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The footprint of fur

Fur industry accused of greenwashing as new report reveals carbon footprint of fur fashion far higher than other materials
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Mink fur coat

The environmental impacts of mink, fox and raccoon dog fur production significantly exceed those of other materials used in fashion, including cotton and even polyester and acrylic used to make faux fur, according to a new report by carbon footprint experts at Foodsteps, commissioned by Humane Society International/UK.

Renowned sustainability expert Dr Isaac Emery reviewed the analysis, which states that the fur industry’s PR claim that fur is ‘the most environmentally friendly material available’ is clearly inaccurate greenwashing and misleading to both consumers and retailers.

Banning fur

The fashion industry is estimated to be responsible for 2-8% of global carbon emissions and is a major polluter of water.

Limiting fashion’s environmental footprint is therefore vital for meeting international climate change commitments.

HSI/UK believes its new report provides compelling evidence that the disproportionately large carbon and environmental footprint of the global fur trade should be eliminated, including by banning the import and sale of fur to the UK.

Fur vs other materials

When compared with other materials in the report, per kilogram fur has the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which can include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, with the carbon footprint of 1kg of mink fur found to be 31 times higher than that of cotton and 25 times higher than polyester.

The three animal furs also scored worst for water consumption amongst all materials analysed―104 times higher than acrylic, 91 times higher than polyester and five times higher than cotton.

Fur accessories such as fur trim on jacket hoods, and poms on hats and shoes, also come with a higher environmental price tag than their acrylic counterparts.

For example, the study estimates that a raccoon dog fur bobble on a hat has a carbon footprint nearly 20 times higher than its acrylic faux fur bobble counterpart.

Saving lives and pollution

Around 100 million animals a year are used for fur globally, with around 10 million mink, foxes and raccoon dogs reared and killed on fur farms across Europe alone in 2021.

Animals on fur farms produce huge amounts of polluting excrement, and their fur pelts require large amounts of water, salt and a cocktail of chemicals like chromium and formaldehyde—listed as toxic carcinogens—to process them into fashion products and stop them from decomposing like dead skin and hair naturally would. 

HSI/UK’s report shows that if fur farming were banned across Europe, it would save nearly 300,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalent, the same as the annual carbon dioxide emissions of roughly 58,000 citizens in the UK.

It would also save approximately 3,700 tonnes of water pollution and 11,800 tonnes of air emissions.

Humane Society International/UK leads the #FurFreeBritain campaign for a UK ban on the import and sale of fur.

Report’s headline findings

The carbon footprint of 1kg of mink fur (309.91 kg CO2-eq) is 31 times higher than cotton, 26 times higher than acrylic, and 25 times higher than polyester.

Raccoon dog fur and fox fur also have high carbon footprints, approximately 23 times worse for the climate than cotton, and 18 times worse for the climate than polyester.  

Mink fur produces air emissions 271 times higher than acrylic, 215 times higher than cotton and 150 times higher than polyester.

Fox and raccoon dog fur produce air emissions roughly 104 times higher than that of acrylic, 83 times that of cotton and 57 times that of polyester.  

Almost 30,000 litres of water is required per kilogram of fur produced. The average water consumption of the three furs is 104 times higher than acrylic, 91 times higher than polyester and five times higher than cotton. 

The production of all three fur types has a staggering impact on water pollution; mink fur produces nearly 400 times the water pollution per kilogram of polyester, and on average all three furs are 100 times more water-polluting than cotton and 75 times more than acrylic. 


 

‘This analysis clearly shows that fur is one of the most environmentally damaging industries in the fashion world, its production creating a larger footprint than any of the other materials reviewed, including cotton and acrylic.

‘Just like factory farming of animals for food, factory farming for fur places a heavy burden on the climate and environment, and keeping and feeding millions of carnivorous animals further amplifies the problem.

‘Producing one kilogram of mink fur results in greenhouse gas emissions seven times higher than one kilogram of beef and has 34 times the carbon footprint of chicken.

‘In addition to the appalling suffering inflicted on animals on fur farms, this is a shockingly wasteful and damaging industry that is entirely out of sync with global sustainability goals. This report provides another compelling reason why the UK government must ban the import and sale of fur, and all governments globally must act to end the fur trade.’

CLAIRE BASS
HSI/UK’s senior director of campaigns and public affairs

Faux fur and the circular economy

With the increasing availability of innovative, bio-based, next-generation materials, including faux fur made using plant-based ingredients, HSI predicts that non-animal fabrics will continue to become ever more environmentally friendly.

The Faux Fur Institute in Paris has launched a roadmap for innovative ways to create faux fur, called SMARTFUR, based on the principles of the circular economy.

In September 2019, Stella McCartney joined forces with DuPont in partnership with ECOPEL to launch KOBA® Fur Free Fur, the world’s first fully recyclable faux fur made using plant-based ingredients and recycled polyester.

This was followed by the launch of BioFluff by founders Ashwariya Lahariya and Martin Stübler, the world’s first fully plant-based fur. 

The HSI report uses data published by luxury (and now fur-free) French fashion group Kering, as part of its Environment Profit & Loss data published to encourage a greater movement towards sustainability in the fashion industry and other sectors.

It looks at the impact of materials across the supply chain, including raw material production, processing, manufacturing, assembly and operations to retail.

While the fashion industry’s standard lifecycle analysis does not typically include end-of-life disposal such as landfill, HSI/UK adds that all items of clothing in the fashion industry can ultimately end up in landfill, and items that include animal fur are no exception.

‘A significant amount of animal fur used today appears as trim on disposable fashion items such as collars and hoods for puffers and parkas as well as poms on hats, gloves and shoes, all of which are made using a variety of synthetics and other materials and are just as likely to be landfilled as their faux fur equivalent.

‘While all materials have a carbon footprint to some degree, our report shows just how large an environmental impact fur production has and dispels any myths about its green credentials. This analysis puts beyond doubt that the intensive farming of millions of fur-bearing animals each year, and the factory processing of their pelts, cannot reasonably be described as natural or sustainable, and is far more environmentally destructive than the fur trade wants consumers to believe. That’s simply too high a price to pay for a frivolous fur fashion item no-one needs.’

CLAIRE BASS
HSI/UK’s senior director of campaigns and public affairs

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