The many ironies of vegan car interiors
Many consumers are being sold EVs on the premise that they are a more environmentally friendly option because they don’t use fossil fuels. Going a step further, some also claim that their vegan leather car interiors are more ‘sustainable’ because they are leather-free. Yet, there is a delicious irony here. Because more often than not, the leather alternatives used for those interiors include materials derived from the very petrochemicals that the buyers thought they were renouncing.
Fossil-fuelled car interiors
Stephen Sothmann, President of the Leather & Hide Council of America, makes this point in his excellent piece “Yes, using leather in EVs is good for the environment” (paywall). Consumers are wooed by the promise of so-called ‘vegan leather’, unaware that its composition often includes PVC or other petrochemical-derived materials. These are needed to give a durable backing to the textured side of the ‘faux leather’. Sothmann says it’s not just the origin of these materials we should be worried about but “the entire process from oil extraction through the finished plastic product to what happens when its life cycle ends in disposal – including shedding plastic micro-particles. All too often that full impact is not properly attributed to vehicle interiors despite the fact that they are produced by some of the highest CO2-producing industries.”
Can plastic be green?
International Leather Maker found a similar story when they reported on BMW’s collaboration with Desserto, which creates what it calls “vegan cactus leather”, claimed to be a “sustainable, animal-cruelty-free vegan alternative” to leather. However, research institute FILK found the material to be a “coated textile with compact layer (PUR [polyurethane]) and partially foamed layer (PUR [polyurethane]) filled with heterogeneous particles of organic origin” plus a “textile carrier based on polyester material made by reverse coating process”1. In other words, it depends on plastics derived from the petrochemicals industry. What’s more, apart from its green credentials being questionable, FISK discovered that Desserto’s performance levels across a range of tests were significantly less than those of leather.
Leather – the real natural choice
Irony on top of ironies, by rejecting auto leather, the poor consumer is inadvertently consigning millions of hides to landfills where they will decay and release greenhouse gases instead of being upcycled and used to create durable, long-lasting, beautiful, natural and biodegradable car interiors. It’s a classic lose-lose situation.
End to greenwashing
There’s another important aspect to all this. Consumers are simply not getting the facts they deserve. All too often ‘greenwashing’ is luring them into doing what they think is the right thing but they are not being given all the facts. The BBC reports that the UK regulator is preparing to act on this kind of misinformation in its report “Advertising regulator to clampdown on greenwashing ads”. Perhaps one day, car manufacturers will be called out on this. But the biggest irony of all is this: they had the natural, sustainable, ‘green’ option to hand all along – genuine leather.
1. Comparison of the Technical Performance of Leather, Artificial Leather, and Trendy Alternatives Michael Meyer*, Sascha Dietrich, Haiko Schulz and Anke Mondschein
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