Leather is the backbone for many economies and is commonly used in clothing and consumer goods due to its durable and long-lasting quality. However, the leather industry can be problematic in multiple ways, primarily causing concerns surrounding animal welfare and pollution as a result of the heavily processed manufacturing associated with production. Leather requires immense amounts of environmental resources including feed, land, water, and fossil fuels, and is acknowledged by the EPA as one of the biggest contaminants to earth's waterways. Chemicals needed for leather processing are harsh and environmentally jeopardizing, using mineral salts, coal and tar derivatives, formaldehyde, and cyanide-based finishes. US manufactured leather is no exception, as chrome-based finishes are commonly used, an extremely hazardous material. These chemicals also can be cancerous causing, putting not only worker health at risk but also those who live near tanneries. The nature of tanning stops the skin from biodegrading, making leather extremely hard and practically impossible to recycle.
Cattle ranching is a leading cause of Amazonian deforestation, causing habitat loss and consequently biodiversity reduction, and also emits dangerous levels of methane and nitrous oxide. Leather also inevitably demands the loss of animal lives, which calls into question the ethics behind slaughterhouses and animal rights. It is important to note that the leather and meat industry are separate, and leather is very rarely a by-product of animals already being slaughtered for food, creating immense amounts of additional waste such as hair, trimmings, flesh, and nails that are not used for hides, contributing to landfill waste.
It is also imperative to note that some leather sources actually aren’t from cows, and are sourced from domesticated animals such as dogs and cats.
When shopping for leather goods, consider buying vintage or secondhand items, extending the life cycle for the product as well as decreasing the need for ongoing farming and manufacturing processes. Some companies source leather that does come directly as by-products from the meat industry, which slightly minimizes environmental impact but still poses ethical qualms. Consider choosing cruelty-free alternatives, as many synthetic leather products share strikingly similar qualities authentic leather products have. Recent innovations use more environmentally friendly materials such as pineapple leaves, cork, apple peels, and even recycled water bottles.
How ethical is your bank? Do you know where your money is being invested? Does it align with your values and beliefs?
Voting with our dollar goes beyond the goods we buy, and extends into where we store our money. Our social responsibility to both the environment and people extends into the institutions we trust with one of our most valued material possessions. The environmental and social influence banks have cannot be understated, as their conglomeration of financial affluence gives them a unique position and responsibility to make change.
While this might seem obvious, how much do you know about your banking institution? Where is your money being invested? You might be surprised to see some of the world's biggest banks invest trillions in fossil fuels and private interests such as prisons. Profiting off of the misfortune of marginalized communities, many banks further their wealth agglomeration by victimizing vulnerable populations.
European based bank Nordea reports that choosing to invest your money and working with banks aligning to sustainable principles can be 27 times more efficient than many common lifestyle changes associated with sustainable living. While shortening showers, reducing airline travel, and eating less meat are beneficial, one of the best methods for reducing your carbon footprint is also one of the easiest. Sustainable banking weighs its impact on not only environmental risk, but also ethical risks in financial sectors.
While it is important to ask further questions when considering any financial insustion, consider looking for banks that are adhering to sustainable banking principles or are certified by legitimate ethical and sustainable organizations like B-Corp, such as Aspiration, City First Bank, or Spring Bank.
Precious metals are often regarded as some of the world’s most beautiful materials objects, however, their manufacturing processes are anything but pretty. The luxury that comes with owning these materials is expensive not only financially, but also environmentally. Sourcing precious metals can come with extreme environmental and ethical impacts. The nature of mining destroys natural landscapes, displacing native plant, animal, and human populations while leaving behind immense amounts of waste, air, and water pollution. Toxic waste contamination, acid mine drainage, and mercury pollution all pose significant threats to the health of both the environment and humankind.
The industry also profits immensely off of vulnerable communities. Many mining sites operate without consent on the land of generationally owned indigenous or rural communities that do not have access to legal protection or official ownership.
Mining also poses risk for worker wellbeing, as jobs are traditionally underpaid and extremely dangerous. Mineworkers often have serious, long-term respiratory health issues due to the exposure hazards, and are not protected or compensated accordingly.
Consider shopping for recycled precious metals, or look for credible organizations such as the Fairmined Initiative that ensure quality environmental and ethical standards for sourcing.
Indulging in chocolate shouldn’t feel guilty, as long as you are aware of the environmental impact the favorite sweet treat has. The chocolate industry is one of the leading causes of deforestation and contributors to climate change. Cacao, the main ingredient in chocolate, requires massive amounts of land to grow, each year causing millions of trees to be cut down to make room for new plants. Due to the unique and extremely picky environment, cacao trees need to grow, the farming process is limited to certain areas near the equator. The loss of trees then decreases the amount of carbon naturally removed from the environment from the plants natural processes, as well as contributes to the falling biodiversity in rainforests.
When buying chocolate, consider researching the methods used to grow the cacao. Recently, new farming innovations have introduced new, more sustainable techniques such as pruning, multi-cropping, shade-growing, and natural pest control methods. Practices like these can maximize nutrient preservation in the soil, increase carbon sequestration, and even improve crop yields.
Sugarcane, another major ingredient in chocolate, is extremely water-intensive. Due to its coastal growing locations, chemical pollution due to run-off from pesticide use frequently contaminated freshwater ecosystems, harming biodiversity and water health.
Cacao and sugarcane are primarily grown in countries with little to no labor laws, exploiting forced and child laborers. Fair Trade certified chocolate ensures ethical and sustainable guidelines are met.
Check out Alter Ego, Theo Chocolate, UnReal, or Endangered Species chocolate.
Meat consumption is one of the leading causes of climate change, contributing more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. Not only does it pose significant ethical qualms concerning the morality of eating itself, but also concerns for meat industry laborers' safety.
Meat consumption is especially land and resource-intensive. Compared to growing nutrition heavy vegetables such as potatoes, rice, and wheat, meat demands hundreds of times more land and produces up to ten times more greenhouse gases. The land is not only required for the physical space for animals but also to grow the massive amounts of feed needed for the animals. Grazing animals can contribute to overgrazing, and therefore increased land loss
Beef, particularly, is extremely environmentally hazardous.
Beef is also responsible for deforestation as well as forest fires, as Amazonian cattle farmers purposefully burned acres of land to clear space for beef production. This habitat loss threatens biodiversity, including Animal waste runoff contaminated streams and other freshwater sources. We must also consider how strategy in what we eat can make great impacts on famine and food insecurity around the world. Currently, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one in nine people are chronically undernourished, particularly attributed to land and resource constraints. Diets that are meat-centered as discussed above are more resource-intensive, and as climate change intensifies, the earth's resources further dwindle. Farmed animals consume more than five times as much food as human beings, much of the caloric intake going to their bodily functions and not actively being transformed into edible products, making animal agriculture a form of food waste.
Meat also poses significant health risks, as red and processed meats specifically are heavily associated with cardiovascular disease, cancers, and diabetes.
Vegan and vegetarian “meats'' have recently become easily imitable to the taste and texture people love. Check out Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Gardein, or Morningstar Farms. Swapping even one meal for a meatless option.