this stage. 

In short, the fact that avocados don’t have strong seasonality and are mainly grown in Mexico year-round means that their sustainability is moderately low year-round. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Land Requirements for Avocados

Avocados have a low land yield, contribute to Mexico’s deforestation, and are grown in monocultures. Thus, they are very unsustainable at this stage. 

Illustration of global land use for food production
Our World in Data: Global land use for food production

The growth stage has a major impact on fruits’ sustainability. The amount of land used, especially in relation to its expansion, the method with which they are grown, and their effect on surrounding land and wildlife are all important factors. In this section, we will look at the ways in which avocados’ land usage affects their sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable are the land requirements for growing avocados?

In short, the avocado industry’s use of monoculture farming and deforestation, as well as avocados’ tendency to erode soil means that they are very unsustainable at this stage. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Water Footprint of Avocados

Avocados have a moderate water footprint of about 50 inches of water per year. They require a significant amount of irrigation, yet need very little water to clear up pesticide runoff. 

Water usage is one of the most important factors in a fruit’s sustainability. Practices like irrigation use significant resources and can cause pollution, and as such, factors like the amount of water used, where it is sourced, as well as the way they affect the water sources around them, are all important. Here, we will look at these different angles of avocados’ water footprint.

How ethical & sustainable is the water footprint of growing avocados?

In short, avocados’ fairly high irrigation requirements, as well as their use of plastic packaging, means their water use is fairly unsustainable. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Agrochemical Usage for Avocados

Avocado agrochemical use is moderate. They use few pesticides, but they also use harmful nitrogen fertilizer.

Pesticides and fertilizers are agrochemicals that are very unsustainable and damaging to ecosystems. This is because they require resources to create and can easily run off into groundwater and soil systems. Here, we will look at how sustainable avocados’ pesticide and fertilizer rates really are.

How ethical & sustainable is the agrochemical usage of growing avocados?

In short, the fact that avocados use nitrogen fertilizer means that their agrochemical usage is moderately unsustainable, despite their low pesticide use. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Carbon Footprint of Avocados

Avocados have an extremely high carbon footprint of around 0.85kg (1.9lbs) of CO2e per pound of avocados. The main reasons for this are transportation emissions, deforestation due to high land use, waste management, and significant water consumption.

Illustration of global greenhouse gas emissions from food production
Our World in Data: Global greenhouse gas emissions from food production

Carbon footprint is one aspect of the overall sustainability of a fruit. It essentially measures how much carbon or other greenhouse gasses the production of fruits emits into the atmosphere. Emissions from product manufacturing, irrigation, transportation fuel, and landfills all add up to create the overall carbon footprint of a fruit. Let’s see how the carbon footprint of avocados contributes to their overall sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable is the carbon footprint of avocados?

In short, avocados’ use of refrigerated transportation, high irrigation, and plastic packaging means that they have an exceptionally high carbon footprint. 

Related: Check out our full article on “What Is the Carbon Offsets of Avocados? A Life-Cycle Analysis” to find out all about the carbon footprint of avocados and how each stage of their life-cycle contributes to it (plus, what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint when shopping for avocados).

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Waste Generation of Avocados

Avocados waste generation is fairly high. Most of their waste, both organic and packaging, ends up in landfills. 

When fruit waste, either in the form of packaging or organic materials, is disposed of, it can cause a lot of problems. Whether it’s damaging wildlife, getting into oceans, emitting methane, or dissolving into microplastics that contaminate groundwater, all these materials have their part to play. The sheer amount of waste we produce is reaching a crisis point and won’t be able to continue much longer. In this section, we will look at how sustainable avocados’ waste generation is.

How ethical & sustainable is the waste generation of avocados?

In short, avocados’ use of plastic packaging and their low composting rates make for a very unsustainable fruit waste-wise. 

What Have Been Historical Ethics & Sustainability Issues Connected to the Avocado Industry

Avocados have partaken in some farming practices that have significantly harmed the environment and people over the years. These include labor exploitation in Kenya, the destruction of Mexican forests, damage to aquatic life from plastic, and habitat loss. 

All fruits have had a complex road toward global distribution. They originate in one part of the world and often travel far to end up in your local supermarket. From farm to table, some of our favorite fruits have racked up some serious damage along the way. Whether it’s exploiting labor, deforestation to meet demand, water pollution, or disruption of wildlife, most fruits have left a path of destruction. Let’s see how avocados have fared throughout history.

What have been the key ethical & sustainable issues of the avocado industry?

In short, the avocado industry has been accused of several unethical and unsustainable practices, including deforestation, species loss, and violence against workers. 

How Can You Reduce Your Environmental Impact and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

There are a few things you can do to make your avocado consumption more ethical and sustainable, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and avocado-related carbon emissions, which work to remove carbon emissions elsewhere that are then attributed to you. Here, we will walk you through how to accomplish both of these things.

How Can You Shop for Avocados More Ethically & Sustainably

In this section, we give you a short list of ways you can consume avocados in a more sustainable way. This list is designed to target the most unsustainable parts of avocados’ life-cycle:

  1. Buy fair-trade avocados: Although Mexican avocados do have issues with cartels, experts say that boycotting Mexico’s avocado industry isn’t helpful. One way you can try to go about heightening your avocado ethics is to support fair-trade avocados instead
  2. Buy unpackaged avocados: A major factor in the sustainability of an avocado is the packaging. If you buy avocados loose, without any plastic, styrofoam, or cardboard, then your overall waste will be much lower, thus reducing the amount of harmful waste in landfills. 
  3. Recycle and compost avocado waste: If you do buy packaged avocados, try to recycle any packaging to avoid contributing to landfills. You can also compost the pits and skins so they don’t end up in landfills either. If your city doesn’t have a municipal composting service, consider creating one of your own!

Following some of these methods can really help you to make your avocado-eating more sustainable. None of these will completely eradicate the negative impacts, since there are always effects that may be outside of your control. But some reduction is always better than nothing!

Which Organizations Can You Support to Help Promote Ethics & Sustainability

While avocado production engages in some very unsustainable practices, there are also some organizations that help you change the parts of these processes that would otherwise be outside of your control. These organizations are working hard to prevent and reverse damage to the environment caused by industries like avocado agriculture, towards a more sustainable future.

In the table below are some of the best charities that work in the areas where avocado production are very unsustainable—and beyond:

Overall ethics & sustainabilityBest charities that advance ethics worldwide
Best charities that promote sustainability
Social and economic impactBest charities that help farmers
SeasonalityBest charities that fight to protect our environment
Land requirementsBest charities for reforestation
Best wildlife conservation charities
Best charities for protecting the Amazon rainforest
Water footprintBest charities that fight for clean water
Best charities that help conserve our rivers
Best charities to save our oceans
Agrochemical usageBest charities for helping farm animals
Carbon footprintBest charities for climate change
Best carbon offsets for individuals
Waste generationBest charities that fight to reduce food waste
Best charities that fight to end plastic pollution
Best charities that promote recycling

Though it is helpful to boost the sustainability of your personal avocado consumption, supporting these organizations takes your positive impact a step further. You will be reaching far beyond your own consumption impacts and helping to build a better world for everyone!

How Can You Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint is a key part of how sustainable we live. And it is one of the ways we measure the effects of our human-induced global climate change. Yes, even from eating avocados!

“Carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gasses and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period”

Merriam Webster

Basically, it is the amount of carbon emitted by you as an individual or an organization providing you with goods and services – including avocados:

Illustration of carbon emissions from food
Our World in Data: Emissions from food alone would take us past 1.5°C or 2°C this century

Carbon offsets are reductions in carbon emissions that are used to compensate for carbon emissions occurring elsewhere – for example for the carbon emissions that are associated with avocados. They are measured in tons of CO2 equivalents and are bought and sold through international brokers, online retailers, and trading platforms on what is known as the global carbon offset market. 

“Carbon Offset: a way for a company or person to reduce the level of carbon dioxide for which they are responsible by paying money to a company that works to reduce the total amount produced in the world, for example by planting trees”

Oxford Dictionary

In terms of avocados – and indeed all food types – there will always be a carbon footprint, because of the resources it takes to get your food from farms to the place where you’ll eventually eat them. And while there are ways to reduce your carbon footprint when shopping for avocados, carbon offsets would be a way to reduce your CO2e emissions all the way down to net zero (or even to become climate positive).

However, when you purchase carbon offsets, it’s important that they actually make a difference in offsetting (aka reducing) total carbon emissions. To achieve that, the following are key criteria:

  • Carbon offset projects have to be effective (different projects have different effectiveness rates)
  • Carbon offset projects have to be additional
  • Carbon offset projects have to be permanent
  • The claims from carbon offset projects have to be verifiable

To find the best carbon offsets for you personally, check out our full guide on the best carbon offsets for individuals, where you’ll also learn more about how these carbon offset projects work, what their respective offsetting costs are, and what your best way would be to offset your own carbon emissions.

Related: Check out our full guide on “What Are the Best Carbon Offsets for Individuals: Complete 2024 List” to find the best carbon offset providers for your personal carbon emissions and those associated to, e.g., eating avocados.

Final Thoughts

Avocados are certainly not the most sustainable fruit, nor the most ethical. The Mexican avocado industry is complicated; on the one hand, workers are offered competitive wages. However, on the other hand, they are run by cartels that escalate violence. On the sustainability side, the avocado industry perpetuates deforestation, carbon emissions, and plastic waste, making them very unsustainable. However, there are several ways in which you can improve your avocado consumptions’ ethics and sustainability, such as composting effectively or supporting sustainability and ethical organizations to tackle the bigger issues!

Stay impactful,

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