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The Leather Industry recently released a Position Statement on Leather Alternatives and it isn’t a glowing letter of recommendation.  The industry makes clear, it “will not stand” for unsubstantiated claims that leather alternatives perform just as well as leather. It also will not stand for claims that leather alternatives are more sustainable than leather. Fabric performance is above my pay-grade, so let’s talk about sustainability.

First, to be clear, producing leather from hides isn’t sustainable because raising and slaughtering cows is unsustainable (the chemical waste from making leather in itself is pretty deleterious, but we can set that aside.). You can read about why raising and slaughtering cows is destroying the environment here, here, and here (among others) in One Green Planet. But for purposes of this article, I will take that fact as given. The real question is whether the leather industry is responsible for the raising and slaughtering of cows.

To answer that question, imagine what would happen if people stopped buying leather. The leather industry would have you believe that the cows will be killed anyway for meat, and the leather will go to waste. They may also tell you that burying the waste in landfills or incinerating it releases more greenhouse gases, so they’re in fact creating a solution for the waste. Truthfully, this is a clever argument, and it warrants more than offhanded dismissal. So, let’s walk through the logic of why it’s incorrect.

To start, let’s accept that tanneries procure raw hides and skin from the food sector (here, I set aside leather products from animals other than cows, which are indisputably unsustainable. Nobody is making alligator coats because there were leftover alligator skins after all the alligator meat production). But stating that the food sector would kill cows irrespective of the leather industry overlooks the basic laws of supply and demand. If people stop buying leather, then leather manufacturers will demand fewer cow skins and hides.

This means the companies that raise and slaughter cows will lose a source of income. Then, either (1) if selling meat does not generate enough income, those companies will go out of business; or (2) the companies will have to make up for lost revenue by charging more for meat. Assuming the latter, the demand for beef will fall. As the demand for beef falls, corporations will supply less beef to match the falling demand, meaning they will raise and slaughter fewer cows.

The leather industry position statement, in other words, is clever but ultimately sophistry. Imagine an ivory dealer saying, “Poachers don’t kill elephants for ivory, they kill them for meat. We just buy the ivory so that it doesn’t go to waste.”

The leather industry is no better and is a driving force behind raising and slaughtering cows. Please sign this petition to boycott leather.

You can also check out these leather alternatives:

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