24 August 2023

Automotive - Can leather play its part in the production of a sustainable car?

Automotive manufacturers have established their sustainability programs with the aim to cut carbon emissions in their manufacturing plants and become carbon neutral within the next decade (Scope 1 and 2). Further, OEMs are looking at their supply chain and how to source materials that will lower their carbon footprint (as part of Scope 3) to meet these goals. Report by One 4 Leather.

A primary focus is the car interior and the best materials to use. In the last few years, we’ve been led to believe that leather is not sustainable and is harmful to the planet and that new materials, commonly mislabelled ‘vegan leather’, are more sustainable and will save the world.

Recently, and with Scope 3 emissions in mind, OEMs have been looking more closely at these materials and, by their processes, are concluding that leather does have a place in car interiors. The modernisation of tanneries, reduction in water usage, reuse of scrap and waste materials, end-of-life options, and the fact that a hide is a by-product of the meat industry make leather a durable, sustainable option with a long lifespan rather than creating composite PU or PVC materials that will be destined for landfill after just a few years.

An example of this is Polestar, who, after initially stating they would have an animal-free interior, rethought their strategy in late 2022 and concluded that whilst leather-type materials are becoming popular, these materials didn’t work for their car seats being unable to meet their strict requirements for lifetime durability, wear and tear1. They also recognised that vegan leathers are reliant on PVC and “PVC is the worst, the worst of the worst. It’s so toxic”, said Frederika Klaren, Polestars Global Head of Sustainability, who went on to say about the push for vegan in the automotive industry “it’s a lie to consumers.”

“It’s a term that is greenwash because you cannot say that a car is vegan. We have animal products all over the place. We have grease, we have animal content in synthetics in plastics,” she added.

What is essential to Polestar is that the leather they select is responsibly sourced, traceable and has the highest standards of animal welfare, and these are monitored by certification bodies like the Sustainable Leather Foundation3 and the Leather Working Group (LWG)4, a not-for-profit membership organisation, working to create meaningful change across the global leather supply chain.

Bentley was the first automotive manufacturer to join LWG in August 20215 as part of their ‘Beyond 100’ strategy6, becoming the most ethical and sustainable luxury automotive manufacturer. Since then, they have been joined by automotive heavyweights BMW, Volkswagen Group and Porsche, all wishing to achieve greater sustainability throughout their supply chain.

“As a leader in supply chain sustainability, joining the Leather Working Group is the next logical step for us,” says Nadine Philipp, BMW Group’s head of Sustainability in the Supply Chain, Energy. She emphasised that: “Leather is still in demand from our customers – depending on the model and region – and is very important in the premium segment. That is why supporting sustainable production and processing of leather at our suppliers is a priority for us.”

One 4 Leather as a group has seen a resurgence in demand for leather. Luxury automotive manufacturers are offering more variants and increasing bespoke options, with leather being the material of choice. We believe in the freedom of choice, and there should be options for those who do not want animal-based materials, but at the same time, there is certainly a place for modern, sustainable leather for the consumers who appreciate all the values beautiful leather brings to sustainable cars in the future.


Reference And Sources Used

Main image from BMW Group Press site for “BMW Group joins Leather Working Group” release
1 https://www.polestar.com/global/news/the-complex-relationship-between-leather-and-sustainability
2 https://www.chasingcars.com.au/news/car-industry/polestar-wont-move-away-from-leather-until-a-sustainable-replacement-is-found/
3 https://sustainableleatherfoundation.com/audit-standard
4 https://www.leatherworkinggroup.com/our-impact/traceability/
5 https://www.bentleymedia.com/en/newsitem/1250-the-leather-working-group-welcomes-bentley-motors-the-first-ever-automotive-member
6 https://www.bentleymotors.com/en/world-of-bentley/beyond-100/a-sustainable-future.html#d9d3faef4e57e543107536f1dd435318
7 https://www.press.bmwgroup.com/global/article/detail/T0365173EN/bmw-group-joins-leather-working-group-%E2%80%93-for-responsible-and-sustainable-leather-sourcing?language=en

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