business climate change consumerism corporate responsibility

Protecting the Amazon, with your shoes

A fifth of the Amazon rainforest has been cut down since 1970, and deforestation continues at an alarming rate. This isn’t just bad news for the region’s wildlife, but for all of us – the Amazon is the world’s largest carbon sink.

Unfortunately, its role is currently inverted, and the Amazon is also the world’s largest source of CO2 emissions. Deforestation of tropical forests accounts for a fifth of global CO2 emissions.

One might assume that the forests are being cut for timber, but the main driving force behind Amazonian deforestation is cattle ranching. Brazil has a thriving cattle industry, supplying both beef and leather. Cattle ranchers destroy an acre of the Amazon rainforest every 8 seconds. The world’s worst CO2 source is not planes or cars,  but our consumer demand for hamburgers and handbags.

Two months ago, Greenpeace released the findings of a detailed undercover investigation into Brazil’s cattle industry. It pointed the finger at a number of major brands, with evidence that they were using leather sourced from recently deforested areas. Among those brands were names such as Nike, Clarks, Adidas, and Timberland.

In a surprisingly swift response, Nike announced within weeks that they were working with Greenpeace to develop a sustainable leather sourcing policy. This week a number of other companies have followed suit, announcing a moratorium on Amazonian leather from recently deforested areas.

It’s great to see this issue addressed so positively and so quickly. Ultimately however, it is very difficult to police an area as vast as the Amazon. As long as the demand for beef and leather continues, the deforestation will continue, and for every company with an ethical sourcing policy, there’s another with no such respect for the environment. Preserving the Amazon may be incompatible with growth in the leather and beef sector, and while ethical policies are a great start, in the end we just to consume less.

Congratulations to the shoe companies for taking a stand. Now how about backing that up with shoes that are designed to last longer, so that we get through less leather in the first place?


  1. I caught an article on Radio4 the other week which pointed to soya bean farming catching up to and equalling the amount of deforestation caused by cattle.

    Seems even Veganism won’t save the rain forests, perhaps we all need to start eating insects?

    1. Or perhaps, before we resort to grubbing for woodlice under the patio, we could try growing more of our own?

      It’s crazy that environmentally irresponsible imports from Brazil are cheaper than local food. If we did more to encourage our own agriculture, perhaps we could ease the strain on the forests elsewhere.

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