Is Fur Eco Friendly? We Look at Both Sides

eco friendly fur

It’s natural, and it’s biodegradable. But is fur eco friendly? We take a genuinely objective look at both sides of the argument

By Jody McCutcheon

“Fur is an ecological nightmare. The fur industry has been identified as a major polluter by government agencies around the world.”

“Real fur garments are much less polluting to manufacture than synthetic faux furs, which are made with some of the most toxic chemicals known…”

Thus goes the back-and-forth between pro- and anti-fur camps, about which is more eco-friendly, fur or faux. The above quotes also hint at an answer: trick question.

The first, unsurprisingly, belongs to Ingrid Newkirk, president and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), famous for their paint-throwing escapes at fashion weeks and “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaigns, featuring the likes of Cindy Crawford (who has since actually modelled for prominent fur company Blackglama).

The second quote is more a defence disguised as attack. Interestingly, it comes not from the fur industry, per se, but from IWMC World Conservation Trust president Eugene Lapointe. Does the IWMC have a vested interest in fur, or is Mr Lapointe simply stating what the IWMC believes to be true? Sometimes it’s tough to tease fact from rhetoric.

So, Is Fur Eco Friendly?

So…is fur eco friendly? Here’s what we know: Fur is a renewable resource. Faux fur isn’t; it’s petroleum-based, with an estimated gallon of oil used in every three jackets. Fur farms recycle: farmed mink, for example, consume human food waste and meat-processing byproducts. And fur itself, as a material, is more or less biodegradable: as any fur-owner knows, without proper care, it soon disintegrates; faux fur, however, will clog landfills  for centuries to come.

There are some who argue that not to use ‘roadkill’ fur (yes, that is actually a thing–several companies use ‘found’ fur from roadkill) and fur derived from government sponsored culls (such as the badger cull in the UK or the fox cull in Switzerland) would be a waste of the animal’s life, and that furs taken from these wild animals are eco friendly as there has been no energy-intensive process involved in ‘raising’ the animals.

On the other hand, faux fur is, obviously, more animal-friendly–unless it secretly contains dog, cat or raccoon hair, which occurs more than one might think, according to CNN.[1] Faux-fur production is also ultimately more energy-efficient, using as little as one-fifteenth the energy required for farmed-fur production.

But there is a lot more to consider from both sides before we can make a conclusion.

Is Fur Eco Friendly

Toxic Chemical Soups

The processing of both fur and faux fur excretes toxic chemical soups that harm water, air and soil. For example, fur-farm animal waste can seep into local waterways. A 2011 study by Dutch independent researchers CE Delft calls fur production worse than textile production, in terms of environmental degradation. Carcinogens like chromium and formaldehyde, employed in dressing and dyeing processes, compromise fur’s biodegradability, not to mention ecological stability. According to British fashion-ethics journalist Lucy Siegle, “the industrial pollution projection system … rates fur-dressing as one of the five worst industries for toxic metal pollution to the land in the world.”

That said, many companies such as SAGA and the Gucci Group (PPR) are now insisting that all their furs are vegetable dyed and tanned with traditional, non-toxic methods. Valentino has even received the thumbs up from Greenpeace for his ethical leather and fur sourcing practices. The Fur Council of Canada  even launched a “Fur is Green” campaign, claiming that fur is “durable, recyclable, and and biodegradable”, and that trapping certain wild animals helps native communities preserve their traditions and earn an income, and also helps balance animal populations in the wild. Indeed, in New Zealand too, the government is encouraging people to buy what they call “the world’s most ecological fur” crafted from the Paihamu, a non-native species that is threatening native wildlife, including the iconic kiwi bird.

As for faux, In Touch magazine’s Ruth Rosselson stated, “More than 50% of (the UK)’s emissions into our air of the poisonous ‘greenhouse’ gas nitrous oxide comes from nylon production,” and indeed, that is the basis for many of these coats. Synthetics also take more energy to produce than natural materials. A kilo of nylon needs three times the energy required for a kilo of cotton, for example, writes design consultant Kate Fletcher in Sustainable Fashion and Textiles. Maybe faux fur’s most disturbing aspect is that, with each machine wash, the garment releases up to 1900 microplastic particles into the water, and into the food chain, ultimately harming all animals, including humans. Good grief.

Is Fur Eco Friendly

Does ‘Eco Friendly Faux Fur’ Exist?

Vegan animal lovers will say there is simply no excuse for wearing fur because it harms animals; fair enough, it undoubtedly does. However, faux fur undoubtedly harms the environment, especially marine life, unless it’s made from organic materials, like cotton, bamboo or hemp.

A few companies are indeed making eco-friendly fake furs from wool, alpaca and other natural animal fibres: no harm comes to the animal at all, and the fibres need no tanning and can be vegetable dyed. And even better news is that more and more eco-friendly faux furs are being designed each year from things like recycled plastic bottles. So yes, I would consider these to be eco friendly faux furs.

But what about vintage fur? There are millions of coats in great condition from decades ago, often passed down from generation to generation. Clearly, throwing these furs away would be wasteful, to say the least–if the animal has been long dead, surely it’s best to maximise the product that resulted from the sacrifice of its life? Some would say no–this sends a signal that wearing all fur is fine, and paves the way for a stronger modern market. But then, guess what? The same could be said for faux fur (which is why Stella McCartney proudly displays a tag that says ‘faux fur’ on the outside of her coats).

The fact is, it’s a bit of a moral quagmire. If you must wear fur, the eco-gentlest choice is probably to buy vintage. Another option would be to buy from companies who stringently inspect animal welfare and use natural dyeing and tanning methods, such as Valentino, SAGA and those companies in the Gucci Group.

But let’s face it: unless you live in deepest Siberia, is it really worth taking an animal’s life (or actually, several – as many as 60 minks are killed for one coat) just so you can look nice this winter?

Sorry, but the debate shouldn’t be whether to wear faux or real fur – both are bad in their own ways. If you really care about the environment, why not just buy a nice, ethical alpaca, wool or recycled plastic number instead?

Main image: Victorija Pashuta Photography  Other images: Fendi


Jody McCutcheon
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8 thoughts on “Is Fur Eco Friendly? We Look at Both Sides”

  1. This is a very interesting article. We feel that people should choose which morals they value the most. Do you care more about the planet or a live animal? Ultimately the consumer is the one who has to live with that choice.

  2. Real fur accessories are different from synthetic fur. Synthetic are generally made from chemicals. But I always prefer real fur and also some good quality of fur accessories collected from Amifur store.

  3. Villifying faux fur was part of the fur industty tactic to promote real fur. But unless people lives in a hut, grow their own food, do not use car, plastic bags, i-pods, i-pads and 99% of what we all use today, criticizing faux fur because it comes from oil is absolutely hypocrit. Synthetic fur is a tiny aspect of the whole thing. If you do not use faux fur, you won’t change a thing. If you do not use real fur, yet you will spare the lives of millions of sensitives creatures killed for the fashion industry. PLus : farming activities are also source of pollution. No fur is green, but only faux fur is ethical.

  4. My question is…are people purchasing these furs (or fur lined) items for fashion/trend or functionality? Obviously functionality is far more acceptable than just for looks, and to show off. Although winter hit parts of North America may never get as cold as Northern Canada or Siberia, it does got pretty cold in many areas. Anywhere from -30C to -40C (-22F to -44F), by human standards, that’s pretty cold. But unlike people who buy for functionality (who wear winter gear in winter, fashion is low on the priority), people who buy for trend almost never dress for winter. They’ll wear a fur coat, or a fur lined parka, but dress shoes, and mini skirts. What’s the point in buying warm clothing, if you don’t intend to stay warm. lol

    Even in the bible, the killing of animals for food and clothing is mentioned. And whether you are religious or not, for thousands of years, animals have been used by man for food and clothing. As long as company’s practices of live fur follow the old ways (nothing discarded, every part of the animal is used), and they adhere to keeping it to a minimum to control over population, it’s a better way than the unsustainable practice of synthetics. Both in the short and long term.

    That’s not to say that there will never be groups of people or companies that will take as much advantage as they can, on either side. If money is to be made, you can bet someone is taking shortcuts, and finding loopholes for profit.

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