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April 22, 2008

Evidently caught up in the excitement over Earth Day to the point of delirium at a Tokyo fashion show the week before, designer Chie Imai billed her collection, which blends recycled polyester with chinchilla and mink, as “ecological fur.”

“Tying ecology with fur is such a fascinating concept,” Imai told AP reporter Yuri Kageyama.

Fascinating is not the word I’d choose. But Imai isn’t alone in this particularly bizarre twist to greenwashing. On its Web site (furcouncil.com), the Fur Council of Canada declares: “Fur is a natural, renewable, and sustainable resource.” It goes on about how “surplus” wildlife must be controlled and how “humans are part of this ‘circle of life.’” (I guess you have to read between the lines to find out about how animals can languish in traps for days or how they can be beaten or stomped to death by trappers to avoid damaging the animals’ fur.) Along with calling wild fur “the ultimate ‘free range’ clothing material,” the Fur Council touts farm-raised fur as a pollution reducer, while dissing synthetic fibers, used in fake fur, as environmentally unfriendly.

But is animal fur really a greener material than synthetic fur? Based on total energy expenditure, maybe not— once you figure in the fuel to check trap lines, the upkeep of farmed animals, the heating of the rooms where the animals are skinned and the pelts scraped, transportation of raw furs to a factory, and the process of tanning fur pelts. Calculations reveal that, in energy terms, a trapped fur coat “costs” over three times as much as a fake fur, and a ranched fur coat over 15 times as much.

Still, all this number crunching may miss the larger point, as articulated by PETA’s Ashley Fruno: “Fur can’t be environmentally friendly because you can’t be concerned about the environment without caring about our fellow inhabitants: the animals.”

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