Sustainability of Leather

Is leather a sustainable material?

The sustainability of leather is a hot topic in for example the fashion industry, which is encountering a selection of alternative materials and sometimes confusing messaging. Fact is that properly made and sourced leather is a truly sustainable material. Leather is:

  • made from a by-product (recycle) and
  • a long-lasting (durable) material, two very important aspects of sustainability.

Leather can be a sustainable, circular and biodegradable material when using the right chemicals.



In itself, leather is a sustainable product by origin because it is a by-product from the meat industry. The leather industry is creating a unique material from a skin that would otherwise mostly end up as landfill. In 2020 an estimated 8-10% of US hides ended up in landfill. Globally around 40% of hides were destroyed in 2020.

What is a by-product?
Output other than the principal product(s) of an industrial process, such as sawdust or woodchips generated in processing lumber. Unlike joint-products, by-products have low value in comparison with the principal product(s) and may be discarded or sold either in their original state, or after further processing. The hide or skin from animals (mainly bovine, ovine) is a by-product from the food.

leather sustainability

Life Cycle Analysis

With the right chemicals and innovations, the leather industry can take huge steps in minimizing the footprint and making steps towards a circular economy.

A Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) can determine the impact of innovations and the value of bio-based technology and products, as well as the biodegradability of products, leather, their relations, and how to influence those for a more circular leather value chain.

Sustainability in the Leather Value Chain (FAQ)

In the FAQ paper ‘Understanding the Concept of Environmental Sustainability in the Leather Value Chain‘, we explain the basics for a better understanding of the concept of environmental sustainability, focusing on the leather industry.

In this context most of the generally recognized, common methods to measure sustainability such as biodegradability and LCA are also explained.

Regulations & Standards

The leather industry is a highly regulated industry with responsible value chain partners manufacturing leather under tightly controlled auditing programs that are supportive to raise the standard of modern leather manufacturing. Fashion brands increasingly source leather from leather manufacturers audited according to these standards and increasingly demand them to use chemicals that are certified according to the ZDHC levels. The growing importance of these standards is crucial for the leather industry to ensure that brands, designers and consumers value leather as a sustainable and unique material. Royal Smit & Zoon is a proud active supporter and collaborator with global standards in order to create a leather value chain that is as sustainable as possible.

Our mission

Royal Smit & Zoon is on a mission to create a leather value chain that is as sustainable as possible. We have developed various sustainable solutions that are true differentiators for the leather industry. Royal Smit & Zoon is committed to continue to develop new products and solutions throughout our product offering as each drop makes a difference.

What do you know about the Leather Industry?

The craft of making leather dates back as far as 3000 to 5000 B.C., when leather was used for sandals, clothes, buckets and more.  This makes the leather industry one of the oldest manufacturing sectors in the world.

More about Leather Sustainability

Visit our Knowledge Center



See also our information about UN Sustainable Development Goals, Tannery of the future & Safe use of chemicals. Visit the website of Leather Naturally for more information about the sustainability of leather.

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Or can we assist you in making sourcing decisions?

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