Tesla Vegan Leather Seats — How Not To Destroy The Rainforest

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saving the Rainforest

I have not eaten red meat since 1980, but for a long time I rationalized going with leather shoes, boots and coats. I thought that instead of being a waste, I used by-products from animal farming that had already been produced for consumption. After reading the latest New York Times exposé – produced in collaboration with Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Investigations Network – I know my reasoning was really wrong. I should always have chosen vegan leather.

That Times the article followed a rancher who raised cattle on illegally cleared land in the Amazon. By selling them, he obscured the role of cattle in the destruction of the world’s largest rainforest, an act I was complicit in buying animal leather products. To hide the true origin of his cattle, the rancher structured his sales by introducing an intermediary and constructing a fake paper trail.

It was as if his animals were bred on a legal ranch. Other ranchers in the area are doing the same, he said. “It makes no difference,” he explained, whether his farm was legal or not.

You might think that Brazil’s fast-growing slaughterhouse industry mostly sells beef. However, that is not the full picture. In fact, Brazil is the channel for tons of leather shipped annually to large companies in the United States and elsewhere.

Such trade in leather shows how our Western consumer culture is naturally associated with environmental degradation in developing countries. According to the World Bank, the Amazon is a region that houses 40% of the world’s remaining rainforest, 25% of its terrestrial biodiversity and more fish species than any other river system.

The trade in animal leather is helping to fund the destruction of the Amazon despite scientific consensus that protecting it would help curb global warming. With rapid deforestation, it has been estimated that 20% of the Amazon rainforest has disappeared in the last 50 years, leading to severe loss of biodiversity and contributing to climate change. Deforestation destroys the Amazon’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide.

Ironically – or hopefully – Brazil was one of more than 100 nations that promised to stop deforestation by 2030 at the recent UN climate summit in Glasgow.

Leather for luxury cars sacrificing the rainforest

Part of the appetite for Amazon leather comes from the luxury car market. An auto interior may require a dozen or more skins. The skins of millions of cattle deliver a lucrative international animal leather market valued in hundreds of billions of dollars yearly.

That Times tracked the complex global trade that connects Amazon’s deforestation with a growing appetite for luxurious leather seats in pickups, SUVs and other vehicles sold by some of the world’s largest automakers – such as General Motors, Ford and Volkswagen.

  • GM issued a statement saying it expected suppliers to “comply with laws, regulations and act in a manner consistent with the carmaker’s principles and values”.
  • Ford explained that it strived to “provide only raw materials that are responsibly produced.”
  • Volkswagen insisted that their suppliers already adhered to a high level of sustainability.

Vegan leather is becoming fashionable for automakers (Puha)

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reminds us that for years it has been working to put vegan vehicles on the road, pushing and persuading car brands to embrace leather- and wool-free seats and steering wheels. The association argues that an environmentally conscious automaker should be consistent throughout its production by rejecting the burning of the Amazon rainforest as well as the wool industry, which poisons the water supplies.

Once upon a time, the Tesla Model 3 included a leather-wrapped steering wheel as standard. In 2017, all Tesla seats became available from synthetic materials. In 2019, the last animal products were removed from the Model 3 – a new, synthetic leather-wrapped steering wheel was unveiled. Although the vegan leather steering wheel did not contain a heating element and provided the challenge with less favorable long-term wear than leather, customers responded positively to the environmental changes. Now all new Model 3 and Model Y cars come with premium synthetic seats and a vegan leather steering wheel.

Tesla’s high-end vegan leather is not the only game in town. Other car manufacturers also boast of their vegan leather interior:

  • Ford: Ford Mustang Mach-E comes standard with a completely vegan interior, including a vegan steering wheel.
  • Toyota: While Toyota offers leather seats and steering wheel in some models, it’s easy to find a vegan Toyota. Look for Softex, Toyota’s vegan leather alternative, in premium or upgraded Toyota models. Basic model Toyotas generally come with fabric seats.
  • Volvo: The company wants to make all cars leather-free by 2030. Although it intends to continue offering wool blends. Edmunds reports that the model year 2022 C40 Recharge and all future electric vehicles will be leather-free.

What is vegan leather, anyway, and why is it preferable?

The biggest concern for most people when choosing between animal leather and vegan leather is the impact it has on animals and the environment, especially for biodiversity-rich areas like the Amazon rainforest. The term “vegan leather” describes several material alternatives to animal leather – vegan leather looks, feels and has the same properties as leather without having to sacrifice animals along the way.

The general category of vegan leather can be divided into two types, according to Vou:

Old-fashioned synthetic vegan leather, also known as artificial leather. Synthetic leather is made from petroleum-based materials and was one of the first attempts to make cheaper alternatives to animal leather. It has generally been made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyurethane (PU) and is sometimes referred to as pleather (plastic leather). This type of vegan leather is harmful to the environment.

More recently developed natural vegan leather. Natural vegan leather is made from organic material, such as fruit by-products, mushrooms, cactus, algae (seaweed), orange and apple peels, pineapple leaves (pinatex), cork, bark cloth and even paper. Compared to synthetic leather, natural vegan leather is sustainable and has better quality.

There are several benefits that make vegan leather preferable to animal leather:

  • Vegan leather is cruelty free and animal friendly. No animals are sacrificed in the process of making vegan leather.
  • Most vegan leather is sustainable and environmentally friendly.
  • Vegan leather can be made to order, which means there is no waste of material – all parts and sizes are cut according to the designer’s needs.
  • Manufacturing vegan leather emits less CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions than animal leather and also requires fewer toxic chemicals to produce it.
  • Vegan leather is waterproof and easy to maintain.

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