Leather has long been perceived as a sustainable material, often touted as a byproduct of the cattle industry. However, it’s time to debunk this myth and acknowledge the detrimental environmental effects leather production inflicts on our planet. In this article, we delve into the intricate web of connections between leather, climate change, and sustainability.

Animal farming, with cow farming at the forefront, is widely acknowledged as a significant contributor to climate change. The leather industry’s claim that leather is merely a worthless byproduct of this sector is a common misconception. In reality, leather is not an inconsequential byproduct but a valuable co-product of cow farming, representing a substantial chunk of major slaughterhouses’ earnings, sometimes reaching up to 26%. To dispose of hides without extracting leather would pose financial burdens, inevitably raising meat costs and exacerbating the environmental toll of animal agriculture, including land use, deforestation, and water pollution. Shockingly, calculations by CIRCUMFAUNA reveal that the methane emissions from rotting cow skin pale in comparison to the environmental harm incurred during leather processing.

Beyond the damage caused by farming and slaughter practices, the leather processing itself exacts a heavy environmental toll. The tanning process, in particular, generates significant waste and water pollution. A report supported by the European Commission disclosed that producing just 1kg of leather consumes up to 2.5kg of chemical substances and a staggering 250 liters of water, while simultaneously generating up to 6.1kg of solid waste.

Furthermore, the leather industry has resorted to greenwashing tactics to portray leather as an eco-friendly material. Various efforts to market leather as environmentally conscious often rely on misleading claims. For instance, fashion brands frequently brandish the Leather Working Group (LWG) certificate to present their leather as sustainable. However, this certification conveniently overlooks farm-level impacts, which constitute the lion’s share of leather’s negative environmental footprint.

In light of these revelations, the imperative for change becomes undeniable. The report calls for the acknowledgment of the environmental harms associated with leather and implores fashion brands to commit to reducing and eventually phasing out their leather usage in favor of sustainable alternatives. However, a pertinent concern arises from an animal welfare perspective: will the decline in the leather industry’s profitability lead to increased demand for plant-based alternatives, or will consumers switch to other animal products like chicken, potentially causing more harm?

One aspect remains unequivocal: leather’s environmental impacts, both during tanning and its economic significance in the meat and dairy industry, relegate it to a neglected but pivotal role in our collective efforts to mitigate climate change. Armed with this knowledge, advocates can work to raise awareness about the true environmental cost of leather and expose the industry’s deceptive greenwashing efforts.

The leather industry’s symbiotic relationship with animal agriculture intensifies the urgency of addressing leather’s environmental impact. To foster sustainability and mitigate climate change, several key areas must be addressed:

1. **Redefining Leather as a Non-Sustainable Material**: It is crucial to dispel the myth that leather is a sustainable byproduct. Acknowledging its significant contribution to climate change and environmental degradation is the first step.

2. **Transparent Supply Chains**: Fashion brands should embrace transparency in their supply chains, ensuring consumers have access to information regarding the leather’s origin and its environmental impact.

3. **Promotion of Sustainable Alternatives**: The fashion industry must actively promote and invest in sustainable alternatives to leather. Materials like mushroom leather, cork leather, and synthetic alternatives offer eco-friendly options without compromising on style or quality.

4. **Consumer Education**: Raising awareness among consumers about the true environmental cost of leather is essential. Education can empower individuals to make informed choices and support sustainable fashion.

5. **Government Regulations and Incentives**: Governments can play a pivotal role by implementing regulations that encourage sustainable practices and disincentivize environmentally harmful ones. Tax incentives for eco-friendly materials and waste reduction initiatives can drive industry-wide change.

6. **Innovative Technologies**: Embracing innovative technologies for sustainable leather production, such as plant-based tanning methods and water-efficient processing, can significantly reduce leather’s environmental impact.

7. **Reducing Meat Consumption**: Reducing meat consumption, especially beef, can alleviate the pressure on the leather industry and mitigate the associated environmental damage.

In conclusion, leather is far from the sustainable material it is often portrayed to be. Its complex interplay with climate change, animal agriculture, and the fashion industry underscores the urgency of reevaluating our relationship with this material. To build a more sustainable future, we must expose the true environmental cost of leather, hold industries accountable for their actions, and actively seek alternatives that harmonize fashion with a healthier planet. It is only through collective action and informed choices that we can steer the fashion industry toward a more sustainable and eco-conscious future.

Original source: https://faunalytics.org