8 March 2024

Environment - Rethink required on leather, LHCA insists

The Leather and Hide Council of America (LHCA) has said at an influential event in London that finished product brands that have lowered or ended their use of leather need to rethink their positions on the material by Leatherbiz.

On March 6 at the Sustainability Week Summit run by business publication The Economist, LHCA revealed that previous calculations fed to brands for the climate impact of leather have been obscenely over-estimated.

It said that a new study on the environmental impact of cow hide production in the US will show that figures included in the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI) over-estimate leather’s climate impact by as much as 8,000 times.

MSI is a tool that the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (now called Cascale) launched in 2012. It has been used extensively by fashion companies to make and to justify decisions on which materials to use to make their products. The International Council of Tanners said in 2020 that manufacturers were “deselecting leather in favour of fossil fuel-derived, unsustainable synthetic products” on the basis of the score the MSI gives leather.

At the London event in March, LHCA said it had funded a new, independent study into the carbon footprint of making leather from US cow hides. It was conducted, using lifecycle assessment (LCA) methodology, by Dr Greg Thoma of Colorado State University. It took into account water use, eutrophication, greenhouse gas emissions, toxicity to humans, ozone depletion and the impact of chemicals on land and water.

The study’s first phase concluded that there has been a lack of data transparency and a serious overstatement of the relative environmental impact of cattle hides and leather. The final report will be available in April and subject to expert panel review.

At The Economist’s Sustainability Week summit, LHCA vice-president Kevin Latner told business leaders in the audience: “We were pleased to see that processing hides, a natural waste material, delivers a low carbon footprint. The new data shows that leather can be a renewable, sustainable material and suggests that it is better for the environment than oil-derived synthetics.”

He said the wider textile industry needs to follow best practice in environmental impact assessments and publish “credible and transparent data to inform discussions”. He said this would make it easier for businesses and consumers to make informed purchase decisions.

Incoming acting president of LHCA, Kerry Brozyna, said: “When the study is complete, we will publish our modelling and share inputs and results. Our desire is to provide scientifically tested information to our stakeholders so they can make the best decisions for their consumers, their businesses and the planet.”

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