Environmental Responsibility in the Leather Industry

In the past year, we’ve had an increasing number of readers and community members write-in to say that they’d like to use leather that is produced in an environmentally friendly way. They want to support tanneries that are not only producing high-quality hides, but that are also choosing to operate in compliance with increased environmental and ethical standards.

In a time where being mindful of our impact on the natural world is becoming more and more urgent, it’s easy to understand why increasing numbers of people are interested in aligning their leatherworking hobby or business with sustainable environmental practices. Several of our readers wrote in:

“I’m a strong advocate for stiff environmental standards. You’ve found a pet interest of mine: noting the personal consequences of the changes in technology and culture over time and with greater awareness of their perils.” -Davy Rippner

“I am only working with one tannery right now because the hides I pick are solely bi-products of the meat industry, they are tanned in respectful conditions and their water is cleansed after the process…I simply cannot work with leather that is not ethical. That is a choice I have made from the very beginning, at the risk of painting myself in a corner.” -Karyn Mikhel

When the question came up about whether there would be a demand for leather that was specifically produced and marketed as being environmentally conscious, Meredith Russo, one of our long-time readers, noted that “it would add to the cost of the product, but this is a fact of modern life…and I believe enough of a market exists for environmentally conscious products that the tannery would be okay in the end.” In the same vein, as demand increases for sustainably produced hides around the world, competition is likely to increase, which will serve to lower the end cost to the consumer.

Some readers found it difficult to find tanneries that they could trust and noted that customers felt that the environmental impact of the items they purchased was more important than ever. If the tanneries couldn’t tell these makers more about how their animals were raised, what chemicals were used in the tanning process, and whether they were truly striving to be low impact, they would choose not to buy.

Davy Rippner recalls Poetsch & Peterson, which is a tannery here in the Bay Area that closed their doors in the early 90’s because they were not able to comply with increased environmental regulation. Although I have never worked with or bought directly from P&P, the story intrigued me, not only because they were local to the area, but because they are a clear indicator of future trends in the world of leatherworking.

We also strive to support tanneries that are operating in accordance with the highest environmental and ethical standards. Our Chevre Chagrin hides, for example, are strictly a bi-product of the meat industry, i.e. the animals are not raised solely for their leather. Additionally, their hides are tanned with a 100% vegetable tanning process, which is under very strict French environmental regulation that requires all the waste and wastewater to be reprocessed.

Although we don’t carry their hides, US-based distributors Hermann Oak and Wickett & Craig have been processing their hides with traditional vegetable tanning for close to 150 years. The raw materials used in veg-tanning are both biodegradable and 100% natural.

Fine Leatherworking is also proud to offer hides from Perlinger, the well-respected German tannery that provides our shrunken calf leather, as well as a variety of other types. Perlinger is known to adhere to a strict standard of quality and production, including solar power and a state-of-the-art water filtration system that stands firmly above the practices of others.Perlinger maintains a strong relationship with the herdsmen who provide them with their hides, and, as a result, are able to monitor the process closely to meet their needs.

I’d love to hear what you think; is leather that has been processed in a sustainable way and ethically sourced important to you and your hobby or business? What changes would you like to see in the leatherworking industry? Have you seen any indication of the demand for ethically and sustainably produced leather reshaping the consumer market?

Leave a comment below and let us know!

For more information on future environmental trends in the leather industry and trade, check out this comprehensive write-up from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Additionally, take a look at the Leather Working Group to read more about how they’re working closely with leather manufacturers around the world to assess environmental compliance and promote sustainable environmental practices.

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