How Sustainable Is Vegan Leather? A Life-Cycle Analysis
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Hey fellow impactful ninja ?
You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.
Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.
But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.
First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.
And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.
First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.
And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.
When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).
And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.
You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.
Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.
Vegan leather has been touted for being a sustainable and cruelty-free alternative to animal leather. But how can it be all eco-friendly when many versions of vegan leather out there contain a high percentage of—if not being solely composed of—fossil-derived plastics? And as for the supposed plant-based vegan leather varieties—are they truly green, or are they actually greenwashed? So, we had to ask: How sustainable is vegan leather?
The sustainability of vegan leather ranges from unsustainable (100% fossil-derived plastic leather alternatives) to sustainable (bio-based vegan leather). Unlike the varieties made with fossil fuels, bio-based vegan leather contains renewable plant materials and releases little or no microplastic.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the life-cycle of vegan leather used for clothing items and accessories. Then, we will evaluate its sustainability, potential, and shortfalls. And in the end, we’ll show you tips for buying sustainable products made with vegan leather.
Here’s How We Assessed the Sustainability of Vegan Leather
Vegan leather is widely used to refer to any material that does not come from an animal but still serves the same purpose as leather. Consequently, vegan leather could be a fabric made completely from fossil fuels or natural ingredients or anywhere in between, making it one of the most intricate materials to assess sustainability.
“Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”Oxford Dictionary
To understand the sustainability of vegan leather, we must assess its life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of vegan leather!
In this article, we’ll use the cradle-to-grave perspective of the LCA, examining the five stages of the life-cycle of clothing items and accessories made with vegan leather. When applicable, we will also look at cradle-to-gate assessments.
|The life-cycle stages of vegan leather
|Each stage’s sustainability
|Sourcing of vegan leather
|Sourcing fossil-based plastic polymers for vegan leather, such as to make PVC or PU, is not sustainable. Fossil fuels come from nonrenewable resources. Also, extracting and refining fossil fuels has a high energy demand, exacerbates the climate crisis, and pollutes the environment. However, the sourcing stage of vegan leather can be sustainable when a high proportion of raw materials comes from renewable plant sources, especially as by-products of the food industry, such as in the cases of Piñatex, Ohoskin, Desserto®, and VEGEA.
|Manufacturing of vegan leather
|The sustainability of manufacturing vegan leather varies, depending on the materials used (fossil-derived or plant-derived), the processes (chemical or mechanical), and the source of energy (renewable or nonrenewable). For example, manufacturing PVC, the traditional plastic-based vegan leather, is generally unsustainable because it is energy- and chemical-intensive. In contrast, producing Piñatex is sustainable thanks to a closed-loop mechanical manufacturing process without harmful synthetic chemicals.
|Transporting of vegan leather
|Transporting can be a carbon-intensive life-cycle stage for clothing items made with vegan leather due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Vegan leather typically travels from fields or mines to processing and finishing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills.
|Usage of vegan leather
|The sustainability of using vegan leather depends on whether the components are fossil-derived or plant-derived. Using vegan leather made with fossil-derived plastics, such as traditional PVC and PU leather, is unsustainable. These materials release microplastics into marine environments. This doesn’t happen with 100% bio-based vegan leather, such as Piñatex, MIRUM®, MYLOTM, and Ohoskin.
|End-of-life of vegan leather
|Vegan leather’s end-of-life stage is generally unsustainable because of the limited options available. The common use of plastic polymers hinders the degradability of vegan leather in natural environments. Additionally, vegan leather is often a blend of various materials, making it challenging to recycle the components separately.
Overall, we can say vegan leather is on a spectrum from very sustainable to highly unsustainable. However, the actual environmental impact of a particular product, whether a jacket, a bag, or a pair of shoes, depends on more specific factors, including:
- the sourcing of raw materials
- finishing practices
- the type of energy used in manufacturing and usage
- the distance and mode of transportation
Let’s dive deeper into each life-cycle stage and find out how you can buy vegan leather more sustainably.
How Sustainable Is the Sourcing of Raw Materials for Vegan Leather
Sourcing fossil-based plastic polymers for vegan leather, such as to make PVC or PU, is not sustainable. Fossil fuels come from nonrenewable resources. Also, extracting and refining fossil fuels has a high energy demand, exacerbates the climate crisis, and pollutes the environment.
However, the sourcing stage of vegan leather can be sustainable when a high proportion of raw materials comes from renewable plant sources, especially as by-products of the food industry, such as in the cases of Piñatex, Ohoskin, Desserto®, and VEGEA.
What Raw Materials Are Used for Vegan Leather
To make it easier to assess the sourcing for vegan leather, we can divide this material into two groups:
- Vegan leather made entirely with fossil-based plastics
- Vegan leather made by replacing a percentage or all fossil-derived materials with plant-derived materials
It is likely that you have heard the terms “pleather” and “plant-based leather” used to refer to these two groups, respectively. Similarly to “vegan leather,” these terms are sometimes thrown out incorrectly in order to greenwash fashion. Consequently, it is important to dig deeper than the lingo and investigate the actual composition of certain materials marked as vegan leather.
How Do the Raw Materials Sourced for Vegan Leather Impact the Environment
In this section, we will examine the two resources for raw materials used for vegan leather—fossil fuels and plants. In particular, we will consider the following two areas:
- sourcing fossil fuels for making vegan leather
- sourcing plant materials for making vegan leathers
Though renewability is the most significant divergence between these two resources, the differences are, unfortunately, more complex. Here are two important notes before we move further:
- Some vegan leather varieties are made completely with either fossil-derived or plant-derived materials, but many are hybrids. Such vegan leather varieties result from replacing part of fossil-derived polymers with renewable plant-derived components to lessen the environmental impacts.
- While sourcing fossil fuels is clearly damaging to the environment, the sustainability of sourcing plant materials is more murky. It varies, depending mostly on whether the plants are cultivated solely for making vegan leather or not. (We’ll dig deeper into this later on.)
How Does Sourcing Fossil Fuels for Making Vegan Leather Impact the Environment
Sourcing fossil fuels for vegan leather is not sustainable because extracting and refining fossil fuels depletes nonrenewable reserves, accelerates the climate crisis, and pollutes the environment.
Making Raw Materials for Vegan Leather From Fossil Fuels Depletes Nonrenewable Resources
Fossil fuels, such as petroleum, are considered a nonrenewable resource for the following reasons:
- It takes millions of years and certain geological conditions to turn dead plants into petroleum. For example, petroleum began forming about 90–150 million years ago during the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods.
- In theory, more fossil fuels could be formed. Yet, with the current depletion rate, replacement is not realistically feasible.
Making Raw Materials for Vegan Leather From Fossil Fuels Requires Significant Amounts of Energy
Fossil fuels are formed deep in the crust of the Earth. For example, petroleum is found at depths of about 7,500 feet. Consequently, extracting fossil fuels requires heavy fuel-guzzling machines for extraction.
Also, refining fossil fuels, such as petroleum liquid or natural gas, is energy-intensive. The “cracking” process involves heating the system to extreme temperatures and cooling the products after cracking.
Transporting fossil fuels from often far-flung extraction sites, by trucks, ships, tankers, and/or pipelines, to refining and manufacturing facilities is another source of energy usage.
Making Raw Materials for Vegan Leather From Fossil Fuels Exacerbates the Climate Crisis
High energy consumption in refining and cracking fossil fuels for nylon’s raw materials leads to elevated global warming impact when manufacturing burns fossil fuels for energy.
Extracting and Refining Fossil Fuels Causes Pollution and Habitat Destruction
Drilling for oil and gas causes lasting environmental damage, especially when the oil and gas deposits lie under diverse and ecologically important areas, both on land and at sea.
Major environmental impacts of oil and gas extraction are as following:
- Air and water pollution: Oil and gas operations release harmful pollutants into the air and/or discharge dangerous chemicals into the sea.
- Habitat degradation and destruction: Building roads to reach drilling sites, pipelines for oil transportation, and offshore oil rigs for exploration degrade and destroy wildlife habitats.
- Mass deaths of marine species: Oil spills and refinery chemical discharges kill marine mammals and fish in huge amounts.
- Other disruptions to wildlife: Noise and light pollution caused by drill activities cause stress and further disruption to wildlife.
Because of the serious damages from using fossil fuels to make conventional animal leather alternatives, such as PVC and PU (polyurethane), many manufacturers have moved to replace part or all of the fossil fuels with plant materials. Enter the more recent innovative plant-based vegan leather!
The higher the percentage of fossil-derived components being replaced with plant-derived components, the lesser the environmental impacts of not only this life-cycle stage (sourcing) but also other life-cycle stages, especially usage and end-of-life.
How Does Sourcing Plant Materials for Making Vegan Leather Impact the Environment
In general, we can divide plant materials used for vegan leather into two groups, of which the sustainability of sourcing varies:
- sourcing discarded plant materials, the by-products of agricultural or industrial activities
- sourcing virgin materials from plants cultivated solely for making vegan leather
Sourcing Discarded Plant Materials for Vegan Leather Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
A few vegan leather alternatives are made (partly) with byproducts of agricultural and industrial activities. Here are some examples:
- Piñatex, made with pineapple leaves, a byproduct of the pineapple fruit cultivation
- AppleSkinTM, made with apple peel, a byproduct of the apple juice industry
- VEGEA, made with grape leftovers from winemaking
- Ohoskin, made with industrial byproducts of oranges and cacti from the food and cosmetic industries
Let’s take Piñatex as an example.
The leaves are the agricultural waste of the pineapple fruit industry. And there are a lot of leaves.
These leaves are often burned or left to rot, releasing undesirable greenhouse gasses and other pollutants. Using pineapple leaves to make Piñatex instead means avoiding these releases. Specifically, each linear meter (40 inches) of Piñatex prevents the equivalent of 12kg CO2 from being emitted.
Sourcing Discarded Plant Materials for Vegan Leather Requires No Extra Environmental Resources
Sourcing a byproduct of an existing industry requires no extra environmental resources (such as water or land). Utilizing discarded waste lowers the overall environmental impacts of this group of vegan leather significantly.
Sourcing Virgin Plant Materials for Vegan Leather Generally Has Higher Impacts Than Sourcing Discarded Plant Materials
Some leather alternatives use virgin plant materials, which require natural resources, such as land and water, or fossil resources, such as synthetic agrochemicals and energy, to cultivate and, consequently, have higher impacts in the sourcing phase than other vegan leather varieties based on waste.
Examples of leather alternatives using virgin plant materials are:
- bio-based PU made from renewable feedstock (such as from eucalyptus)
- plant-based vegan leather cultivated mycelium, such as ReishiTM or MyloTM
Note that many leather alternatives contain both recycled waste and virgin-yet-renewable materials. For example, MIRUM®, a leather-like coating layer, has agricultural waste (coconut fiber and rice hulls) and virgin rubber. The rule of thumb is that the more recycled plant materials are used in vegan leather, the lesser the environmental impacts of the sourcing.
Where Are the Raw Materials for Vegan Usually Sourced From
Though it is always good to know the starting point of your clothes, this is no simple task when it comes to tracking down the origin of fossil-derived raw materials.
There are two reasons for this:
- The supply chain of fossil derivatives is extremely complex.
- Fossil-derived polymers can be made in factories using various ingredients depending on manufacturers and desired properties.
In comparison, it is relatively easier to track down the origins of the plant materials in vegan leather. For example, AppleSkinTM is made with apple waste from Italy, while Desserto® is based on cactus leaves grown in Zacatecas, México.
In brief, the sustainability of vegan leather sourcing varies, generally, in the following order (with the last position being the most sustainable):
- extracting virgin fossil fuels (the least sustainable)
- recirculating plastic waste
- cultivating new plants
- recirculating plant-based materials (the most sustainable)
Again, note that a specific vegan leather can be made with materials from one or a few sources.
How Sustainable Is the Manufacturing of Vegan Leather
The sustainability of manufacturing vegan leather varies, depending on the materials used (fossil-derived or plant-derived), the processes (chemical or mechanical), and the source of energy (renewable or nonrenewable). For example, manufacturing PVC, the traditional plastic-based vegan leather, is generally unsustainable because it is energy- and chemical-intensive. In contrast, producing Piñatex is sustainable thanks to a closed-loop mechanical manufacturing process without harmful synthetic chemicals.
How Sustainably Are Vegan Leather Generally Manufactured
Needless to say, the manufacturing process of vegan leather is as diverse as the material itself. In many cases of innovative materials, this is the best-kept secret. However, in an attempt to break down the general process for a better understanding, here are the few steps often involved in making vegan leather:
- Process the raw materials: This can be anything from drying and grinding plant materials to synthesizing plastic polymers.
- Mix the prepared materials: This can be done with mechanical forces (using heat and pressure) or chemical catalysts, forming a fabric in its own right or, in many cases, a coating layer. The coating layer is glued (chemically) or pressed (mechanically) onto a natural or synthetic backing fabric.
- Dyeing and other finishing treatments: Vegan leather can be curled, dyed, or subjected to further treatments depending on their purpose.
To determine the sustainability of a certain vegan leather material, one might want to answer the following questions:
- Does the manufacturing process involve toxic chemicals?
- Does the manufacturing process use much energy, and which percentage of the total energy comes from renewable sources?
- What percentage of the resources used for manufacturing (energy, water, chemicals) is recycled?
How Sustainable Is the Transportation of Vegan Leather
Transporting can be a carbon-intensive life-cycle stage for clothing items made with vegan leather due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Vegan leather typically travels from fields or mines to processing and finishing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills.
Let’s look at transporting AppleSkinTM, a vegan leather made with apple waste. The typical legs of transport are as follows:
- From orchards to processing factories: the waste from the apple processing travels from apple orchards in South Tyrol, Italy, to the local factory operated by Fruma. There, an apple powder is made to be mixed with the plastic components to form AppleSkinTM fabrics.
- From the powder manufacturing location to the textile manufacturing location: The factory that finishes AppleSkinTM fabrics is also located in Florence, Italy.
- From the textile manufacturing location to various factories for clothing items such as shoes or bags.
- From the clothing manufacturing location to sorting centers/physical shops.
- From sorting centers/physical shops to the consumer’s home.
- From the consumer’s home to the centers for recycling/ disposing of.
Traveling Distances of Vegan Leather Vary Depending on the Supply Chain
It is not uncommon for vegan leather to have its supply chain spreading globally, meaning that sourcing, processing, and finishing might happen in various towns, countries, or even continents.
Again, let’s look at some scenarios for transporting AppleSkinTM shoes:
- From Northern Italy, AppleSkinTM fabrics’ are transported to Australia to be made into shoes and then sold worldwide.
- After AppleSkinTM fabrics are finished in Florence, they travel to another factory in Italy where the shoes are made. The shoe products are sold exclusively in Europe.
- From Northern Italy, AppleSkinTM fabrics’ are shipped to the US, incorporated into shoes, and sold to US consumers.
You can reduce the transporting carbon footprint by choosing vegan leather that travels shorter distances.
The Carbon Footprint of Transporting Vegan Leather Depends Largely on the Vehicle of Transportation
During its life-cycle, a piece of vegan leather clothing can be transported using various types of vehicles, including:
- large container ships
- freight trains
- long-distance trucks
- short-distance delivering vans
And the following types of transportation vehicles have different carbon footprint impacts:
- Large container ships are generally the most carbon-efficient option for international transportation of goods, while planes are the heaviest carbon emitter.
Large container ships emit, per unit of weight and distance, half as much carbon dioxide as a train and one-fifth and one-fiftieth as much as a truck and a plane (respectively).
- Deliveries made by planes—for example, to fulfill fast shipping options for clothing—are the mode of transportation with the highest carbon footprint.
As a consumer, you can choose not to pick the fast delivery option when ordering clothing items and accessories made with vegan leather to reduce the carbon footprint of your order.
How Sustainable Is the Usage of Vegan Leather
The sustainability of using vegan leather depends on whether the components are fossil-derived or plant-derived. Using vegan leather made with fossil-derived plastics, such as traditional PVC and PU leather, is unsustainable. These materials release microplastics into marine environments. This doesn’t happen with 100% bio-based vegan leather, such as Piñatex, MIRUM®, MYLOTM, and Ohoskin.
A major sustainability issue with using leather alternatives containing fossil-derived plastics is the microplastics released into the environment due to washing the material.
Plastic-based textiles, including polyester, nylon, acrylic, and others, are responsible for around half a million tons of plastic microfibers shed into the oceans annually as these fabrics are washed. At sea or in other water bodies, these microplastics cause harm to fishes that ingest them and numerous animals (including us humans) further up the food chain.
On the other hand, vegan leather made fully with bio-based materials doesn’t shed microplastics into the environment while being used and washed.
How Sustainable Is the End-of-Life of Vegan Leather
Vegan leather’s end-of-life stage is generally unsustainable because of the limited options available. The common use of plastic polymers hinders the degradability of vegan leather in natural environments. Additionally, vegan leather is often a blend of various materials, making it challenging to recycle the components separately.
The end-of-life options are limited when leather alternatives are hybrids between plant-based materials and synthetic plastics. Take AppleSkinTM as an example:
- The synthetic component means AppleSkinTM is not biodegradable or compostable.
- The combination of different materials makes it not suitable for recycling because it would contaminate sensitive recycling processes that rely on relatively pure material streams.
Unlike natural fabrics made with plant fibers like cotton or linen, plant-based vegan leather is usually bioengineered and not fully biodegradable, even if the components are 100% bio-based. For example, Piñatex, though 100% bio-based, is not 100% biodegradable. This is because it contains PLA—a bioplastic made with corn.
How Circular Are Products Made of Vegan Leather
In the textile industry, a circular economy is designed to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible, especially through reusing and recycling. It also covers regenerating natural systems that support the industry and reducing polluted waste released into such systems.
“The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.”Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Some vegan leather can also be made with recycled plastics, saving resources to produce virgin plastic and reducing waste.
How Can You Buy Vegan Leather More Sustainably
The key to sustainably buying vegan leather products is to check on relevant environmental and original certifications.
Certifications for vegan leather made with bio-based materials:
- USDA ORGANIC: This certificate is applied to growing the crop (raw material), ensuring natural agricultural products are produced that can be certified as “organic.”
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): A globally recognized certification system that ensures a certain threshold of organic content has been met. It covers manufacturing, packaging, labeling, transportation, and distribution (but not what happens in the fields where crops are grown).
- USDA Certified Biobased Product: The USDA BioPreferred® Certification is a voluntary certification offered by the United States Department of Agriculture. The certificate identifies products made from plants or other renewable materials.
- Ecolabel: Ecolabel is the official European Union voluntary label recognized worldwide for certified products with a guaranteed, independently verified low environmental impact. The label requires high environmental standards throughout the entire life-cycle: from raw material extraction through production and distribution to disposal. It also encourages companies to develop innovative, durable, easy-to-repair, and recyclable products.
- Forest Stewardship Council: An FSC certification ensures that the vegan leather (or vegan leather-like material) comes from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits.
There are two types of FSC Certification:
- Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification: PEFC’s approaches to sustainable forest management are in line with protecting the forests globally and locally and making the certificate work for everyone. Getting a PEFC certification is strict enough to ensure the sustainable management of a forest is socially just, ecologically sound, and economically viable but attainable not only by big but small forest owners.
Certifications for vegan leather made with recycled materials:
- Recycled Claim Standard (RCS): The Textile Exchange RCS was originally developed as an international, voluntary standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled Inputs and chain of custody.
- The Global Recycled Standard (GRS): The Global Recycled Standard (GRS) is an international, voluntary, full product standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled Content, chain of custody, social and environmental practices, and chemical restrictions. It can be used for any product with more than 20% recycled material.
Certifications for generic vegan leather:
- OEKO-TEX®: OEKO-TEX® labels aim to ensure that products pose no risk to human health (i.e., containing banned chemicals).
- STeP by OEKO-TEX®: STeP by OEKO-TEX® is an independent certification system for brands, retailers, and manufacturers from the textile and leather industry. It communicates organizational environmental measures, including reducing carbon footprint and water usage.
Some certifications are signaling brands’ efforts toward lowered environmental impacts and a circular economy are:
- B Corp Certification: The label B Corp is a certification reserved for for-profit companies. Certified holders are assessed on their social and environmental impacts.
- Cradle2Cradle certification: Cradle2Cradle provides a standardized approach to material circularity. It assesses whether products have been suitably designed and made with the circular economy in mind covering five critical categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
Where to Buy Sustainable Vegan Leather
We have established throughout the life-cycle assessment that vegan leather is on a spectrum from very sustainable to highly unsustainable. If you want to look for vegan leather on the upper end of the sustainability ladder, here are some things to look out for:
- vegan leather made with 100% biomaterials
- vegan leather made with a high percentage of recycled materials
- vegan leather made in a location with high shares of renewable energy
- vegan leather produced in closed-loop processes where energy/chemicals are recovered and reused
To assist you with your efforts, we have put together a small list of brands using more sustainable varieties of vegan leather. This list is in alphabetical order.
- Angels Ambition
- BEEN London
- Good Guys
- NAE Vegan Shoes
- Stella McCartney
- Sylven New York
- Will’s Vegan Store
Why Is It Important to Buy Products Made of More Sustainable Fabrics
It is important to buy products made of more sustainable fabrics because a sustainable textile industry has a lower carbon footprint, helps save natural resources, and is better for forests, animals, and humans.
Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Your Carbon Footprint
The production of clothing and footwear is estimated to contribute 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions—more than all international flights and shipping combined. If the fashion industry were a country, it would be the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
One way to reduce the carbon footprint of the clothes you buy is to opt for sustainable fabrics. Sustainable fabrics, which are often made with natural or recycled fibers, have relatively low carbon footprints compared to petroleum-based fabrics. For example, organic cotton made in the US has a carbon footprint of 2.35 kg CO2 (per ton of spun fiber)—a quarter of polyester’s carbon footprint.
Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Demand For Natural Resources and Waste Management
The textile industry uses water and land to grow cotton and other fibers. It is estimated that 79 billion cubic meters of water were used for the sector worldwide in 2015. For example, producing a single cotton T-shirt requires as much water as one person drinks for 2.5 years (2,700 liters of fresh water).
Worse yet, the textile economy is vastly more linear than circular: the largest amount of resources used in clothes ended up in landfills (instead of being recycled to remake clothes). According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,
- Less than 3% of materials used in the textile economy in 2015 came from recycled sources.
- In other words, more than 97% of resources used in making clothes are newly extracted.
When clothing items are disposed of within a short period of time—under a year in the case of half of the fast fashion clothes—the natural systems that provide raw materials for fabrics don’t have enough time to recover and regenerate, which could lead to ecological breakdown.
Sustainable fabrics are made with less water and emissions while lasting longer:
- Because they are durable, you don’t need to buy new clothes too often.
- Thus, you help reduce the pressure to extract more resources for making new items.
Similarly, making and consuming sustainable fabrics made with recycled materials reduces the demand for virgin materials while helping tackle waste management.
Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Sustainable Management of Forests
Sustainable plant-based fabrics are made with raw materials from forests and plantations that are sustainably managed, such as complying with FSC standards.
When you buy sustainable plant-based fabrics, you discourage unsustainable forestry practices like illegal logging. You can help reduce deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the effects of climate change.
Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Animals
The fashion industry is rife with animal mistreatment when it comes to making animal-based fabrics like cotton or silk. Every year, billions of animals suffer and die for clothing and accessories.
Buying sustainable vegan alternatives can help to reduce the pressure on raising more and more animals to meet the demand for animal-based fabrics while sacrificing their well-being and lives.
Suppose you have to buy fabrics made with, for example, cotton or silk; make sure you only choose brands committed to cruelty-free products. In that case, you help advocate better treatments for animals raised within the textile industry.
Using Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Textile Workers
Recent statistics from UNICEF estimated as many as 170 million child laborers worldwide, many of whom were engaged in some form of work in the textile industry. They don’t get paid minimum wages and often work long hours.
When you buy sustainable fabrics from brands transparent about the working conditions at their factories, you discourage the use of child labor and help promote better working conditions for textile workers.
Traditional fossil-derived vegan leather, such as PVC and PU, is generally unsustainable. Sourcing fossil fuels has many adverse environmental impacts while using vegan leather containing synthetic plastics contributes to the mounting microplastic problems. Synthetic plastics also hinder the degradability of these materials.
However, vegan leather can be sustainable when made with 100% bio materials in low-impact processes. Piñatex is one of the most sustainable textile fabrics because it is made of 100% plant-derived materials, using no toxic chemicals in a closed-loop process.
To make your use of these fabrics even more sustainable, follow these steps:
- Buy second-hand, recycled, or upcycled vegan leather products.
- While using vegan leather clothing items, maximize the number of wears between washes, and keep them as long as possible.
- At the end-of-life of vegan leather products, upcycle the material to extend its usage and arrange for it to be recycled or properly disposed of.
- Science Direct: Life-cycle assessment (LCA)
- MIT SMR: Strategic Sustainability Uses of Life-Cycle Analysis
- European Environment Agency: Cradle-to-Grave
- Science Direct: Cradle-to-Gate Assessment
- Impactful Ninja: How Sustainable Are Polyurethane (PU) Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis
- Impactful Ninja: How Sustainable Are Piñatex Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis
- Ohoskin: FAQs
- Desserto: CERTIFIED BIOBASED PRODUCT
- VEGEA Company: VEGEA
- Energy.Gov: Fossil
- Stanford: When Fossil Fuels Run Out, What Then?
- NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: RESOURCE | ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY: Fossil Fuels
- National Library of Medicine – National Center for Biotechnology Information: Energy and public health: the challenge of peak petroleum
- WORLD WILDLIFE FUND: OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT: OVERVIEW
- The Wilderness Society: 7 ways oil and gas drilling is bad for the environment
- Impactful Ninja: How Sustainable Are AppleSkinTM Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis
- Britannica: pineapple
- PHYS.ORG: Scientists turn pineapple waste into high-value aerogels
- Ananas-Anam: Ananas Anam: the pioneers of innovative natural textiles from waste pineapple leaves.
- Taylor & Francis Group An Informa Business: Life cycle assessment of bio-based polyurethane foam
- MycoWorks: ReishiTM
- Mylo Unleather: Material | MyloTM
- Natural Fiber Welding: Made with MIRUM
- Time for Change: CO2 emissions for shipping of goods
- Impactful Ninja: How Sustainable Are Polyester Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis
- Impactful Ninja: How Sustainable Are Nylon Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis
- Impactful Ninja: How Sustainable Are Acrylic Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation: A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future
- Impactful Ninja: How Sustainable Are Cotton Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis
- Impactful Ninja: How Sustainable Are Linen Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation: THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY IN DETAIL
- USDA: National Organic Program
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): Home
- BioPreferred: WHAT IS THE BIOPREFERRED PROGRAM?
- European Commission: Environment | EU Ecolabel
- Forest Stewardship Council
- FSC Forest Management Certification
- FSC Chain of Custody Certification
- Program for Endorsement of Forest Certification
- Textile Exchange: The RCS and GRS are designed to boost the use of recycled materials
- OEKO-TEX®: Home
- OEKO-TEX: Certification according to STeP by OEKO-TEX®
- B Corp Certification: Home
- C2CCertified: Home
- Angels Ambition: Home
- BEEN London: Home
- Culthread: Home
- Good Guys: Home
- MoEa: Home
- NAE Vegan Shoes: Home
- PANGAIA: Home
- Stella McCartney: Home
- Sylven New York: Home
- VEERAH: Home
- Will’s Vegan Store: Home
- Womsh: Home
- The Guardian: Pulp fabric: everything you need to know about lyocell
- European Parliament: The impact of textile production and waste on the environment (infographic)
- Science Direct: The challenge of “Depeche Mode” in the fashion industry – Does the industry have the capacity to become sustainable through circular economic principles, a scoping review
- Science Direct: Carbon Footprint of Textile and Clothing Products
- European Parliament: Environmental impact of the textile and clothing industry
- European Parliament: What if fashion were good for the planet?
- McKinsey: Style that’s sustainable: A new fast-fashion formula
- Our World in Data: Deforestation and Forest Loss
- Peta: Animals Used For Clothing