Vegan Cardholder by Jenah St.


The Green Edit by Jenah St. #4

with Rima Mehta 

The leather industry in the context of climate change & biodiversity challenge

In this Edit #4 we’ll discuss why switching to vegan leather is great for animal welfare (beside the obvious ;) ) and also a step towards a cleaner planet. Animal-skin production has a big environmental footprint and contributes greatly to climate change and to threatening the biodiversity of the Earth's ecosystems.

At Jenah St. we believe in using sustainably made and high-performance leather alternatives, but why are we so admanate about using “leather alternatives”? Read our second installment, “Green Edits: A Vegan Way Forward” to find out more.  

This article is part 4 in our Green Edit mini series.  


WHY IS DEFORESTATION SO DEVASTATING TO THE ENVIRONMENT? 

We are always looking for ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere to fight climate change. But, deforestation threatens our best, most environmentally-friendly option: forests. You may have heard forests called “the lungs of the Earth,” and it is true— trees aren’t just great habitats for wildlife. Of course, trees take in carbon dioxide and produce the oxygen we need, but they also store carbon. Clearing a forest and burning the wood as fuel releases that stored carbon into the atmosphere, making an even bigger impact.

WHAT ARE THE COMMONALITIES BETWEEN DEFORESTATION AND LEATHER PRODUCTION?

The leather industry, in particular, is also a big cause of deforestation. Our trees are threatened by the expansion of animal industries, like leather, dairy, and meat, which need a lot of land for grazing, housing, and feed production. Deforestation also makes space for even more animals, especially cows that emit methane, a gas that is 84 times more harmful than CO2!

When forests are replaced with land for industrial agriculture, habitats start to simplify. [...] Diverse ecosystems are more productive, stable, and resistant to natural disasters.

BESIDES ADVANCING CLIMATE CHANGE, HOW DOES DEFORESTATION AFFECT BIODIVERSITY? 

The practice of clear-cutting forests does more than just advance climate change. Replacing forests with grazing lands (for products like meat and leather) also destroys ecosystems. When forests are replaced with land for industrial agriculture, habitats start to simplify: they start to host the same species and structures. This reduces biodiversity, which is not just a “nice-to-have” — it is actually key for ecosystem functions.

WHAT ARE SOME OTHER BENEFITS OF A HEALTHY ECOSYSTEM?

Healthy ecosystems do all sorts of great things for the planet, like cycling nutrients and filtering the water we drink. Plus, diverse ecosystems are even more productive, stable, and resistant to natural disasters and species invasion.

CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE LEATHER TANNING PROCESS AND WHY IT IS HARMFUL? 

Raising animals industrially always has a huge environmental footprint (it’s nearly 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions). The leather industry also has a heavy impact because of the tanning process. Achieving leather durability and flexibility requires application of chemicals and a lot of water. Animal-derived leathers need to be tanned and re-tanned, lubricated, dried, dyed, and sometimes treated or distressed to achieve a specific look.
 
When making leather, manufacturers need to stop the natural decomposition of animal skins. In this process, tanners may apply chromium salts and chemicals like ammonia, formaldehyde, and even lead. Runoff products include chromium (IV), a known carcinogen, and many of these toxic substances make their way to water systems, where they can spread to wildlife and contaminate drinking water. Treating animal skins with chemical preservatives also makes them non-biodegradable, and even more likely to end up in a landfill. Conversely, leather alternatives have zero pre-tanning wastes. 
 
Sources: 
Morlet, A., Opsomer, R., Herrmann, S., Balmond, L., Gillet, C., & Fuchs, L (2017). A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion's Future. A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion's Future (pp. 5–40). Ellen MacArthur Foundation & Circular Fibers Initiative.


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More about Rima Mehta


A native of the evergreen Pacific Northwest, Rima grew up hiking and exploring the wilderness. Her passion for conservation grew after living in different contexts around the globe, seeing firsthand that a single action could have many effects for people on the other side of the world. Rima's work in social impact ranges from waste reduction and clean energy to financial inclusion. She currently resides in Switzerland, where she pursues a graduate degree in Sustainable Development and eats lots of (sustainable) chocolate. 


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