Is vegan leather worse for the environment than real leather?

The adoption of Veganuary in the UK alone is expected to have saved the earth’s atmosphere from the equivalent production of CO2 as 450,000 flights from London to Berlin, as well as 2.5 millions litres of water, according to a study by a  professor at the University of Oxford. This is the impact of just 31 days. A more permanent adoption of veganism would, according to another study from the university, be the "single biggest way" to reduce our environmental impact, lowering an individual’s carbon footprint by 73%.

These studies have definitively claimed that a vegan diet is less harmful to our environment than one which contains meat and dairy. This attitude often leads to the assumption that we should be adopting the same approach when it comes to our wardrobes, particularly with leather.

Vegan leather is a material that mimics leather, but is created from artificial or plant products instead of animal skins.

It is most often made from two different plastic polymers; polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – they are most commonly used due to their wrinkled texture which helps to give the effect of real leather, according to PETA.

As well as synthetic materials, vegan leather can also be made from more natural resources, including pineapple leaves, cork, apple peels and recycled plastic.

Can vegan leather rival the quality of the real thing?

Vegan leather has significantly improved over the past few decades, making it difficult to distinguish well-made vegan leather products from real leather, despite the different raw materials used.

Changing the customers perception

Part of the reason most accessories are still made from animal leather is the perception of value attached to leather, and they are more likely to keep and covet leather products over synthetic alternatives.

How sustainable is vegan leather?

When assessing the sustainability credentials of vegan leather, we need to look at its raw properties and how its made – not all vegan leather is created equal.

Some vegan leather is made from plant-based materials, while others are created from artificial products. The inclusion of these artificial products can be where sustainability issues arise. For certain products the properties provided by the PU element are essential to the product being able to function.

The Environmental Profit & Loss, a sustainability report developed in 2018 by Kering states that the impact of vegan leather production can be up to a third lower than real leather.

The impact of real leather is driven by land use and GHG emissions associated with animal agriculture; the livestock sector is the world’s largest user of agricultural land through grazing and the use of feed crops. As a result, this plays a major role in climate change, the management of water and biodiversity. For example, the cattle industry in Brazil has been a great driver of deforestation causing biodiversity loss and contributing to climate change.

Greenwashing is when brands use buzz words to appear more environmentally friendly, so it's important to do your research on the brands and substitute materials.

At Seventh Vegan we keep all our belts as eco-friendly as possible by using only the PU that we need, providing you with the perfect belt in terms of aesthetics and function.