Taking the initiative12 October 2018
Tackling pollution in the Ganges and improving work conditions in Ethiopia are just two examples of Stahl’s commitment to advancing causes that will propel the leather industry into a cleaner and more reputable future. Michael Costello, the company’s sustainability director, talks to Leather International.
This year, Stahl hopes to open its new Centre of Excellence in Kanpur, India. Speaking at the Dutch company’s bustling stand at this year’s All China Leather Exhibition, director of sustainability Michael Costello confirms that the building has been successfully renovated and is ready to begin operations.
“We’re just waiting for the equipment to be transferred into the building, which will take two or three months – it’ll be ready by the end of the year,” says Costello.
The centre is an integral part of Stahl’s role in a five-year tannery project alongside NGO Solidaridad and PUM that aims to reduce pollution loads into the Ganges from India’s Kanpur leather cluster.
Launched in November 2017, the publicprivate partnership, which includes a number of Indian partners, aims to reduce the effluent water discharged from the cluster by at least 40% through the introduction of alternative technologies and processes. The centre will house a Stahl technician dedicated to the project, who will report directly to Costello.
“The project really came about because Solidaridad saw some of our social media feeds activity regarding sustainability,” explains Costello. “So they got in touch and we got to talking about sustainability in different areas and regions in the world. This was around the time that a lot of bad news was coming out of Kanpur, and we realised we wanted to be part of the cleanup of the Ganges.”
Stahl is also working alongside the Ganga Pollution Control Unit, which forms part of the wider ‘Clean Ganga’ initiative launched by the Indian Government. The project is no minor undertaking; at present, the 400-odd tanneries operating in Kanpur are reported to discharge 50 million litres of waste water every day.
Sustainability in Africa
In June this year, it was also announced that the leather chemicals supplier was again teaming up with Solidaridad, as well as CSR Netherlands, to launch a new environmental initiative in Ethiopia.
The three-year programme, known as the Green Tanning Initiative, which was unveiled at the All African Leather Fair in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, in June, aims to create more environmentally friendly leather production in the country while promoting more sustainable employment across the homegrown industry.
“Although it is co-sponsored by the EU, the project is on a smaller scale than the aforementioned undertaking in India,” says Costello. “However, it will also look at reducing water pollution in affected areas, as well as improving the selection system of hides, developing chrome-free tanning methods and improving working conditions in general across the leather value chain.”
The cycle of life
Closer to home, Costello is keen to touch upon the potential of the life-cycle assessment (LCA) methodology as a means of calculating the environmental impact of leather products.
In April, the EU Environmental Footprint Committee defined and approved the leather product category rules. The move was a cause for celebration for Stahl, which has supported the Confederation of National Associations of Tanners and Dressers of the European Community in the recent development of rules and boundaries to measure environmental footprinting using LCA.
However, while the publication of new rules should be lauded, it’s still early days, says Costello.
“The publication earlier this year definitely represents an important step,” he says. “These rules finally define the boundaries in which LCA can be made for a leather process.”
Costello concludes, “However, we now have the job of simplifying the rules a little because they are very complicated. We still need more knowledge around them, so tanneries can start piloting their use and doing real LCA within those boundaries in order to compare like with like when they start to change their processes to those that are supposedly less environmentally damaging. That’s the whole point – to measure before you improve.”