Renewability and sustainability in the leather industry

A view on the leather industry by Arnaud Backbier, Smit & Zoon`s Global Commercial Director

As the world is focusing on how our economies are and the impact of the raw material and shipping issues, Royal Smit & Zoon does see more attention to actually define what are renewability and sustainability in chemicals and process. Tanneries are implementing measures to improve sustainability in order for example to attain LWG certification. The next steps on the horizon for sustainability are showing up.


New processes towards sustainability

Every fabric used in the production of shoes, leather goods, furniture, car interior, garments, or other areas which use flexible material uses chemicals to make the final material. Even natural materials such as organic textile or leather use chemicals to give the final material a performance. To attain more sustainable production of leather also the chemicals and processes need to be adapted or redesigned.

The next question is first of all how to do this and more how to prove this. Brands and their suppliers will expect that sustainability improvements in processes and chemical use are proven with numbers. For brands, this is in end to prove to their stakeholders that improvements are taking place. The proof is via needed for the ESG reporting and an effort such as the fossil-free fashion scorecard ( just to name one.


LCA as the preferred tool

Nice words (greenwashing) are less and less accepted. The request is to prove in a practical way on chemicals and processes in sustainable leather making. Lifecycle Analysis (LCA) is a preferred tool. An LCA is still complex and costly to use for every chemical company, individual tannery, product, and article. Chemical suppliers are doing more and more. The first one is the ZDHC certification of chemicals. A second one coming up is presenting products old and innovative new with an indication on renewability of by the mass balance method, the so-called C14 method or LCA. Royal Smit & Zoon did the mass balance already in its Product Passport several years ago and we have the C14 for key products and more coming. Royal Smit & Zoon uses the LCA for the LIFE Biopol and will continue for other products such as Zeology.


Creating a socially and environmentally  leather value chain

At Royal Smit & Zoon we believe it is possible by design of the right chemicals and process to achieve more sustainable leather. Using measurable data points it is possible to make and proof improvement steps in leather making and continue to meet the requirements for the final article given a cost level. It may require process redesign of the recipes to come to more eco-leather. Basically do an eco-design with the right chemicals (better LCA or higher renewability and ZDHC compliant) while improving water management (reduce water usage) and energy management (reduce energy usage) in the design as Royal Smit & Zoon has it is Simplicity concept. This does not make it easy and quick but each improved process and article will add up.

Collect per article the data beforehand as and then match it with the redesign process and even with data per batch made. This is a new focus on what even an entrepreneur and industrial-like Andre Carnegie did already at end of the 19th century and early 20th century to drive continuous quality and efficiency in his company. Eco-design is a new factor that drives quality and sustainable efficiency.



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