Sustainable Leather

Is leather sustainable?

In itself, leather is a sustainable material 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. 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.

Importance of sustainable leather

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.

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.

How to create or look for sustainable leather?

Are you a tannery, brand or consumer and are you looking to make or buy sustainable leather? There are a couple of important guidelines that can help you make the right choice:

  1. Leather Source
    Seek out leather derived from the hides of cows, pigs, or lambs. Such leather is invariably a byproduct of the meat and dairy sectors, meaning that animals are not specifically slaughtered for their hides; instead, these hides are a residual product of the food industry. The leather industry repurposes these waste hides into materials suitable for crafting shoes, apparel, handbags, furniture, automotive interiors, and a variety of other applications.
  2. Verify certifications
    Before making a purchase, investigate the company or brand to gauge their commitment to ethical and environmental principles. Look out for endorsements like those from the Leather Working Group (LWG), Cradle To Cradle Products Innovation Institute, ToxFMD Screened Chemistry, or the Global Organic Textile Standard.For instance, the LWG provides an online database where you can search for certified tanneries. This resource simplifies the process for conscientious consumers to locate leather products that meet their criteria. You can spot the LWG label in reputable stores, or when shopping online, read product descriptions to ascertain if the leather has been tanned without substances like chrome.
  3. Where does the leather originated from?
    Ask where the leather comes from and if they can track it back to where it started. This helps make sure the leather is from animals that were treated well and not from animals that are in danger, or received bad treatment.
  4. Alternative materials?
    Remember that not all alternatives are necessarily better for the environment than traditional leather. It’s crucial to investigate how these alternatives are made and the impact they have on the environment. For instance, ‘vegan leather’ is often more of a marketing term. Materials derived from sources like pineapples or apple skins mainly contain fossil materials like plastic, making them less durable than real leather by a significant margin. Additionally, they pose challenges when it comes to recycling or composting.

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.

Download the FAQ

Read more about:

Sustainability of Leather
UN Sustainable Development Goals

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