Economist Magazine’s Sustainability Week Summit told impact of leather is significantly less than previously claimed

Leather’s environmental footprint: the truth

Economist Magazine’s Sustainability Week Summit told impact of leather is significantly less than previously claimed

An independent study funded by the Leather and Hide Council of America (L&HCA) has found that greenhouse gas emissions caused by the use of cattle hides were significantly less than previously stated.

The first phase of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of leather took data from across the U.S. industry to calculate the environmental footprint of whole cow for dairy and beef cattle. A proportion of this was then allocated to hides.

It found that depending in almost all areas of impact calculated, hide’s contribution to leather’s footprint was overstated by the Higg Index, the measure often used by brands and manufacturers to evaluate the environmental impact of materials.

The data used by the Higg Index is not available, but its calculations on greenhouse gas emissions, eutrophication, water scarcity and fossil use were all found to overestimate hide’s impact.

Speaking at the Economist Sustainability Week summit, Kevin Latner, Vice President, Sustainability, Leather & Hide Council of America said: “We were pleased to see that processing of 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 is better for the environment than oil-derived synthetics. 

“It also shows the challenges and opportunities ahead for the textile industry in pursuit of our shared environmental goals for the planet. The industry needs to publish credible and transparent data to inform discussions, to understand supply chain issues and to enable businesses and consumers to make informed purchase decisions with standard metrics. All materials need to follow best practice in environmental impact assessment.  We need to do better.”

Around 95% of U.S. hides are exported either as raw hides or as wet blue, the first stage of a number of tanning processes, and finished overseas.

Life cycle assessments are vital for consumers, manufacturers and producers. Consumers and manufacturers need accurate information so they can make informed choices about the materials they choose to buy and use. Producers need them so they can identify areas that need to be improved to increase standards of sustainability.

Cattle and leather producers have recently made notable improvements to their environmental impact driven by technological advances, policy changes, consumer demands and corporate social responsibility goals.

The final report will be available in summer 2024 and subject to expert panel review.

The full panel video is available to watch here.