Online guidelines to help smaller businesses working in the leather processing and goods manufacturing sector understand their environmental obligations have been launched as research shows that many have a low awareness of environmental legislation.

The guidelines on the NetRegs website – [] – are written in plain language and designed to help small businesses find information on the environmental regulations governing their activities. The free website, which was set up by the UK’s environmental regulators, also offers advice on good environmental practice and links to other useful resources.

The main environmental impacts from the leather industry are odour, water use, effluent handling and emissions of volatile organic compounds. The NetRegs guidelines are essential reading for everyone involved in the dressing and dyeing of leather and the manufacture of leathergoods and footwear. The site is available 24 hours a day and there is no need to register.

The launch of the guidelines at the BLC-Leather Technology Centre’s Annual Leather Seminar last Thursday (Oct 2) follows the publication of the most comprehensive environmental survey ever conducted of the UK’s smaller leather manufacturers.

Green guidance for the leather sector

The SME-nvironment 2003 survey, conducted for NetRegs, revealed that only 10% of leathergoods businesses asked could name any environmental regulations affecting their activities. Of those businesses surveyed, just 14% had an environmental policy in place. However, 44% of those questioned said they would like more information and advice in dealing with environmental matters.

The research also demonstrated that few smaller businesses in the leather sector are aware of the business benefits of going green. When asked what had motivated them to take practical environmental measures, 64% of respondents referred to a general concern for the environment, but only 9% cited potential business benefits as a reason.

NetRegs programme coordinator Tim Fanshawe told delegates at the seminar about the importance of working closely with businesses to help them improve their environmental performance.

‘Our latest research shows that many small businesses in the leather sector would welcome more help when it comes to understanding their environmental obligations’, he said. ‘This is precisely why NetRegs was launched to guide businesses through the green legislation affecting their activities. But compliance is not just good for the environment, there are also real commercial benefits – a greener firm is often more competitive. It is essential to communicate these benefits to smaller businesses’, he added.

It was pointed-out to Fanshawe at the seminar that the survey results cover the full spectrum of leather related businesses including retailers and garment and footwear makers. Awareness of environmental legislation and procedures was most likely far higher from companies involved in tanning and finishing of leather.