Although price still appears to be the major driver for the mainstream shopper, there is a growing awareness of environmental and ethical issues at point of sale. The consumer is becoming more sensitive to concerns about the origin, manufacturing and overall impact of the products they buy.
Leather footwear and leather products are no exception and there has been growing interest from the high street in an environmental story for leather. Designers and technologists are looking for ‘Eco Leather’ and this is a complex story.
Many focus on the type of tannage used, assuming that vegetable tanned or mineral-free leather have the best profile. But the reality is that the common tannages such as chrome, vegetable and aldehyde all have environmental impacts in different areas of their life cycle.
It was this fact and other environmental drivers that encouraged a group of premium brands, retailers and leather manufacturers to get together to discuss and address the issue. The view of this group based on extensive research was that it is not the tannage type that is important, but rather how the leather is manufactured.
They believe that the effective control of leather manufacturing processes and the professional management of waste liquids, solids, energy, water consumption, chemicals and other key factors can yield the most significant reduction in environmental impact. Therefore, the group set out to measure and encourage improvement of environmental stewardship within the leather supply chain.
This initiative was started over two years ago and the Leather Working Group (LWG) was formed, contracting the technical expertise of BLC Leather Technology Limited to manage the process. Since the group formed, an environmental auditing protocol specifically for leather manufacturers has been developed.
The new LWG environmental audit protocol looks beyond management systems and assesses the real issues that may be present
during the manufacture of leather. During its development the protocol was peer reviewed by NGO organisations such the World Wild Life Fund (US) and other academic institutions.
The new protocol became active in January 2007 and a significant number of leather manufacturers have now been audited. A tangible benefit of this process for both leather manufacturer and brand is a standardised audit process and a consistent approach, meaning in many cases that one audit will satisfy the stewardship needs of multiple retailers and brands. The net result has been increased confidence in the leather supply chain for all those involved.
The LWG encourages other brands or retailers that have an interest in environmental stewardship issues relating to leather and footwear to get involved with the group and give additional input to the on-going development of the protocol.
For further details of the companies involved and the benefits of the group visit or contact Adam Hughes on