There have been numerous articles and television programmes about the need for us all to eat less meat. The documentary which prompted this article was the Horizon episode “Should We Eat Meat? – How to Feed the Planet”.
With so much research and information now available, shoe-wearers face some tough ethical dilemmas.
Animals produce greenhouse gases, so the more meat and leather are produced, the more the environment is damaged.
We grow protein crops such as soya to feed the animals. Water and oil are used to grow and transport these crops, and more water and oil are required to rear, slaughter, and transport the meat. If we just ate the soya, there would be less damage to the environment, and we would still get the same amount of protein in our diets. Leather supplies would dwindle.
Let’s not forget the forests which are being felled to provide space to grow crops and graze animals. The decimation of trees contributes to the amount of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere.
The more meat is eaten, the cheaper leather becomes, as it is a by-product of the meat industry. If we drastically cut down our global meat consumption, leather which has already suffered from massive price increases over the past few years, will become even more expensive.
I have heard one person in the footwear industry explaining soaring leather and shoe prices, by saying “Americans simply aren’t eating enough meat”.
What about synthetic leather?
Perhaps the solution would seem to be: wear synthetic leather. Most leather substitutes used for footwear are made from polyurethane (or PU). PU is a petro-chemical, derived from oil: a finite resource.
Although PU uses somewhat fewer chemicals, and creates reportedly less toxic waste than the leather tanning process, it still damages the environment. There is also the issue of biodegradability. PU does not biodegrade any more quickly than leather.
Buy leather shoes which you know are going to last a long time, and buy fewer pairs.
If leather prices continue to increase at their current rate, footwear will become less affordable and force us to cut down on our shoe-purchasing habits anyway.
Switch to synthetic leather or fabric footwear, and try to purchase from a company which knows and can explain the impact of its supply chain on the environment.
Tempting but unrealistic: move to a desert island, and go barefoot or wear shoes you have crafted from palm leaves.