We're used to it now: luxury and fashion brands have thrown themselves (at least apparently) into the sustainability race. A confusing competition, often focused on cleaning the environment, i.e. the deceptive and fraudulent marketing strategy employed by certain organizations to demonstrate a false commitment to the environment in order to attract the attention of consumers who care about sustainability.
To some surprise, even to great dread, I realized that greenwashing not only tends to advertise as "sustainable" products or business solutions that don't really exist, but also tends to create completely baseless urban legends. One of them can be summed up by the phrase "leather is bad: animals are killed and tannery by-products pollute the environment".
… a kind of reverse greenwash!
I am convinced that it is necessary to write something about it.
It took some time to tell the truth, and the reason is simple: So far, I haven't been able to find objective and numerical data produced by proven institutions that could dispel the myth.
Finally, I found a report by the LHCA (American Skin and Conceal Council) a few days ago. The Leather and Hide Council of America (LHCA) is an association representing the entire leather supply chain in the United States, including meat producers, leather processors, traders, tanneries, leather goods manufacturers, shoe companies, chemical suppliers, machinery manufacturers, trade associations. . brokers, shipping brokers, financial institutions and more.
Particularly interesting: its purpose is not to determine whether the leather supply chain is sustainable. Instead, it deals with answering a very simple question: If we stop using leather, will the environment benefit?
The search used US government databases covering 25 years of market monitoring. Here is a summary of the article:
· The use of leather does not cause an increase in the number of cattle raised and slaughtered .
· Stopping the use of leather will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions as well as discarded meat industry waste.
Regarding the first point, the article shows how the number of cattle raised for meat and dairy production will remain the same even if people stop buying leather: The driving force of the number of animals raised and slaughtered is food demand. At the same time, the environmental impact will be significant. Burning or throwing away 33 million unused US hides will generate more than 750,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year and fill all US landfills within four years. Globally, this will result in 300 million skins wasted and 6.6 million tons of excess emissions each year.
Therefore, there is no doubt that the US leather industry has helped cattle farmers achieve a near-zero waste rate by recycling 85% of the cattle hides they produce today. Besides the immediate impact of the disposal of waste leathers, there are also indirect environmental impacts that often occur when we source alternative materials from the petrochemical industry.
Dr Gary W. Brester, a University of Montana professor and co-author of the paper, commented:
“We were asked to look at the relationship between leather and livestock from an agricultural and economic perspective. Results, tracked over 25 years, tell us that pelts are a by-product and have no direct impact on the number of cattle raised. Indirect effects can be calculated and are less than 0.3%.
"We would have an environmental problem," said Dr Brester, when asked what would happen if the use of leather stopped altogether.
L&HCA President Steve Sothmann explained why the report was prepared:
“As the global population becomes more urbanized, we have less understanding of how agriculture works. This leads to misunderstandings, for example, that not producing leather would be good for the environment and would mean smaller dairy and meat industries. Or don't go overboard with the fact that there are "leather farms" that raise cattle just for leather production.
“This report demonstrates economically that hides are a by-product of the dairy and meat industries, not a driving force. It also proves that the cessation of leather will not stop livestock production. There is indeed a strong argument that the carbon footprint of leather begins at the point of purchase from suppliers. In fact, it can be said that the processing of leather hides provides a net carbon savings compared to alternative disposal methods.
Also, Steve Sothmann concludes:
“Stop using leather will harm the environment, causing more waste, more greenhouse gas emissions, and a greater demand for cheap, often polluting substitutes. We need to put sustainability at the center of our approach to tackling fast fashion and fulfilling our ESG responsibilities. There are no perfect solutions, but there is a shared responsibility for honest and informed discussion and finding the best way forward."
And as Forrest Gump said when he remembered his friend Bubba, who had fallen in Vietnam: "That's all I have to say about it."