Sustainability is currently the hot topic when it comes to the future of the human race and our planet. Populations are growing, and a universal demand for an improved quality of life means we are consuming resources at an ever-increasing rate. Meanwhile the environment is coming under growing strain, manifested in myriad ways including global warming, pollution of our oceans with plastics, and declining biodiversity. Against this backdrop, every sector of society must strive to ensure its practices are as sustainable and environment-friendly as possible, including the clothing industry of which the fur trade is an integral part.
The concept of sustainable development was coined by the Brundtland Commission, originally known as the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development. The Commission’s report was published in book form as Our Common Future, in 1987. This landmark document proposed that our environmental challenge is to meet “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
In practice, this means living on the “interest” that nature provides, without depleting our environmental “capital” — the air, water, and natural ecosystems that we depend upon for our survival. Whenever possible, we should use resources that are renewable and that biodegrade (plants, animals) rather than resources that are non-renewable and do not biodegrade, notably petroleum-based plastics now found everywhere, from clothing to packaging to automobiles. And we should use these renewable, biodegradable resources sustainably – that is, no faster than nature can replenish the supply.
The sustainable use of renewable natural resources is based on the fact that most species of plants and animals produce more young than their habitat can support to maturity. The ones that don’t make it, feed others. As part of this natural system, we too can use part of this natural “surplus” for our food, clothing, shelter and other needs.
Let’s see how fur measures up to these sustainability requirements. There are two main types of fur used today: wild-sourced and farm-raised. They have somewhat different implications for sustainability, so we will consider them separately.