Remember that wars have been fought to defeat dictatorships, millions and millions of precious lives on all sides have been sacrificed to preserve democracy. KLM and BMW are European companies based in countries that were devastated by World War II and which are still celebrating each year the liberation and the return to democracy.

Nevertheless, both ignore democracy, which is based on dialogue and majority vote, and institute a “dictatorship” banning what the majority wants: no more meat on flights in economy class, to be extended to business class in the future, and no more leather in the car interiors. One wonders what moves huge brands to make these kinds of incoherent decisions?

ESG to the fore

All major brands have instituted, correctly, sustainability departments to improve their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance and the staff that are hired are paid to think in alternative ways. I can perfectly relate that an airline, a carmaker or manufacturer of consumer goods must research and make decisions in terms of the materials they acquire and/or distribute to safeguard the environment and their clients.

Both airlines and car manufacturers aim to lower consumption of fuel, recyclable materials, better use of resources, etc. and that is great because, in these sectors, they follow precise scientific patterns, many of which originate from their own laboratories and base their decisions on measurable data.

Boeing for example, states that a 747 airliner consumes about four litres of kerosine per second or roughly 14,000 litres per hour. The 787 Dreamliner burns 5,400 litres per hour. This choice is easy and supported by facts, so airlines upgrade their fleets and choose the 787.

KLM was the first airline to experiment with sustainable aircraft fuel (SAF) by adapting used cooking oil to fuel their planes and, recently, an Air France flight from Paris to Toronto used only 16% of traditional kerosene while the remainder was SAF. Now, how is it that bright sustainability decisions like these are inspiring unproven and untrue environmental claims that eating less meat, or using less leather, improves the environment?

The answer can only be that the persons hired to research the sustainability of the use of meat and leather have an agenda. Are they vegetarians or vegans or animal rights activists or all three together? What is clear is that they are biased against meat and leather industries without taking into consideration the various objective studies about sustainable livestock farming and sustainable leather production.

They are blind to the fact that leather is a circular commodity, that does not use harmful, non-REACH compliant chemicals and is a renewable raw material, unlike the plastic or plastic based materials that the leather alternatives try to force upon consumers through misleading environmental claims or hidden plastic constituents in their materials. They just have their agenda and it is questionable why big companies hire such people and let them make decisions which are based on incorrect data.

Anti-meat agenda

KLM said in a statement that their decision was based on the anti-meat trend. This is nonsense, because only an estimated 15% of the world population are pure vegetarian or vegan. We are therefore talking about a minimal selection of the world’s population. Hence a 15% minority makes an airline decide what food to serve to its passengers. That’s beyond belief. There have always been menu choices on flights such as beef or fish or vegetarian; you could order your kosher or halal meal. Now, KLM tells you what to eat.

Has BMW objectively researched the environmental pros and cons of leather and alternative materials? Did they study and compare the characteristics of leather as researched and published for instance by M. Meyer, S. Dietrich, H. Schulz, and A. Mondschein from FILK in their paper Comparison of the Technical Performance of Leather, Artificial Leather, and Trendy Alternatives? Did they take note of a Canadian study that indicates that the best farmland is that which alternates in a three-year cycle between free grazing cattle and crops?

I am certain that they have not, otherwise they would have stuck to leather. They followed the indications of a minority’s agenda, because the minority gets attention by pushing their arguments, which are validated by no scientific study. It’s like the anti-vax brigade arguing that Covid-19 vaccinations contain particles that communicate via 5G with the deep state!

Weak arguments against leather

I continue to say that this is our fault as we are incapable of countering the absurd arguments against leather. We are incapable of conveying to the world that the leather industry is actively contributing to an improved environment through new technologies based on careful research, even if there is some communications improvement spearheaded by some individual tanneries – Cotance, UNIC, CICB, LHCA and online groups – but it is not enough!

The anti-leather community spreads lies about leather and hides the fact that most leather alternatives that they promote are not sustainable. We need to call them out, tiptoeing around the problem is not the answer!

Sam Setter