Vegan Leather Handbag

Vegan Leather vs. Cow Leather: Which emits more GHGs?

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During the fall semester of 2020 at Columbia, I participated in a rewarding extracurricular program called Net Impact. It’s basically a pro-bono consulting engagement for an impact-driven brand. Our team of six worked with GUNAS New York which is a vegan leather handbag company. They were curious to learn about the difference in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) for their vegan leather handbags compared to handbags made out of traditional leather from cow. This Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was performed in order to understand the difference in GHG emissions between the two offerings. 

They also asked us to develop a marketing strategy and plan in order to communicate the respective LCA results. I led that part while the rest of our team focused on the LCA calculations. What a great experience!  

Our team also produced an infographic demonstrating the results. You’ll see that based on our team’s calculations, vegan leather material emits 14 kg CO2e in one handbag compared to traditional cow leather material which emits 88 kg CO2e in one handbag.

If you’re wondering what “CO2e” means… don’t worry, I did too when I first saw it. It means the carbon dioxide equivalent. When measuring the greenhouse gas impact, it’s important to note that there are different types of greenhouse gases that get emitted. Each has a different Global Warming Potential (GWP). For example, Nitrous Oxide is 298x more powerful at warming our Earth than Carbon Dioxide.  In order to look at the GHG emissions on an even playing field, factors are multiplied for each GHG GWP in order to be equivalent to that of carbon dioxide, ensuring the ability to compare “apples to apples.” 

We conducted both primary and secondary marketing research which resulted in a few key findings leveraged in the marketing strategy.  Consumers are universally seeking to buy accessories in neutral tones that they can wear for any occasion, over and over again. 

The research conducted also identified a massive opportunity for sustainability education as a competitive edge. We were unable to identify any other vegan leather handbag company who had calculated their carbon footprint and explaining the results. An opportunity for a creative revamp was also illuminated. Specifically, recommending that GUNAS portray more neutral tones and casual looks in their asset visuals. 

It was even found that even luxury shoppers are more inclined than ever to buy items associated with street wear versus formal wear (Mintel, 2020). 

A culmination of this research inspired the campaign name, “Qualities of Nature.” I felt like Arizona was therefore the perfect location to shoot for marketing collateral! 

GUNAS Cottontail Bag

Featured above is their best-seller Cottontail handbag. This bag is named after the New England Cotton Tail rabbit that is now near extinction. GUNAS dedicates this bag to these rabbits included in many of our childhood bedtime stories. The bag can also be seen featured on Netflix series, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” worn by Madam Lulu. God, I used to love those books.

I learned so much from this experience! Next time I make a handbag purchase, I’m definitely choosing vegan leather based on these LCA results. 

Huge thank you to our team (Olivia, Sanne, Molly, Eric and Jaxie!) for making these LCA results possible and enabling such a fun, strategic marketing plan to go alongside the findings. 

with love for the planet,

the sustennial

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