Let us get real, shall we? There is a lot of misinformation shared online, and it is time to lay out some fundamental assumptions that are wrong about automotive leather. As our platform has been sharing insights for the past year, we keep seeing the same comments, questions, and statements pop-up in response to the industry insights we share. It is time to tackle these and provide you with the answers you seek.

As a platform, our focus is the automotive leather industry, and as such, the information reflects how this industry operates and the standards it adheres too.

  1. Statement 1: Animals are killed for leather
    This statement is incorrect.Yet, a slightly longer answer is required, because after all, leather does use the hide or skin of deceased animals. The concept of slaughtering animals for only their leather is a very modern idea. Killing an animal to use only a small part is a terrible waste of resources and, therefore, it does not occur in the leather industry. It must be remembered, we are not talking about the fur industry, but the leather tanning industry. Meat consumption has far outgrown the leather industry, and by this point, the hide is simply a by-product of the food industry. If the whole leather industry took a one-year break, there would be no change in the number of animals killed for their meat.
    More about leather as a by-product

  2. Statement 2: The meat industry is struggling
    This statement is incorrect.It is true that more people than ever now opt for a different lifestyle and either reduce, or completely abstain from the consumption of meat, fish, dairy, and other animal-based products. However, meat consumption is on the rise, with the average consumption per person higher than ever. We are also facing challenges associated with a growing world population. Cattle play a huge role in agriculture, and even if removed from our diet, they are an essential part of healthier ecosystems within regenerative agriculture settings.

    17% of the global leather industry is accounted for by the automotive industry. The leather industry, in general, is a much smaller industry than food processing (meat production), and the number of un-used hides/skins is increasing. While the leather industry does not feel it wants to judge consumer choices, it is worrying to see this material go to waste. Leather is being replaced by plastic substitutes, plastics that contribute to the growing global waste pile at the end of their lifecycle.

  3. Statement 3: Leather and the meat industry are interdependent
    This statement is incorrect.A long time ago, leather indeed represented a significant part of an animal’s value. Even today the leather industry relies on the meat industry for its base materials, however, a decrease in leather demand is causing only a portion of hides to be sold and used in leather making. In recent years, the value of hides has dropped to <1% of the total value of the animal in the United States. The leather industry may still depend on the meat industry, but this is not the case vice versa.

    The good news? Transparency is becoming ever more critical. The supply chains are working closely together to tie together loose ends and create visibility for all aspects. Yet, there is no co-dependence, only dependence from one side (that of the leather industry).

  4. Statement 4: Leather is animal cruelty
    This statement is incorrect.The leather industry does not deal with live animals, as tanners only purchase the hides from cattle slaughtered within the meat industry. Nonetheless, the leather industry adheres to the so-called Five Freedoms, which are guiding principles for animal welfare. In large parts of the world, animal sentience is already recognized.

    The automotive industry stands by these principles and, therefore, only purchases hides from supply chains which show evidence of high animal welfare standards. The reason is twofold; firstly, there is the ethical aspect and demand for sustainably sourced materials. On the other hand, leather quality is at its best when animals live a healthy life. Damaged, unhealthy hides, are merely not good enough, and in the current market, they will go to waste.
    More about animal welfare

  5. Statement 5: The leather industry often has a poor working environment
    This statement is incorrect.Working environments with fewer regulations are often portrayed by many activist websites, however, these conditions are found in any industry if you look at the most unregulated places. In the European region and North America, working conditions are, in fact, strictly regulated, and worker safety is the top priority. Dangerous operations in these areas are automated, and chemical use is closely monitored. More and more chemicals used are bio- or water-based, which reduces the risks even further. Tanneries around the world all have the same standards, however, countries do not always have the resources to enforce them.
  6. Statement 6: The leather industry leaves an ecological footprint
    This statement is partly correct (but applies to every industry)Every form of production leaves an ecological footprint yet leather producers continuously strive to lower theirs. The leather industry has had to fight back against stereotyping for decades, where derelict tanneries are presented as the industry standard. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    High-end water management, green reclamation, chemical reclamation, and zero-impact products can be found at almost every European or North American tannery. Chemical innovations make it possible for tanning water to leave a tannery cleaner than it went in. The big concern still, is often in cattle rearing, but regenerative agriculture provides an answer to this problem. Let us look at the other side of this story, though…

    Leather is often replaced by plastics, which have demonstrably less of a product lifetime and are non-degradable. Leather, a by-product of the meat industry, when produced with the best current methods, is a far better option for our environment and overproduction.

  7. Statement 7: Cattle rearing is responsible for massive amounts of CO2
    This statement is incorrect.Cows produce methane throughout their life, and although methane is one of the greenhouse gasses (GHG), the environmental impact is limited. Methane is a short-lived GHG and takes approximately ten years to break down in the atmosphere. If the cattle herd remains at its current size or even shrinks, the level of GHG in the atmosphere will remain stable or decrease, demonstrating that cattle are not the issue when it comes to the CO2 problem.

    There is more… Currently, we see that agriculture can resolve a lot of the environmental issues we see. Soil depletion and erosion, as well as reducing our footprint and pollution, can be partly solved through regenerative agriculture. Therefore, cattle do not represent an environmental problem, but an opportunity.
    More about regenerative agriculture

  8. Statement 8: Vegan alternatives are cruelty-free and harmless to the environment
    This statement is partly correct, if you do not look at the whole product lifecyclePlastics indeed offer a cruelty-free alternative, as they are not directly sourced from animals. However, production of plastic uses vast amounts of resources and energy, and by 2030, plastics are expected to reach 1.34 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions (from cradle-to-grave) per year. Plastics also have a high impact at their end-of-life, and those that were replacing ‘cruel’ materials are now entering ecosystems and threatening wildlife. Plastic is polluting marine and aquatic water bodies, posing a major threat to organisms as it accumulates toxins and enters food chains.

    Of course, there are applications and functions for which traditional materials do not work. However, vegan alternatives are not environmentally friendly and they have a significant long-term impact. Leather hides, however, are available in massive piles and sustainable processes make it possible to produce leather with a lower impact. Leather also lasts longer, reducing the need for more material. Our decision for materials should be based on what is the most suitable and available material. Each has its part to play, but plastics are not the answer for a sustainable future.

We can go back and forth on many of these topics, but the bottom line is simple: we need to look at our consumption differently and find ways to be efficient with the resources we have available. Leather fits that future, as do other by-products that we have started to replace with plastics. Although plastics are part of what makes our lives convenient, safe, and protected, their use should always be evaluated first, and materials should be chosen based on the performance needed. Plastics or ‘vegan leather’ is not the one-fix-solution for our future. Leather has a huge part to play in a future where we use our resources responsibly.

Subscribe to our newsletter

    Your e-mail is only used exclusively for our newsletter and will not be shared with third parties.