I haven’t eaten red meat since 1980, but for a long time I rationalized wearing leather shoes, boots and coats. I thought that instead of wasting, I was using the animal farming by-products already produced for consumption. After reading the recent New York Times presentation – produced in partnership with the Rainforest Investigations Network at the Pulitzer Center – I know my reasoning was really wrong. I should always have chosen vegan leather.
The Times The article followed a herder who raised cattle on illegally deforested land in the Amazon. By selling them, he obscured the role of cattle in destroying the world’s largest rainforest, an act I was complicit in buying animal leather products. To hide the true origins of his cattle, the breeder structured his sales by introducing an intermediary and building a false paper trail.
It was as if his animals were raised on a legal ranch. Other ranchers in the region are doing the same, he said. “It doesn’t make any difference,” he explained, whether his farm is legal or not.
You might think that the booming slaughterhouse industry in Brazil mainly sells beef. However, this is not the complete picture. In fact, Brazil is the conduit for the tons of leather shipped each year to large companies in the United States and elsewhere.
Such a leather trade shows how intrinsically our Western consumer culture is linked to environmental degradation in developing countries. According to the World Bank, the Amazon is a region that is home to 40% of the world’s remaining rainforest, 25% of its terrestrial biodiversity, and more fish species than in any other river system.
The animal leather trade helps finance the destruction of the Amazon despite the scientific consensus that its protection would help slow global warming. With rapid deforestation, an estimated 20% of the Amazon rainforest has disappeared over the past 50 years, causing severe biodiversity loss and contributing to climate change. The disappearance of forests destroys the capacity of the Amazon to absorb carbon dioxide.
Ironically – or hopefully – Brazil was one of more than 100 countries to pledge to end deforestation by 2030 at the recent United Nations climate summit in Glasgow.
Leather for luxury automobiles, sacrifice the rainforest
Part of Amazon’s appetite for leather comes from the luxury vehicle market. A car interior may require a dozen or more skins. The skins of millions of cattle supply a lucrative international market for animal leather valued in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
The Times traced the complex global trade that links Amazon’s deforestation to a growing appetite for luxury leather seats in vans, SUVs, and other vehicles sold by some of the world’s largest automakers, such as General Motors, Ford and Volkswagen.
- GM issued a statement that it expects suppliers to “comply with laws, regulations and act in a manner consistent with the principles and values” of the automaker.
- Ford said he aspired to “source only responsibly produced raw materials.”
- Volkswagen insisted that its suppliers already adhere to a high level of sustainability.
Vegan leather is becoming all the rage for automakers (Phew)
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reminds us that they have worked for years to put vegan vehicles on the road, pushing and persuading car brands to adopt seats and steering wheels without leather or wool. The nonprofit argues that an environmentally conscious automaker should be consistent in all of its production in rejecting the Amazon rainforest fire as well as the wool industry, which plagues l ‘water supply.
Once upon a time, Tesla’s Model 3 included a leather-wrapped steering wheel by default. In 2017, all Tesla seats became available from synthetic materials. In 2019, the last animal products were removed from the Model 3 – a new synthetic leather-wrapped steering wheel was revealed. Although the vegan leather steering wheel does not include a heating element and presents the challenge of less favorable long-term wear than leather, customers have responded positively to the green changes. Now all new Model 3 and Model Y cars come with premium synthetic seats and vegan leather steering wheel.
Tesla’s premium vegan leather isn’t the only game in town. Other automakers also boast about their vegan leather interiors:
- Ford: The Ford Mustang Mach-E comes standard with fully vegan interiors, including a vegan steering wheel.
- Toyota: Although Toyota offers leather seats and steering wheels in some models, it’s easy to find a vegan Toyota. Look for Softex, Toyota’s vegan leather alternative, in premium or upgraded Toyota models. Toyota base models usually come with cloth seats.
- Volvo: The company wants to make all cars leather-free by 2030. However, it intends to continue offering wool blends. Edmunds reports that the 2022 C40 Recharge model year and all future EVs will be leatherless.
What is vegan leather, anyway, and why is it better?
The main concern most people have when choosing between animal leather and vegan leather is the impact it has on animals and the environment, especially for areas rich in biodiversity like the Amazon rainforest. The term ‘vegan leather’ describes several material alternatives to animal leather – vegan leather looks, feels, and has the same attributes as leather, without having to sacrifice animals during manufacturing.
The general category of vegan leather can be divided into two types, according to The Vou:
Old-fashioned synthetic vegan leather, also known as faux leather. Synthetic leather is made from petroleum based materials and was one of the first attempts to make cheaper alternatives to animal leather. It has generally been produced from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyurethane (PU) and is sometimes referred to as synthetic leather (leather). This type of vegan leather is harmful to the environment.
Newer development natural vegan leather. Natural vegan leather is made from organic materials, such as fruit by-products, mushrooms, cacti, seaweed (kelp), orange and apple peels, pineapple leaves (pinatex) , cork, bark cloth and even paper. Compared to synthetic leather, natural vegan leather is durable and of better quality.
There are several advantages that make vegan leather preferable to animal leather:
- Vegan leather is cruelty-free and animal-friendly. No animal is sacrificed in the vegan leather manufacturing process.
- Most vegan leathers are sustainable and environmentally friendly.
- Vegan leather can be made to order, which means there is no material waste – all parts and sizes are cut to the designer’s needs.
- Making vegan leather emits less CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions than animal leather and also requires fewer toxic chemicals to produce it.
- Vegan leather is waterproof and easy to care for.
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