6 vital elements in Post COVID-19 era
The leather industry has been in transition for some years, with many value chain partners delivering very positive results. In this blog I am describing how I see the Post-COVID-19 period in the leather industry. I will do this by highlighting six of the major elements the industry is focusing or should be focusing on, for a sustainable society.
1. Animal Welfare & Traceability
Leather is made from the hide or skins of animals (by-product) and there is no single cow on this planet that has been raised for leather, unlike some organizations try to make you believe. The animal is the starting point for the leather industry and leather manufacturers have a desire to work with hides and skins from animals that have had a decent live in line with the five freedoms. Simply said, animals that had a good live will pass this on to the hide quality. Traceability of the hides and skins including animal welfare is gaining importance via the Leather Working Group (LWG) in their auditing protocols and through individual companies like Prime Asia, Tyson, JBS and Vitelco Leather to name but a few who make this a prime focus of their way of doing business. It is likely that on the short term, this may lead to traceable hides getting more expensive, although I am convinced that the desire for product traceability will soon be the industry standard. Traceability is a huge challenge for countries with less well organized slaughter houses and brands will need to give them time to adapt (inclusivity).
2. Reliable Audits
The LWG has been a benchmark, for more than ten years, in supporting brands and leather manufacturers to maintain a sound environmental protocol. This protocol is auditing traceability of hides and skins, water- and energy consumption, machine and chemical management while also pointing out the importance of good housekeeping and social matters. The Tannery of the Future – Are you Ready for Audit created by LWG is supporting leather manufacturers in preparing for an audit. Next to this, the ZDHC is focusing on cleaner chemistry by banning hazardous substances from chemicals through their Manufacturing Restricted Substance List while supporting the industry in guidelines to improve the waste water quality and reducing air emissions. The Leather Impact Accelerator is focusing on benchmarking and positioning existing auditing programs to support brands in making sustainability claims in communications towards consumers. To be short, all these initiatives are available for brands to use and to support positioning leather as a sustainable material with audited companies available to support them. I kindly invite brands to intensify requesting leather in accordance with the available auditing protocols. Leather Naturally can assist you in transparent education and promotion of leather.
3. Zero waste
The leather industry is unique in the way that the by-product of the food industry is upgraded to leather, with unique characteristics, that can be re-paired, re-used, re-purposed and ultimately re-cycled unlike many alternative materials. Increasingly, chemicals used to manufacture leather are made from bio-based materials, replacing fossil ingredients. Waste materials from the leather manufacturing process, including shavings and cuttings can be recycled as a raw material for chemicals to be used again in the process. Nothing is wasted. It is up to us and young generations to embrace the concept of re-use, repair and recycle and leather is the perfect material for this. Imagine the new economy that can be created with ‘hot’ repair shops where you have your leather items repaired and have a good cup of coffee or with startups like Stoop and Peterson!
4. Sustainable Designing
Increasingly designers and brands realize that true sustainability and recyclability starts with designing the product with the end in mind. This can be done, by asking questions like: How long should the final article last? Which component is the weakest in my design? Can the article be repaired? Can the article be easily taken apart? And finally, what will happen to the article when it would end up in landfill? Would it bio-degrade? I am pleased to see that more consumers are cautious about consumption and focus on buying less, buying better, buying leather. Leather is just the perfect material for this trend, and it is up to us, chemical companies, leather manufacturers and brands to explore this area in more detail and in collaboration, supporting a future with zero waste and optimum consumer experiences.
COVID-19 taught us that without money the supply chains suffer tremendously, resulting in order cancellations, price re-negotiations, payment delays, massive lay-offs and companies going bankrupt, disrupting supply chains for several years to come. I have been in this industry for 28 years and am still surprised about the fact that leather manufacturers and the chemical industry accept to finance shoe manufacturers, brands and retailers. Why does any company with a regular flow of money or with cash business (online or retail business) need payment conditions of 120, 240 days or sometimes longer? We should all learn from this and go back to realism in payment conditions to the absolute minimum time frame and honor business contracts in good- and bad times. This is an easily forgotten element of sustainable business practices.
Last but not least, COVID-19 learned me that transparency is increasingly important. Being transparent in a CSR report is one thing, but how transparent are you in the way that you deal with the COVID-19 crisis? Did you honor business contracts? Did you do the utmost to keep your employees on board? Did you do your utmost to embrace the opportunities of working remote? Rethinking the need to travel? Continue the search for sustainable materials? True sustainability is being transparent about the way that you conduct your business, communicate with your teams, your customers and society. The coming months will be your and our moment to show our true face and make a difference in society!
I am proud that I am part of an industry that has a genuine desire to do better and that can play a key role in a modern sustainable society.
Looking forward to engage with you to make the leather value chain largely sustainable!
Egbert Dikkers – Global Director Sustainability
The LIFE Biopol project aims to provide answers to the most relevant issues of European policies for the leather industry: in particular the reduction of hazardous chemicals as well as their environmental footprint and impacts.
Education and promotion of leather
Leather Naturally is the global leather industry’s initiative to educate and promote leather to designers, brands and consumers. Leather Naturally as an association has doubled membership since last year and is eagerly welcoming new companies in the leather industry as a member.