Animal breeding should be considered as a permanent and cumulative approach to reducing the environmental footprint of dairy cattle production systems within an overall national and global mitigation strategy. Current international dairy cattle breeding goals do not explicitly include environmental traits, but observed improvements in milk production and both fertility and longevity contribute substantially to improving the environmental footprint relative to output. Ideally, however, environmental related traits, most notably greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen excretion, should be explicitly included in national breeding goals with their own economic weight. Access to routine phenotypic observations for the environmental traits or other information including genomic information or information on heritable correlated traits is required for inclusion in the selection index. There is, however, a considerable paucity of information on the genetic parameters for, in particular, greenhouse gas emissions in dairy cattle; these parameters include genetic variance estimates, as well as genetic and phenotypic (co)variances with other performance traits. Large studies with well phenotyped animals across a range of environments are needed to estimate such parameters and also investigate the extent, if any, of genotype-by-environment interactions across contrasting environments. Considerable genetic variation in milk urea nitrogen, as a proxy for nitrogen excretion in the urine, exist and suggest that breeding programmes to improve nitrogen use efficiency will be fruitful. However, because of the antagonistic genetic correlations between milk urea nitrogen and milk production, genetic gain in milk yield is expected to be compromised within a breeding goal that includes milk urea nitrogen.