Sustainability and transparency in the leather industry are increasingly important factors for the sector’s clients as well as final consumers. In this sense, certification and labelling processes are tools that grant visibility of the positive practices of manufacturers and their suppliers.

In Brazil, through an unprecedented tanneries initiative conducted by the Centre for the Brazilian Tanning Industry (CICB), a certification for the leather production process was created. The Brazilian Leather Certification of Sustainability (CSCB) counts on the participation of the various links in the production chain. Using the concept of the sustainability tripod, CSCB considers the results of tanneries in economic, environmental and social aspects. A sustainable tannery develops its activities with positive economic results, seeking to reduce the inherent environmental impact of its activities, providing better working conditions to employees and respecting the surrounding community.

9.12 million
Pairs of shoes sold to foreign countries by Brazil in April 2019, a 17.7% decrease compared with the same month last year.

CSCB has achieved many results concerning process improvements in the industry, quitting wastage and getting efficiency in indicators. As the CSCB practices are inside more than 20 tanneries all over Brazil, these findings are extremely important and must be shared with the whole industry. The certification process is based on implementation and compliance with principles, criteria and indicators established by standards developed by the Brazilian Association of Technical Standards (ABNT) and audited by certification institutes accredited by the National Metrology, Quality, and Technology Institute (INMETRO), signatory to the mutual recognition agreement within the framework of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC). These agreements guarantee the international validation and recognition of CSCB. Tanneries are certified according to how well they meet the standards, being granted an identification seal for sustainable processes, guaranteeing the transparency of Brazilian suppliers.

Strategic partnerships

INMETRO is known nationally and internationally through its function of partnerships, including IAF and ILAC. At the end of May 2014, the technical standard ‘ABNT NBR 16.296 – Leathers, principles, criteria and indicators for the sustainable production’ was published and on 30 June 2015 INMETRO ordinance 314/2015 was published with the Evaluation Requirements of Conformity.

Then INMETRO elaborated the programme for accreditation of the certification companies, which are the third-party companies that perform the audits. Presently, two certifications were already accredited by INMETRO and are conducting the audits. Since the publishing of the normative basis, the tanneries have been preparing themselves for attending the requirements of the standard. CICB, through the CSCB programme, has been rendering support to the tanneries, providing training and specific consultancy for the attendance of the standard. At this moment, we have three tanneries certified and another 24 in the process of preparation. The programme is inserted in the scope of the Brazilian Leather project, a partnership between CICB and the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Apex-Brasil).

The principles established on the normative base constitute the reference for the sustainable production of leather in each of its dimensions: economic, environmental and social. Besides this, we have a specific section to deal with the sustainability management by the company. The principles of each dimension are unfolded in criteria, which are the expression of the requisites that describe the sustainable practices for the production of leathers and associated systems. The verification of fulfilment of each criterion is established through an attendance evaluation of a set of specific indicators, which can be quantitative or qualitative. Depending on the type of processing performed at the production unit, not all indicators will be applicable or present. However, it will always be necessary to consider all those pertinent to the local situation. So there is a hierarchic structure of the principles, criteria and indicators, and each dimension will monitor and demonstrate sustainable leather production.

The sustainability principles

The following is an overview of the principles that are established for each of the dimensions of sustainability:

  • Sustainability management: this dimension has only one principle, which says that the organisation must efficiently manage issues of economic, environmental and social nature, whether through a system of self-management or, preferably, through a system certified in accordance with ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ABNT NBR 16001.
  • Economic: the economic dimension approaches issues directed to the quality and productivity, as well as the results obtained by the company, and is made up by three principles – a) Production performance: the organisation must establish and implement procedures that permit the evaluation of production performance with regard to its productivity, operational controls and workers. b) Product performance: the organisation must establish and implement procedures that permit evaluation and analysis of product performance, as well as quality and development control. c) Economic impacts: the organisation must establish and implement procedures – in all sectors – that have a positive economic impact.
  • Environmental: this dimension is the one that has the greatest number of principles, criteria and indicators due to its importance in sustainable leather production. The principles are a) Fulfilment of the applicable legal requisites: the organisation must assure compliance of current environmental legislation and other regulations, and the tannery must also assure that any outsourced parties also meet current environmental legislation and other regulations. b) Traceability: the organisation must have the means of assuring traceability of its raw material throughout its supply chain. c) Control of restricted substances: the organisation must guarantee that its products meet established limits in relation to restricted substances. d) Water consumption management: the organisation must properly manage water usage, quantifying, monitoring, and adopting measures for rationing and reduction of consumption. e) Energy consumption management: the organisation must adequately manage energy usage, quantifying, selecting sources, monitoring, and adopting measures for rationing and reduction of consumption. f) Production processes: the organisation must conduct its productive processes so as to minimise its environmental impact. g) Management of dangerous and non-dangerous waste: the organisation must adequately manage dangerous and non-dangerous residues that are generated, quantifying, monitoring, and adopting measures to minimise their generation. h) Wastewater treatment: the organisation must not only fulfil the regulatory requisites relative to residual water discharge, but must also implement an adequate management programme and use advanced technologies to minimise the discharge of pollutants. i) Atmospheric emissions management: the organisation must adequately manage generated atmospheric emissions, not only by meeting regulatory requisites relative to emissions but also by implementing a preventative maintenance programme for equipment and using technology to minimise pollutant emissions.

Increase in the volume of exports of pairs of shoes by Brazil in the first four months of 2019 compared with the same period in 2018.

  • Social: the social dimension approaches the different stakeholders of the company, with emphasis on the collaborators, suppliers, clients, competitors, community and government. The principles are a) Fulfilment of the applicable legal requisites: the organisation must be managed through respect for basic human rights and on the fundamental principles and rights of labour, meeting all applicable legal requisites, especially not using child labour, forced labour or anything similar to slave labour, and must assure that any outsourcing parties follow the same rule in their processes and operations. b) The organisation: it must establish, implement and maintain policies that are designated to the internal public, bearing all employees in mind, including health and safety, good working conditions, no discrimination and prejudice, promoting professional development and qualification. c) Suppliers: the organisation must establish and maintain proper procedures for evaluating and selecting suppliers and subcontracted services, so that they meet the established criteria of social responsibility. d) Fair competition practices: the organisation must establish practices of price and market competition in accordance with current legislation, and in search of fair and significant positioning within the sector. e) Clients: the organisation must establish and implement efficient means of communication and customer service, referring to product development, client-oriented services and information for clients. f) Involvement with the community, government and society: the organisation must promote involvement with the community via developmental projects to improve quality of life, rescuing and preserving society.

Requirements and results

INMETRO Decree No. 314/2015 establishes the criteria for the ‘Programme of Evaluation of the Sustainability Conformity of the Leather Production Process’, through certification mechanisms, attending the requirements specified in the ABNT NBR 16296:2014 standard. Besides establishing all aspects linked to the audit process, the regulation defines the levels of certification and the system maintenance. In the sense of promoting the inclusion of the companies in the process, different levels of certification were established. For each level was established a percentage of attendance of the indicator applicable of the sustainability management of each of the dimensions, including the obligatory criteria. The attendance percentages of the indicators are a) Bronze: minimum attendance of 50%. b) Silver: minimum attendance of 75%. c) Gold: minimum attendance of 90%. d) Diamond: attendance of 100%.

In accordance with the intended certification level, the body certifying product evaluates the integrated management system of the supplier’s production process, as well as performs auditing in the manufacturing unit, with the purpose of verifying the conformity of the production process with the documents sent, having as reference the ABNT NBR 16296:2014 standard. The conformity certificate must specify the certification level, besides containing what is established in the General Requirements of Products Certification, and its validity must be of three years from the date of its issue, and the maintenance audit must follow with a periodicity of 12 months.

$95 million
Value of the expansion project at Brazil-based JBS’s beef production facility at Grand Island, Nebraska, US.

The CSCB programme aims to stimulate and support companies in implementing the actions necessary to meet the sustainability requirements established by the norm. This support is mainly provided through training and consulting in companies. In the process of preparing companies, there is intense activity in the sense of identifying practices that already meet the norm, the issues that must be adjusted or adapted to guarantee the fulfilment of the requirements, and those aspects that must be developed by the company. As the criteria is based on the best practices found in the leather industry, this process promotes the improvement of tannery processes. To achieve certification, companies promote a comprehensive look at their processes and a critical analysis of the aspects that must be worked on. The comparison between the degree of fulfilment of the indicators of the norm at the moment the companies join the programme and the level of attendance necessary to achieve certification demonstrates the growth potential that the company has in seeking certification. The graph below shows the percentage of attendance to the indicators of each one of the dimensions at the moment the companies join the programme (t0).

It can be seen that in the economic and environmental dimensions, the Brazilian tanneries, on average, already present an intermediate level of fulfilment of the sustainability requirements. However, in the management and social dimensions, companies usually need greater dedication to meet certification levels.

Application of management principles

The logic used to construct the Brazilian norm was based on classic management tools, such as the PDCA Cycle and management by indicators. The application of these tools in a systematic way enables companies to continuously improve their processes for each of the dimensions of sustainability. An analysis of the steps taken by companies during the consulting processes for the implementation of the requirements of the norm highlights the main gains for companies in terms of management and dissemination of sustainability concepts, starting with top management, which then permeates through all levels of the organisation; seeing the company as a whole in order to facilitate the establishment of long-term strategic objectives; a definition of performance indicators linked to the sustainability objectives, allowing for the evaluation of their evolution and actions taken to achieve the results; the establishment of formalised processes in order to guarantee the performance and standardisation of the products; a better definition of the organisational structure with a very positive impact on the communication between the parties; a positive impact on the organisation of the company in several aspects, thereby improving the working environment; and inclusion or reinforcement of preventive actions and continuous improvement in processes, especially from the implementation of internal audits.

Multiple benefits and integration actions

The gains obtained by the companies are individually quantifiable. However, some aspects that have been detected in a general way for several participating companies can be highlighted. Among them are gains in efficiency and optimisation of the processes as well as those related to the quality of the products, due to the standardisation, formalisation and transparency of the processes; ensuring compliance with legal requirements not only by the certified company or the one that is seeking certification, but throughout the supply chain, with greater control over subcontracting; more safety in regard to compliance with the requirements for restricted substances; actions for the optimisation of water and energy use; improvements to production processes through seeking the best production practices; reduction in waste generation, and better control and management of waste; improved management of both liquid and atmospheric emissions; improving the health and safety conditions in the employees’ work environment, thereby providing a positive impact on their performance and productivity; increased supplier qualification and customer satisfaction; and integration with suppliers and customers as well as the community.

As part of the certification programme different alignment and integration actions with other actors of the productive chain are being performed. Different visits and conversations are taking place in Brazil as well as in other countries, for the presentation of criteria and format of the certification, so that all have knowledge and access to the attributes that the Brazilian leather certificate has with relation to the principles of sustainability. Public targets of this action are considered Brazilian brands, international brands, chemical companies and footwear manufacturers.

$10 million
Estimated investment in trade and international promotion by the Brazilian footwear industry during the next two years.

The CSCB certification programme also highlights all promotional actions performed in the scope of the Brazilian leather programme, a partnership between CICB and Apex-Brasil. There are more than 10 international fairs in which the Brazilian tanneries participate and where the programme is promoted.

Recently, a partnership was established between CICB, Arezzo and Calçados Bibi, and a cooperation agreement for the use of the sustainability certificate as criterion in the selection of leather suppliers by Arezzo and Calçados Bibi. With this, the companies guaranteed their suppliers are in agreement with the obligatory criteria of the standard and attending the majority of the indicators established by the ABNT NBR 16.296.

An agreement of mutual acknowledgment was also established between the Brazilian certification and the Italian certification. The document was signed by the Italian Institute of Quality Certification for the Leathers Sector and CSCB, signing the mutual acknowledgment of the certifications of the two countries. With this, new fronts of research will be developed, as well as the strengthening of sustainability indicators, the valorisation of leather close to the final consumer, and the acknowledgment of companies integrating the certification institutes that enter the agreement.

A guarantee of transparency

CSCB is an important form of externalising the good practices of the Brazilian tanneries, which attend the environmental, social, economic and management requirements of their productive process. This guarantees to the buyers and to the entire productive chain a high level of safety and best practices.

For being a model of official certification, performed on the basis of national standards and certified by the organism of a third party accredited by INMETRO, it has total transparency in the process, aggregating the reliability necessary to transmit to the buyer the certainty of being a product that has its main raw material elaborated in an economically efficient, environmentally correct and socially responsible form.

Significant gains are observed by companies that seek certification through the improvement of management process guided by the dimensions of sustainability. Economic aspects are strengthened through a more comprehensive and in-depth look at environmental and social issues, and the integration of the entire production chain to common objectives has been strengthening relationships throughout the leather sector.