30 September 2021
There has been a long and complicated debate on how to measure the environmental impact of leather production. Even in recent articles, where leather is compared to other materials, the topic of its resourcing comes up as a divisive aspect. Finding a way to define, measure accurately and analyze the environmental impact of leather has been a significant challenge, but the approval of the Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR) by the EU’s Environmental Footprint Steering Committee is a defining step forward. Report by One 4 Leather.
It’s important to note that up to 16 impact categories make up the environmental footprint of a product. The impact on climate change, or carbon footprint of leather, is just one of them. This is often overlooked in public perception. Improving thus a tannery’s environmental performance means also reducing water consumption and optimizing chemical use, implementing efficient waste and emission management and some other aspects. Major advancements have been made in all these areas. Today, the PEFCR for leather finally offers a comprehensive method of measuring its impact.
Animal rearing, leather, and product impact
The big question about the footprint of leather has always been about the inclusion or exclusion of animal rearing, as it significantly affects the calculation. The major part of the environmental footprint of leather, if included, would be in animal rearing. This would hide the actual impact of leather-making, which is what makes the difference between one or the other tanner. This is why, the system boundaries, acknowledged by the PCR – CEN Standard EN 16887, set the start of the lifecycle of leather at the slaughterhouse, where the hide or skin is actually obtained. The reason is that skins and hides are a non-determining by-product of the food industry. This means that no animal will be slaughtered for its hide or skin and that the amount of available leather will always be determined by meat consumption (hence non-determining). This doesn’t change the fact that the footprint of animal rearing is an important factor, as it will continue to affect public perception and hence the availability of leather.
This is an important question, and the PEFCR’s close-to-zero-allocation of impact on skins and hides provides already a reasonable basis for assessing the environmental footprint of leather. Leather manufacturing may depend on the food industry, but the other way around this is not so. In other words, the prime reason for cattle rearing in the agricultural sector is food, not leather. This form of ascribing process impact on the main product is not a novelty but based on consequential LCA methodologies, which distinguish between products and by-products on the one hand, and by-products and waste, on the other hand. If the process intends to realize product A, the impact cannot be ascribed to a by-product B, which is an unavoidable residue (or wastes).
Life cycle assessment: towards a methodology for impact assessment….to read the rest of this analysis, click on One 4 Leather – Carbon Footprint