For Leather, What Does A Carbon Footprint Actually Mean?

In Article9 Minutes

Month: April 2020

Measuring the carbon footprint

Let’s start by clarifying what we actually talk about when we mention a carbon footprint. The definition would appear pretty clear-cut: it's the measure of the amount of greenhouse gases produced by a process, organization, or region (depending on what one wishes to measure) over a set period. The name itself implies a focus on carbon dioxide, which is one of the greenhouse gasses (GHG) directly linked to climate change, and often on the lips of activists, politicians, and journalists. Usually abbreviated and better known under its chemical formula CO2, it's not the only GHG around. GHG is used to indicate a multitude of gasses that affect global warming. CO2, however, is the one we often focus on with measurements and reporting. When organizations mention improvements or expected effects of implementing changing factors, this is also the case. A carbon footprint LCA (life cycle assessment) will tell whether a factor is contributing to the level of greenhouse gas or not (or to what level of contribution it is having). Every LCA of meat, milk, and leather, therefore, provides us with an estimate of the carbon footprint and helps to identify points of improvement. As the term ‘carbon’ suggests CO2, these results don't always provide you with a completely clear picture.

The Greenhouse effect

CO2 is not the only gas contributing to the greenhouse effect. Much like the glasshouses we use for growing crops and plants, this term describes the atmospheric effect were chemicals in gaseous form lock-in heat that is emitted from the earth. They act like a giant glass greenhouse: keeping warmth from escaping, the global temperatures gradually increase, which can have disastrous consequences in the long run for our planet, with extreme weather events, threats to the global food supply, acidification of the oceans and rising sea levels. Scientists argue that some effects are already showing, and recent data shows that the current GHG levels have dropped significantly as a result of the slowed or halted business. Averting the long-term future requires limiting the average increase to below 2°C, which is a daunting task at best. Achieving this lofty goal requires change, and many industries have carefully adapted their methods over the last decades. The food industry is no exception, yet falls victim to a peculiar confusion about the terminology. Let's look into that.

An automotive tanner will not use the same methods for its leather as a shoe-leather tanner

The food industry and greenhouse gases

The main gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and the gas groups hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Water (H2O) is technically a greenhouse gas but is not considered part of the problem. This clearly shows carbon dioxide is not the only building block of the greenhouse effect. That makes an important point because a lot of the current debate on environmental impact focuses on this confused notion of a carbon footprint seems explicitly to zone in the food industry and cattle rearing based on the idea that it produces a lot of CO2. There are indeed significant emissions from this process.

Animals do create emissions. It’s important to note, however, that not each greenhouse gas contributes to the effect in the same manner, and cattle mostly emit methane (CH4), not CO2. Where CO2 lasts for at least 1000 years in the atmosphere, methane is broken down in just nine years. Part of this confusion stems from the use of a CO2 equivalent (CO2-e) to establish the warming potential of each gas, and the current calculation of Global Warming Potential (GWP) that assumes that all GHG have the same impact over the tame time period. This measurement method, unfortunately, excludes part of the insights needed to understand the impact of each industry fully, as explained in a recent paper (Lynch et al, 2020). The actual emissions of the food industry have been pretty consistent over time in recent years, as we’ll explain below.

The type of measurement used for LCA analysis that is recognized as the model best suited to livestock farming is the Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM) and is guided by the terminology defined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forum, specifically IPCC (2006).

Food industry emissions and leather

What does all of this have to do with leather? A frequent argument against the use of leather focuses on the impact of cattle rearing for food. As a by-product from this process, leather is held accountable for a proportion of this footprint, not all of it. However, the rapid deterioration and recycling of methane in the atmosphere means that any gasses emitted by the current herds are stable as their emissions are consistent with herds of 10 years ago. Yet, smarter farming practices even have a reductive effect on the impact of cattle rearing, of which regenerative farming (brands like Timberland are already investing in it) is a prime example as it helps fertilization of the soil. Fertile soil is home to a rich biodiversity of plants and microbes that pull excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Experts have said that a reduction of meat and dairy consumption are potential contributors to pushing back against climate change, but completely discarding these food sources is another matter. In fact, there are far-reaching arguments concerning animal farming as an integral part of this fight for our planet. Because of that, the by-product leather will remain a resource widely available with distinct qualities that fits the mold of a circular economy.

More about cattle and the carbon footprint? Continue reading here.

References

  • Allen, M. R. et al. (2018I. A solution to the misrepresentations of CO2-equivalent emissions of short-lived climate pollutants under ambitious mitigation, npj Climate and Atmospheric Science vol. 1. Retrieved from: doi.org/10.1038/s41612-018-0026-8, accessed on 14 April 2020.
  • IPCC. 2006. IPCC Guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories, Volume 4: Agriculture, forestry, and other land uses. IGES, Japan
  • Leip A., Weiss F., Wassenaar T., Perez I., Fellmann T., Loudjani P., Tubiello F., Grandgirard D., Monni S. and Biala K. (2010). Evaluation of the livestock sector’s contribution to the EU greenhouse gas emissions (GGELS) -final report, European Commission, Joint Research Centre.
  • Lynch, J., Cain, M., Pierrehumbert, R., Allen, M. (2020) Demonstrating GWP*: a means of reporting warming-equivalent emissions that captures the contrasting impacts of short- and long-lived climate pollutants. Environmental Research Letters, Volume 15, Number 4. Retrieved from: Environmental Research Letters. [Accessed on 14 April 2020]

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    For Leather, What Does A Carbon Footprint Actually Mean?

    In Article9 Minutes

    Month: April 2020

    An oft-mentioned issue of the food industry and its by-product leather is the carbon footprint of cattle rearing and meat production. By association, this is for obvious reasons affecting the perception of leather. Product category rules state that only a small fraction of animal rearing is to be attributed to the carbon footprint of leather, yet consumers are likely to view the two as interdependent. But if we really want to understand the environmental impact, we first need to understand what a carbon footprint actually is and what it constitutes.

    Measuring the carbon footprint

    Let’s start by clarifying what we actually talk about when we mention a carbon footprint. The definition would appear pretty clear-cut: it’s the measure of the amount of greenhouse gases produced by a process, organization, or region (depending on what one wishes to measure) over a set period. The name itself implies a focus on carbon dioxide, which is one of the greenhouse gasses (GHG) directly linked to climate change, and often on the lips of activists, politicians, and journalists. Usually abbreviated and better known under its chemical formula CO2, it’s not the only GHG around. GHG is used to indicate a multitude of gasses that affect global warming. CO2, however, is the one we often focus on with measurements and reporting. When organizations mention improvements or expected effects of implementing changing factors, this is also the case. A carbon footprint LCA (life cycle assessment) will tell whether a factor is contributing to the level of greenhouse gas or not (or to what level of contribution it is having). Every LCA of meat, milk, and leather, therefore, provides us with an estimate of the carbon footprint and helps to identify points of improvement. As the term ‘carbon’ suggests CO2, these results don’t always provide you with a completely clear picture.

    The Greenhouse effect

    CO2 is not the only gas contributing to the greenhouse effect. Much like the glasshouses we use for growing crops and plants, this term describes the atmospheric effect were chemicals in gaseous form lock-in heat that is emitted from the earth. They act like a giant glass greenhouse: keeping warmth from escaping, the global temperatures gradually increase, which can have disastrous consequences in the long run for our planet, with extreme weather events, threats to the global food supply, acidification of the oceans and rising sea levels. Scientists argue that some effects are already showing, and recent data shows that the current GHG levels have dropped significantly as a result of the slowed or halted business. Averting the long-term future requires limiting the average increase to below 2°C, which is a daunting task at best. Achieving this lofty goal requires change, and many industries have carefully adapted their methods over the last decades. The food industry is no exception, yet falls victim to a peculiar confusion about the terminology. Let’s look into that.

    CO2 is not the only gas contributing to the greenhouse effect

    The food industry and greenhouse gases

    The main gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and the gas groups hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Water (H2O) is technically a greenhouse gas but is not considered part of the problem. This clearly shows carbon dioxide is not the only building block of the greenhouse effect. That makes an important point because a lot of the current debate on environmental impact focuses on this confused notion of a carbon footprint seems explicitly to zone in the food industry and cattle rearing based on the idea that it produces a lot of CO2. There are indeed significant emissions from this process.

    Animals do create emissions. It’s important to note, however, that not each greenhouse gas contributes to the effect in the same manner, and cattle mostly emit methane (CH4), not CO2. Where CO2 lasts for at least 1000 years in the atmosphere, methane is broken down in just nine years. Part of this confusion stems from the use of a CO2 equivalent (CO2-e) to establish the warming potential of each gas, and the current calculation of Global Warming Potential (GWP) that assumes that all GHG have the same impact over the tame time period. This measurement method, unfortunately, excludes part of the insights needed to understand the impact of each industry fully, as explained in a recent paper (Lynch et al, 2020). The actual emissions of the food industry have been pretty consistent over time in recent years, as we’ll explain below.

    The type of measurement used for LCA analysis that is recognized as the model best suited to livestock farming is the Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM) and is guided by the terminology defined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forum, specifically IPCC (2006).

    Food industry emissions and leather

    What does all of this have to do with leather? A frequent argument against the use of leather focuses on the impact of cattle rearing for food. As a by-product from this process, leather is held accountable for a proportion of this footprint, not all of it. However, the rapid deterioration and recycling of methane in the atmosphere means that any gasses emitted by the current herds are stable as their emissions are consistent with herds of 10 years ago. Yet, smarter farming practices even have a reductive effect on the impact of cattle rearing, of which regenerative farming (brands like Timberland are already investing in it) is a prime example as it helps fertilization of the soil. Fertile soil is home to a rich biodiversity of plants and microbes that pull excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

    Experts have said that a reduction of meat and dairy consumption are potential contributors to pushing back against climate change, but completely discarding these food sources is another matter. In fact, there are far-reaching arguments concerning animal farming as an integral part of this fight for our planet. Because of that, the by-product leather will remain a resource widely available with distinct qualities that fits the mold of a circular economy.

    More about cattle and the carbon footprint? Continue reading here.

    References

    • Allen, M. R. et al. (2018I. A solution to the misrepresentations of CO2-equivalent emissions of short-lived climate pollutants under ambitious mitigation, npj Climate and Atmospheric Science vol. 1. Retrieved from: doi.org/10.1038/s41612-018-0026-8, accessed on 14 April 2020.
    • IPCC. 2006. IPCC Guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories, Volume 4: Agriculture, forestry, and other land uses. IGES, Japan
    • Leip A., Weiss F., Wassenaar T., Perez I., Fellmann T., Loudjani P., Tubiello F., Grandgirard D., Monni S. and Biala K. (2010). Evaluation of the livestock sector’s contribution to the EU greenhouse gas emissions (GGELS) -final report, European Commission, Joint Research Centre.
    • Lynch, J., Cain, M., Pierrehumbert, R., Allen, M. (2020) Demonstrating GWP*: a means of reporting warming-equivalent emissions that captures the contrasting impacts of short- and long-lived climate pollutants. Environmental Research Letters, Volume 15, Number 4. Retrieved from: Environmental Research Letters. [Accessed on 14 April 2020]

    Subscribe to our newsletter

      Your e-mail is only used exclusively for our newsletter and will not be shared with third parties.


      White Leather Is The Most Difficult To Create

      In Fact1 Minutes

      Month: April 2020

      White leather exudes a sense of luxury and quality that makes it much beloved in fashion and high-end upholstery, but also in car interiors as protective technologies make it resistant against staining and soiling. The color itself is often associated with purity, spirituality and a sense of royalty. It’s why you’ll find plenty of it during festive occasions, like births and weddings.

      When it comes to leather, the soft natural touch and white color emphasize a sense of cleanliness and positivity. Making white leather is not that easy though, as the white pigment (if used) affects the surface texture. For that reason, only high-quality hides can be used to create white leather, as these allow minimal pigment without other unwanted effects.

      White leather, if made with chromium, needs to have whitening, lightening, and color adjustment to reduce the blue from the chromium Modern tanning methods have made making white leather easier. Wet-white tanning, using gluteraldehyde instead of chrome, makes it possible to create soft, light leathers with a white hue.

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        Your e-mail is only used exclusively for our newsletter and will not be shared with third parties.


        Automotive Leather Sustainable Thanks To Eco-Friendly Chemistry

        In Article7 Minutes

        Month: April 2020

        Leather-making is a science rooted in craftsmanship. Despite its artisan image, there's a good case for arguing that leather-making is simply applied chemistry. Especially today, when tanners and chemical specialists invest vast amounts of time and money in researching, improving and perfecting the chemistry of leather making.

        Originally, leather tanning occurred naturally or was done by man using natural resources in a process that was the precursor of today’s ‘vegetable tanning’. But leather production has always looked for more efficiency and better performance. Since 1840, chemistry has taken over the role of tanning agent from traditional tannins, alum and oils. In old footage and reports, you’ll often find stories about the downsides of chemicals, but today, this is a very different story.

        Chemicals and leather production

        Much of the contemporary research by chemistry suppliers and tanners focuses on minimizing the impact of chemicals on human health and the ecology. Over the last three decades, safe chemical management and sustainability have become the hallmarks of a responsible tannery with high-quality products.

        For chemistry management within leather production, one of the major challenges is the diversity of methods. The process steps may be broadly the same, but each type of leather application and industry require different technologies. Chemicals, either aqueous or spray, are used to clean the hide, modify its structure and add the desirable characteristics to the final leather. The craft side of the industry further complicates things, as each tannery follow its own distinct processes and recipe. An automotive tanner will not use the same methods for its leather as a shoe-leather tanner or automotive competitor. This makes perfect sense, as each tanner relies on their signature look and feel for their product.

        There are three main tanning systems in use today, namely:

        • Wet blue tanning (chromium-based)
        • Wet white tanning (alternative tanning solutions)
        • Vegetable tanning (tanning based on plant-based technologies).

        Industrial tanning methods have, for a long time used Chromium (III), which is a highly effective tanning agent (chrome tanning often takes less than a day). It’s use is tightly controlled to avoid and eliminate any formation of Chromium (VI). Chromium (III) is a non-toxic material that is found in many every day items such as stainless steel cutlery. Aldehydes, aluminum or other compounds are used in wet white tanning, which yields softer leather. In recent years, a big switch to biotechnology, using natural oils and other food by-products as resources, has emerged to enable more circular processes.

        Salt and water

        Water is used ubiquitously in the leather tanning process, and salt is increasingly avoided in favor of “green” hides that are transported short distances and processed very soon after arrival (removing the use of preservatives). Historically, both salt and water were used extensively in the tanning process. Sourcing hides locally helps to reduce the amount of salt necessary or even eliminate it. To reduce their usage of freshwater, premium automotive tanners often have circular processes in place, where wastewater is purified and filtered. This enables them to use the same water over and over or discharge it safely, as clean as it was before. Many of these automotive tanners go even further in making processes more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

        An automotive tanner will not use the same methods for its leather as a shoe-leather tanner

        Lowering the chemical impact 

        Within the methods above, there are still endless options in what chemicals to choose. Yet, in the recent decades, a significant shift has occurred in tanning technology and todays’ tanners actively monitor for and remove chemicals that pose a threat to our health and the environment.

        Industry-wide initiatives, such as the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals, are part of a global push for more sustainable chemistry. Research and process development has embraced this as its focus, developing non-hazardous and bio-based alternatives. The goal is to reduce workplace exposure and health and safety risks, enhance process efficiency, make more efficient use of processing water and reduce emissions and waste that may damage the natural environment.

        The automotive industry drives leather technology development

        The automotive industry holds exceptionally high standards for leather quality and chemical-management. After all, we expose ourselves to the interiors of our cars for extended periods of time. Increased awareness of the chemical impact on materials, both in contact and emission, has prompted a search for alternatives. That new car smell? You won’t find that anymore in modern cars with leather seating, as VOC-emitting solvent-based surface chemistry is severely limited today. But this is just one example in how the automotive industry has become one of the biggest users of leather and a driver of leather chemistry research. As our use of mobility is changing, with the arrival of electric vehicles and shared mobility the demands for more durable and sustainable interiors are changing. This prompts further development of leather chemicals and what they can achieve. Tomorrow’s cars will need even more advanced material properties, with soft-touch, squeak-free premium surface technologies for automotive leather.

        As tanners look for ever more responsible technologies, chemical suppliers develop solutions that enable higher uptake rates in the leather, which reduces waste and emissions. Next-generation chemicals will improve bonding, dyeing and coloring processes, and improve resistance for even more durable leathers. The impact of these changes can already be felt. Thanks to new chemical technologies, certain tanners have vastly reduced the carbon footprint of their production already. Data collected by European Leather Industry members show a reduction in the average value of chemicals used per square meter of finished leather of 6.2% between 2010 and 2011, from 2.09 kg to 1.96 kg. With a new survey coming up, the future results are expected to be even better.

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          Your e-mail is only used exclusively for our newsletter and will not be shared with third parties.


          White Leather Is The Most Difficult To Create

          In Article1 Minutes

          Month: April 2020

          White leather exudes a sense of luxury and quality that makes it much beloved in fashion and high-end upholstery, but also in car interiors as protective technologies make it resistant against staining and soiling. The color itself is often associated with purity, spirituality and a sense of royalty. It’s why you’ll find plenty of it during festive occasions, like births and weddings.

          When it comes to leather, the soft natural touch and white color emphasize a sense of cleanliness and positivity. Making white leather is not that easy though, as the white pigment (if used) affects the surface texture. For that reason, only high-quality hides can be used to create white leather, as these allow minimal pigment without other unwanted effects.

          Only high-quality hides can be used to create white leather, as these allow minimal pigment without other unwanted effects.

          White leather, if made with chromium, needs to have whitening, lightening, and color adjustment to reduce the blue from the chromium Modern tanning methods have made making white leather easier. Wet-white tanning, using gluteraldehyde instead of chrome, makes it possible to create soft, light leathers with a white hue.

          Subscribe to our newsletter

            Your e-mail is only used exclusively for our newsletter and will not be shared with third parties.