The Environmental Impact of Animal Leather VS Faux Leather

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The Environmental Impact of Animal Leather VS Faux Leather

The Environmental Impact of Animal Leather VS Faux Leather

As supporters of ethical fashion initiatives, you already know how big of an impact your choices are having on the welfare of animals.  And guess what? A 2017 report from the Copenhagen Fashion Summit has brought the world’s attention to one pretty significant truth:

Synthetic leather is less harmful to the planet than cow leather.

We all saw this coming, and the fact that the report cements faux leather as a far less harmful material in the fashion world is something to get pretty darn excited about.  

As one of the first reports to uncover the real environmental impact of animal leather, we now know for sure that every pro-leather argument has been debunked.  

The Report That Redefines The Leather Debate 

We’ll admit that the super lengthy 2017 Pulse of The Fashion Industry Report doesn’t have the catchiest title, but it sure does pack a punch in the info department.  Hidden within its 105 pages is this absolute gem: The direct comparison of the environmental impact of animal leather versus synthetic leather, and other textiles.

We’re just going to go right ahead and say it.  This is a game-changerin the ethical fashion arena. We all know that our ethical choices are a big deal.  And now we have the cold hard environmental facts and real world evidence to back up our choices. 

Quite frankly, the ill-informed pro-leather argument is dead. 

The Impact of Animal Leather On Our Sweet Earth

One of the main pro-leather points we’ve all heard from animal leather lovers is that:

"Animal leather is natural and not made from materials like plastic so it is better for the environment."

That’s where this point completely misses the mark. In this revolutionary report it is clearly explained that vegan (synthetic) leather is a far less harmful choice than animal leather as far as the planet is concerned. 

In fact, out of all materials used for fashion, animal fibers take out four of the top five least environmentally friendly, with cow leather the most damaging.

When the ‘cradle to gate environmental impact’ study compared each type of fibre with their impact on chemistry, global warming, water scarcity and more, there was a clear front runner.  Overall, cow leather was found to be most damaging out of all of the fibres.

So where does that leave faux leather in the big scheme of things?

Contributing just one third of environmental impact compared to cow leather.  That’s where.

“Synthetic leather has only a third of the environmental impact of cow leather.  As Kering says in its 2015 EP&L statement, different leathers can have an over tenfold difference in environmental impact based on their type and origin, how the animal was raised, and how the tanning process took place. Switching to alternative materials can directly improve a product’s footprint.” 


Fez, Morocco: Dye workers working in traditional tannery in Old Medina of Fes(Fez), North Africa. 

And as we dig a little further, we also discover that in a recent report, Sustainable Apparel Materials by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the annual global impact of animal leather is approximately 130 MT Co2e.  This is the same amount of damaging emissions as those from 30 million passenger vehicles each year.  Let’s just let that sink in for a moment. 

As conscious consumers we’re sure you can appreciate how powerful these findings are too.  Not only are your choices bringing some seriously good karma your way, but they’ll continue to leave a less significant eco-footprint on the world for years to come.  

The severity of animal leather’s destructiveness on the Earth has always been suspected as a leading contributor to global warming, water scarcity and resource depletion, amongst other toxic factors.  And now that we're armed with the facts, we can feel confident knowing that our faux leather choices contribute far less of an impact. 

A Smarter Way To Design

The 2017 Pulse of The Fashion Industry Report goes on to show that making ethical choices in the design phase of fashion has a HUGE impact on a sustainable future within the fashion industry.  Not only does choosing to use faux leather reduce the need for water, chemicals and contribution to waste, but it also makes way for a massive positive change in eco-footprints.


“In the design and development phase, brands can reduce life cycle impacts by considering the footprint of proposed garments upfront… Switching to alternative materials can directly improve a product’s footprint.”


The Verdict

We now know for sure that animal leather is the most environmentally toxic textile of all. And while faux (vegan) leather is not 100% perfect either, it is by far preferable when compared to animal leather. This further demonstrates that there is absolutely no reason that justifies using animals in fashion. 

With such a wide range of faux leather types, each varying in their eco-friendliness levels, your ethical choices are endless. At Ethical Gallery we curated a variety of alternative leather options so that you can browse and add ethical pieces to your wardrobe without compromising ethics or aesthetics.  

You can check out the animal-free materials we stock at Ethical Gallery and shop the store, like, right now. 

2 Responses

E J Ferris
E J Ferris

June 09, 2019

Yes the production of leather is worse for environment than the production of synthetics, at least in theory. However – for me there’s only one pro leather argument. It lasts for 15 – 20 years when made into a bag or shoes. PU or other synthetics last only a few years. Also it is cheaper so people will buy more items. One expensive, well made leather bag that lasts a lifetime, is better than 20 PU bags that are all ruined after a few years. End of story. And that’s why simple stats don’t give a true picture on this issue


June 09, 2019

Genuine question, which is why I’m looking into this topic in the first place: what is the verdict when comparing a product’s lifespan vs. expected use? I have never owned a vegan leather bag that lasted more than a year, but have carried a leather bag daily for nearly 7 years. I expect to get another few years out of it, at least. When it is time to replace this heavily-used article (I do not switch handbags unless it’s a special occasion), which is the more environmentally responsible option???

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