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Tesla-Inspired Vegan Leather Is All The Rage

Volvo cars announced recently that it will go leather-free in all pure electric cars as part of its animal welfare ambitions.

The new Volvo C40 Recharge will be designed strictly with vegan leather, an introduction to the automaker’s launch of its catalog of fully electric cars. By 2030, the company will offer only all-electric cars, and all of them leather-free.

Volvo Cars released a statement this week stating it is taking an ethical stand for animal welfare in its fully electric cars. The company — owned by Geely — has action plans that include requiring all of its immediate suppliers, including material suppliers, to use 100% renewable energy by 2025. That same year, 25% of the material in new Volvo cars will consist of recycled and bio-based content.

Moreover, Volvo Cars will reinvent itself as “a fully circular business by 2040.”

“We’ve got a new generation of customers coming through; they’re far more interested in the products they buy and having an ethical story behind them,” Robin Page, Volvo’s head of design, told Reuters in an interview. “They want to understand where the materials come from.”

The Search for Vegan Leather Materials

Rather than offering its customers leather interior options, Volvo Cars will present alternatives such as high-quality sustainable materials that will require substituting for many materials currently used in the wider car industry.

Nordico is an example of a new interior material created by Volvo Cars; it will consist of textiles made from recycled material such as PET bottles, bio-attributed material from sustainable forests in Sweden and Finland, and corks recycled from the wine industry. The automaker will also continue to offer wool blend options from suppliers that are certified to source responsibly.

The impetus behind the move to vegan leather is based in company concerns about animal welfare — the negative environmental impacts of cattle farming, including deforestation. Livestock is estimated to be responsible for around 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, with the majority coming from cattle farming.

“Being a progressive car maker means we need to address all areas of sustainability, not just CO2 emissions,” said Stuart Templar, director of global sustainability at Volvo Cars. Because it has become evident at Volvo Cars that consumers are focused on the sustainability of the end product, Templar added that “responsible sourcing is an important part of that work, including respect for animal welfare. Going leather-free inside our pure electric cars is a good next step towards addressing this issue.”

In addition to vegan leather, Volvo Cars will investigate ways to reduce the use of residual products from livestock production commonly used within or in the production of plastics, rubber, lubricants, and adhesives, either as part of the material or as a process chemical in the material’s production or treatment. Recycled polyester will help the company to cut its carbon footprint, as will linen from flax plants grown in Sweden in between crops, which replenishes the soil. Volvo will also use flax fibers for door panels.

Tesla’s Foray into Vegan Leather Led the Way

Being able to satisfy a customer base that increasingly wants sustainably sourced products was a challenge that Tesla took on beginning in 2015. During that year’s annual shareholder meeting, the organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) asked the all-electric vehicle  company to become the first “cruelty free” premium automaker.

PETA argued that eco-conscious consumers knew that raising cows for leather requires huge quantities of feed, land, water, and fossil fuels. They described how cattle emit massive amounts of methane—one of the most potent greenhouse gases — into the atmosphere. An important element of animal agriculture is the leather industry.

That’s because animal skin decomposes as readily as flesh, so tanneries must treat it with a variety of nasty substances. The Ecologist asserts, “Tanning is one of the most toxic industries in the world because of the chemicals involved.” Tanning belongs to the group of the most environmentally unfriendly sectors of industry. It uses a substantial number of chemicals at different skin converting stages, including biocides, surfactants, organic solvents, and inorganic substances such as toxic chromium (III) salts.

Hesitant to commit fully at the time of PETA’s pressure, Tesla CEO Elon Musk responded that he would look into offering alternatives to leather.

That September, Tesla delivered the first Model S with synthetic leatherette in a color Tesla called Ultra White. By 2017, all Tesla seats became available from synthetic materials. In 2019, the last animal products were removed from the Model 3 — a new, synthetic-leather-wrapped steering wheel was revealed. Although the vegan leather steering wheel didn’t include a heating element and presented the challenge of less favorable long-term wear than leather, customers responded positively to the environmentally-grounded changes.

During a review of the Fremont factory tour, CleanTechnica‘s Zachary Shahan reminded readers that “automakers are generally not seat producers,” that “no other notable auto manufacturers” than Tesla produce their own seats, and that there are only “4 main automobile seat producers globally.”

Later, when the Tesla vegan leather became a staple in its cars, Cynthia Shahan was able to hail a Tesla shuttle that had vegan leather. “The vegan white leather seats contributed to the comforting yet expansive ambiance of that Tesla ride,” which, she noted, created “a lightness of being that made the ride smoother and helped the time to fly by.”

A Tesla Owners Group reports that the source material for Tesla’s vegan leather seats is Ultrafabrics.

Final Thoughts

Here is a list of other cars that sport vegan interiors from our friends over at Vegan magazine.

  • Mercedes and BMW use premium synthetics for the base models of all but their top-end brands.
  • The Ford Mustang Mach-E comes standard with all-vegan interiors, including a vegan steering wheel.
  • Look for Softex, Toyota’s vegan leather alternative, in premium or upgraded Toyota models. Base model Toyotas generally come with cloth seats.

PETA also announced that, after conversations with PETA Germany, Volkswagen confirmed that its all-electric, zero-emissions model, the ID.3, would have a leather-free and wool-free interior option for the seats.

Is it truly possible to purchase a 100% vegan-made car? Not really. Many animal fats are used in the production of steel, rubber, and other components. Veganism, however, is about doing everything you can to exclude animal products from your life as far as is possible and practical. So supporting vegan leather is a good decision.

Images from Volvo Car USA and CleanTechnica

 
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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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