Fur Is Green?

Latest campaign promotes fur as environmentally friendly

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Fur is Green

Recent announcements from GM and Chrysler indicate the struggling manufacturers will be discontinuing signature SUV brands such as Hummer and Aspen.

Considering the poor fuel economy and ecological impact associated with these behemoths, this trend seems to suggest that in times of economic instability, industries peddling wasteful luxury products are among the first to take a hit.

Unlike the auto industry, however, the fur industry may not require an expensive bailout from the Canadian government. In fact, recent evidence points to fur being on the rise.

There are currently more than 350 leading international designers working with fur in their collections, according to the International Fur Trade Federation.

Alan Herscovici, executive vice-president for the Fur Council of Canada " a national non-profit organization representing fur producers, designers, retailers and auction houses " told CBC he believes celebrities such as 50 Cent or R Kelly are responsible for creating an increased interest in fur among young people.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in men’s fur " more than we’ve seen in a long time. And we’re seeing younger people get interested in fur again,” Herscovici said.

The fur industry has not just been relying on the fashion tastes of celebrities to get into the public eye, recently using a different strategy to promote its products.

The Fur Council’s “Fur Is Green” campaign, introduced in 2007, has attracted a lot of media attention for its new approach to fur fashion and now includes print ads, billboards, a redesigned website and T-shirts that bear the slogan “Save a Tree, Wear a Beaver.”

“Going green is so trendy these days,” said Samantha Ierullo, a fourth-year English student at Western. While Ierullo does not own any fur garments, she does own some clothing with faux-fur trims and linings.

“If you’re going to attack fur for advertising about going green, you have to attack other ads for things like supposedly organic cosmetics or ‘green SUVS.’”

While Ierullo disagreed with some of the claims made on the Fur Is Green website, she thought it was a smart advertising move.

Liz White is the director of Animal Alliance of Canada, a not-for-profit organization committed to the protection of all animals and the promotion of a harmonious relationship among people, animals and the environment.

White and Animal Alliance see the current state of the fur industry very differently.

“Fur designers have started using only [fur] trim [on their garments] because they can’t market anything else,” she said. “Fur has to be marketed for something other than it is to be palatable.

“Is it worth harming these animals for a patch of fur on your purse or fur trim on your boots?”

White also questioned the ethical practices associated with catching animals for fur.

“The government says [wild animal trapping] is tightly regulated but the fact is trap lines are not checked once a day,” she added.

“Leg hold traps and Conibear traps [which function similar to mouse traps and are designed to kill trapped animals quickly] are problematic. A number of animals in urban areas, pets and wild animals have been injured on these traps.”

The main focus of the Fur Is Green website is to alter the popular perception of fur promoted by groups such as the Animal Alliance and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals by promoting fur as environmentally friendly apparel.

“[Animal rights groups] were in shock,” said Jacky Coronado, marketing co-ordinator for Fur Is Green, in regards to the reaction to the promotional campaign. “They thought we’d given up and didn’t expect us to be able to fight back.”

This past Valentine’s Day, a group of 15 animal rights activists in Windsor protested in front of a furisgreen.com billboard in opposition to the website’s message.

Additionally, the Fur Council aims to remove the stigma attached to fur trapping by explaining how integral trapping is to the lifestyle of those living in the farther reaches of the North, specifically in Aboriginal communities. In this instance, White said she agrees with the Fur Is Green website, but with some strong reservations.

“If we’re talking about a subsistence take [of fur] for Aboriginal people to continue to live off the land, I don’t have a problem with that,” she said.

“But there is no way that the people in the North can consume all the animals that the fur industry uses to create fur. [The industry] use those people as a shield.”

According to Mario Tremblay, another co-ordinator for Fur Is Green, the campaign has been an efficient way to promote the Fur Council.

“If you search ‘fur is green’ on Google, [furisgreen.com] is now the number one hit,” Tremblay said.

Gary Hazlewood, executive director of the Canada Mink Breeders Association, is familiar with and agrees with the Fur Is Green campaign.

“I think fur is green. I think this is probably the first time it’s been encapsulated in a slogan. It puts all the parts together with a balanced approach,” Hazlewood said.

“The site has generated positive feedback from unexpected blogs, like hunters who agree with what we’re saying about trapping,” Coronado said.

The website claims the trapping of beaver and muskrat “provides trappers with food and money for new equipment and supplies needed to maintain a land-based life.”

Statements by wildlife authorities from provinces across the country endorsing well-regulated trapping also appear on the website.

According to White, calling fur ‘green’ is problematic since environmental changes resulting from global warming might be having an effect on the animals being trapped.

“This is not being taken into consideration,” she said. “Government wildlife managers are not considering how global warming is affecting certain animals.”

She pointed out how similar environmental considerations don’t exist for seals that exist for polar bears " species she feels have both been affected by global warming in ways which people are still not entirely certain. White called the seal hunt “another fur-driven market” that results in the killing of close to 250,000 seals every year.

More than trapped or wild fur, White said she felt ranched fur is clearly not green.

“The feces that results from the concentration of animals, and the ways bodies are disposed of are things where it’s not clear what impacts they have " they’re not being looked at.

“If we’re talking about mink and foxes, they require a lot of meat to maintain their fur,” she added.

Even though much of the meat used is not fit for human consumption, White pointed out that there is still energy being used to produce non-human consumption meat. Energy, she said, is also needed in transportation and cold storage of pelts.

Hazlewood addressed the practices used by Canadian mink farms.

“The program in place is a voluntary code of practice by the industry. It will be reviewed and revised in the short term,” he said.

On furisgreen.com, the Fur Council states the fur trade accounts for about one-quarter of one percent of the animals we use for food, clothing and other purposes each year.

“About twice as many unwanted pets are put down in humane shelters, 10 times more animals are killed on Canadian highways,” the site says.

For White, arguing that other animals are cruelly treated elsewhere is a disingenuous basis for an argument.

“I don’t think we should kill any animals,” White said.

“But shouldn’t society reduce the number of animals it kills to the most minimum? That’s not what the fur industry is doing. They’re just trying to get as much money as possible for the products they’re trapping.”

“I don’t really see the fur industry as sustainable just because when I look at my pets I don’t really see them as a sustainable resource,” Ierullo said. “I suppose if you did see your pets that way it would be different for you.”

While there are many different perspectives on the fur industry today, the Fur Council has certainly achieved one of its objectives; creating a buzz around its products.

“One of the mandates of the Council is to promote Canadian fur nationally and internationally,” Tremblay said.

“This campaign has certainly increased interest.”

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