A Modern Tannery Is A State-Of-The-Art Facility

The leather industry has, for decades, been at the forefront of innovation in sustainable technologies. It has helped manufacturers reduce their carbon footprint, but also produce leathers that are eco-friendlier produced and free of VOCs. Yet, the public image of tanneries is often very different.

When you think of a leather tannery, you are likely to have an image in your mind of an open pit filled with liquid. Hides are hanging from racks around these as workers in shorts and t-shirts handle the substances used to produce leather. And that’s as far from the truth as it gets in how leather today is produced in safe, state-of-the-art facilities, yet for unclear reasons, media reports keep featuring pictures of tourist attractions or third-world facilities. Let’s see what a modern tannery looks like.


8 False Claims About Automotive Leather

In Article12 Minutes

Month: February 2021

Let us get real, shall we? There is a lot of misinformation shared online, and it is time to lay out some fundamental assumptions that are wrong about automotive leather. As our platform has been sharing insights for the past year, we keep seeing the same comments, questions, and statements pop-up in response to the industry insights we share. It is time to tackle these and provide you with the answers you seek.

As a platform, our focus is the automotive leather industry, and as such, the information reflects how this industry operates and the standards it adheres too.

  1. Statement 1: Animals are killed for leather
    This statement is incorrect.Yet, a slightly longer answer is required, because after all, leather does use the hide or skin of deceased animals. The concept of slaughtering animals for only their leather is a very modern idea. Killing an animal to use only a small part is a terrible waste of resources and, therefore, it does not occur in the leather industry. It must be remembered, we are not talking about the fur industry, but the leather tanning industry. Meat consumption has far outgrown the leather industry, and by this point, the hide is simply a by-product of the food industry. If the whole leather industry took a one-year break, there would be no change in the number of animals killed for their meat.
    More about leather as a by-product

  2. Statement 2: The meat industry is struggling
    This statement is incorrect.It is true that more people than ever now opt for a different lifestyle and either reduce, or completely abstain from the consumption of meat, fish, dairy, and other animal-based products. However, meat consumption is on the rise, with the average consumption per person higher than ever. We are also facing challenges associated with a growing world population. Cattle play a huge role in agriculture, and even if removed from our diet, they are an essential part of healthier ecosystems within regenerative agriculture settings.

    17% of the global leather industry is accounted for by the automotive industry. The leather industry, in general, is a much smaller industry than food processing (meat production), and the number of un-used hides/skins is increasing. While the leather industry does not feel it wants to judge consumer choices, it is worrying to see this material go to waste. Leather is being replaced by plastic substitutes, plastics that contribute to the growing global waste pile at the end of their lifecycle.

  3. Statement 3: Leather and the meat industry are interdependent
    This statement is incorrect.A long time ago, leather indeed represented a significant part of an animal’s value. Even today the leather industry relies on the meat industry for its base materials, however, a decrease in leather demand is causing only a portion of hides to be sold and used in leather making. In recent years, the value of hides has dropped to <1% of the total value of the animal in the United States. The leather industry may still depend on the meat industry, but this is not the case vice versa.

    The good news? Transparency is becoming ever more critical. The supply chains are working closely together to tie together loose ends and create visibility for all aspects. Yet, there is no co-dependence, only dependence from one side (that of the leather industry).

  4. Statement 4: Leather is animal cruelty
    This statement is incorrect.The leather industry does not deal with live animals, as tanners only purchase the hides from cattle slaughtered within the meat industry. Nonetheless, the leather industry adheres to the so-called Five Freedoms, which are guiding principles for animal welfare. In large parts of the world, animal sentience is already recognized.

    The automotive industry stands by these principles and, therefore, only purchases hides from supply chains which show evidence of high animal welfare standards. The reason is twofold; firstly, there is the ethical aspect and demand for sustainably sourced materials. On the other hand, leather quality is at its best when animals live a healthy life. Damaged, unhealthy hides, are merely not good enough, and in the current market, they will go to waste.
    More about animal welfare

  5. Statement 5: The leather industry often has a poor working environment
    This statement is incorrect.Working environments with fewer regulations are often portrayed by many activist websites, however, these conditions are found in any industry if you look at the most unregulated places. In the European region and North America, working conditions are, in fact, strictly regulated, and worker safety is the top priority. Dangerous operations in these areas are automated, and chemical use is closely monitored. More and more chemicals used are bio- or water-based, which reduces the risks even further. Tanneries around the world all have the same standards, however, countries do not always have the resources to enforce them.
  6. Statement 6: The leather industry leaves an ecological footprint
    This statement is partly correct (but applies to every industry)Every form of production leaves an ecological footprint yet leather producers continuously strive to lower theirs. The leather industry has had to fight back against stereotyping for decades, where derelict tanneries are presented as the industry standard. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    High-end water management, green reclamation, chemical reclamation, and zero-impact products can be found at almost every European or North American tannery. Chemical innovations make it possible for tanning water to leave a tannery cleaner than it went in. The big concern still, is often in cattle rearing, but regenerative agriculture provides an answer to this problem. Let us look at the other side of this story, though…

    Leather is often replaced by plastics, which have demonstrably less of a product lifetime and are non-degradable. Leather, a by-product of the meat industry, when produced with the best current methods, is a far better option for our environment and overproduction.

  7. Statement 7: Cattle rearing is responsible for massive amounts of CO2
    This statement is incorrect.Cows produce methane throughout their life, and although methane is one of the greenhouse gasses (GHG), the environmental impact is limited. Methane is a short-lived GHG and takes approximately ten years to break down in the atmosphere. If the cattle herd remains at its current size or even shrinks, the level of GHG in the atmosphere will remain stable or decrease, demonstrating that cattle are not the issue when it comes to the CO2 problem.

    There is more… Currently, we see that agriculture can resolve a lot of the environmental issues we see. Soil depletion and erosion, as well as reducing our footprint and pollution, can be partly solved through regenerative agriculture. Therefore, cattle do not represent an environmental problem, but an opportunity.
    More about regenerative agriculture

  8. Statement 8: Vegan alternatives are cruelty-free and harmless to the environment
    This statement is partly correct, if you do not look at the whole product lifecyclePlastics indeed offer a cruelty-free alternative, as they are not directly sourced from animals. However, production of plastic uses vast amounts of resources and energy, and by 2030, plastics are expected to reach 1.34 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions (from cradle-to-grave) per year. Plastics also have a high impact at their end-of-life, and those that were replacing ‘cruel’ materials are now entering ecosystems and threatening wildlife. Plastic is polluting marine and aquatic water bodies, posing a major threat to organisms as it accumulates toxins and enters food chains.

    Of course, there are applications and functions for which traditional materials do not work. However, vegan alternatives are not environmentally friendly and they have a significant long-term impact. Leather hides, however, are available in massive piles and sustainable processes make it possible to produce leather with a lower impact. Leather also lasts longer, reducing the need for more material. Our decision for materials should be based on what is the most suitable and available material. Each has its part to play, but plastics are not the answer for a sustainable future.

We can go back and forth on many of these topics, but the bottom line is simple: we need to look at our consumption differently and find ways to be efficient with the resources we have available. Leather fits that future, as do other by-products that we have started to replace with plastics. Although plastics are part of what makes our lives convenient, safe, and protected, their use should always be evaluated first, and materials should be chosen based on the performance needed. Plastics or ‘vegan leather’ is not the one-fix-solution for our future. Leather has a huge part to play in a future where we use our resources responsibly.

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    Understanding The Journey From Hide To Leather

    In Article2 Minutes

    Month: February 2021

    he process of making leather might seem fairly straightforward once you know about the procedure itself, but what really happens to the hide during these steps? To fully understand, we need to look at the nature of what constitutes a hide. When we speak about a hide for traditional leather, we are talking about the hide or skin of an animal (that also makes fish leather an option, while the process is slightly different).

    Each hide or skin consists of three layers. The epidermis is the thin outer layer that protects animals from water-loss. In essence, the epidermis holds water in the skin. The Corium (i.e., dermis) is the central layer, and a fat layer is below this. As you might have guessed from its name, the corium is used to create leather.  During the leather making process, unnecessary substances are removed from the corium and, the protein structure of the collagen is altered. Only about 85% of the protein is collagen, so all the rest must go.

    Each hide or skin consists of three layers

    This protein removal is why the beamhouse process is so important. During the soaking operation, acids, salts, enzymes, and tannins are used to dissolve fats and remove other elements, which gradually changes the protein structure. The fresh hide contains approximately 60/70% water by weight, which is removed. Raw hide is an exception to the soaking operation, as only water content is removed. Removal of water from the hide and alteration of the dermis protein structure can be achieved using various methods, each with different benefits and results. Traditional methods, such as vegetable tanning and brain tanning, closely emulate the natural, slow tanning process by using natural tanning agents which affect the dermis.

    Meeting modern-day demands for leather, however, requires processes which move slightly faster. The use of chemicals in the modern process helps the process speed-up. Chemicals used are today often bio- or water-based, making them both effective and environmentally friendly.

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      How Sustainable Leather Is Supported By Regenerative Agriculture

      In Article9 Minutes

      Month: February 2021

      Sustainability is a key term for many industries, including leather production. It relates to the economic, social, and environmental aspects of a sector.

      Companies will often talk about profit, people, and the planet because viability requires consideration of all three. ‘Sustainable development’ was defined in 1987 as the following by the Brundtland report (which most people still use today):

      Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. (Brundtland, 1987, page 37)

      Leather is a sustainable material for several reasons:

      1. Leather is very durable, reducing the need for new products;
      2. The resourcing of leather is endless (i.e. it is renewable). New cattle are raised continuously and at the end of life, leather is degradable;
      3. Leather is a by-product of the meat industry; therefore, leather reduces waste, which is what would happen to the hides if they weren’t used for leather.

      Leather as a material can be defined as sustainable, as it does not affect the next-generation in meeting its needs (during best practices). Yet, as an industry, we must always ask: Can we do more?

      Sustainability means regeneration

      The idea of sustainability is that we create a net-zero impact, but that is not enough if we have a planet to restore, and an economy to rethink. Authority on corporate social responsibility, John Elkington described regeneration as the next step with a triple bottom line, where the goal of sustainability is to regenerate economies, societies, and our biosphere (Stafford, 2018). Regenerative farming is a big part of meeting this sustainability goal. Building soil health is central to regenerative farming and has many positive effects on farming systems and landscapes.

      Regenerative farming is about strengthening the soil, building diversity, and increasing carbon sequestration to improve fertility. Regenerative farming does not chase the short-term benefits of cost-effectiveness and maximizing profit. Animals, and thus cattle herding, play a central role in restoring soil diversity, and carbon sequestration within the soils. While diverse crop growth improves soil health, animals contribute by fertilizing the soil as part of a natural cycle: cows manage the vegetation by eating it, and nutrients return to the soil through excretion of cow faces. Carefully managed pasturelands can also support wide biodiversity of other animals, insects, plant species and even bacteria and fungi. This natural cycle creates a healthy ecosystem, restoring soil fertility while achieving carbon storage in the soil through the increased life forms living on and in the soil. Lifecycle Assessments of regenerative farms have already shown that regenerative farms can be carbon sinks, while also yielding plenty of crops and food (Sadowski, 2019).

      Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

      Pulse Effects on Environment and Supply Chain

      The Savory Institute, one of the leading initiators in regenerative agriculture in the United States, believes sustainability means staying the same, which is a continuous effort (high costs and energy). The Savory Institute takes a wholistic approach to agricultural management, where they look at the whole picture. Regeneration is done using pulses (such as seasonal variations) and feedback systems (such as rehabilitation that has knock-on impacts through the entire ecosystem), and results in a cascading effect. An example of feedback is the reintroduction of predators for population control or redirecting grazing herds to prevent loss of vegetation and exhaustion in vulnerable areas like river valleys. The cascading effect can be, for example, improvement in river flow and aquatic habitat, resulting from re-vegetation of a valley. A cascading effect also takes place throughout the supply chain, affecting leather and the industries that use the material. Although soil degradation, ecosystem harm, and loss of biodiversity are massive threats to global food security, they set something in motion that reconnects the supply chain with a common goal. The food industry has been the prime focus of regenerative farming, but the agriculture industry stands at the root of supply chains. The agriculture industry is connected to fashion-, interior-, and automotive (for example, leather, wool, cotton, silk) material production, as well as the rendering of waste materials.

      A lower impact

      End-markets want to know that their products are made with the best intentions for planet earth. Leading brands in the fashion industry have made big commitments to a regenerative future and many brands have recognized the importance of working with the bottom of the supply chain to reduce their environmental impact. In this effort, the start and end of supply chains meet and work together. Leather as a material fits right in there, and due to the farming methods for cattle herding, it sets a new standard for animal welfare. Although part of the economy is still hung-up about ethical materials (non-animal, e.g. plastics), regenerative farming is opening a new way forward. Brands such as Timberland, Kering and Patagonia have fully embraced the idea of regenerative farming. Patagonia has even set up a food company to promote regenerative agriculture products. A certification framework, to set standards for regenerative products, has been proposed, however, the standards must be met by the entire supply chain before brands become Regenerative Organic Certified.

      The biggest challenge for regenerative agriculture is its diversity. Agriculture has followed a variety of set standards around the world. For example, intensive livestock farming in lower-income countries tends to have lower environmental and animal welfare standards. However, regenerative farming is no set process, but a collection of practices, highly dependent on the land. A farmer in California, therefore, cannot follow the same practices as one in Finland. The standards for regenerative agriculture will, therefore, be more difficult to set and implementation will be a long-term process. But with end-markets willing to lead the charge, the future seems to be regenerative.

      Selected resources/further reading:

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        Leather Interiors And Autonomous Driving

        In Article11 Minutes

        Month: February 2021

        The concept of autonomous driving is ubiquitous in the future of mobility. This self-driving dream has been transformative for the market, resulting in premium automotive brands trialing autonomous vehicles on test courses. New players, including high-tech organizations and disruptive startups, have also entered the market. These companies all compete for the front seat in next-generation mobility technology. What does this mobility future look like, and what part does leather have to play?

        Reimagining mobility

        If you didn’t have to keep your eyes on the road, what would you do? Everything in mobility interiors today focuses on facing forward, but already swivel chairs, work surfaces, and versatile storage are sneaking into car interiors. Each interior component can have a variety of functions, and as the steering wheel disappears, video screens, head-up displays, and other forms of visual devices will enter the ‘third living space.’ Autonomous interiors are designed around the passengers’ needs, with no focus on the driver who needs to be in control (Nelson, 2019). However, it also means new integrated technologies and automated systems that regulate temperature, air quality, and light intensity. We’re not even talking about mobility that is non-passenger focused, which has even more potential applications.

        Leather and autonomous driving

        The transformation of the interior will influence the materials used in cars. Materials will have to be more resistant to frequent use, abrasion, staining, soiling, and repeated maintenance with cleaning agents. Automotive leather fulfils all requirements when it comes to choosing materials for car interiors: Leather is a highly durable seating material, and a luxurious option for dashboards, trims, and details. On top of that, there is a demand for car interiors to function as a ‘living/working space,’ where people can use entertainment systems or complete work-related tasks. Leather is a material that offers a level of comfort no plastic-based alternative can aspire too.

        The road to automated driving

        Automated driving has been on the horizon for years, and it is not just about letting go of the steering wheel. Vehicles today contain a lot of technology that enables partly automated driving, from power steering and cruise control to integrated technologies and biocompatible surfaces (such as leather control panels or temperature-regulating seats). The idea of automated driving springs from early concepts of radio-controlled cars, during the twenties and thirties. Industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes predicted a future of automated driving in his book ‘Magic Motorways’ during the 1980s, where control by humans was eliminated for the sake of safety, the shift from an ‘automated’- to ‘autonomous’-driving concept occurred soon after this.

        Although automotive leather has always appeared in car interiors, leather's general perceptions are again becoming positive, and leather seats and trims are here to stay.

        From automated to autonomous

        The difference between “automated” and “autonomous” is in where the power or decision lies. An automated task is usually repetitive, and does not require the same decision-making level as an autonomous task. Autonomy requires independence and, therefore, an autonomous vehicle needs to be able to assess the external environment and adapt to multiple factors and risks. In the last three decades, many experiments on vehicle autonomy have been conducted, but clearly it required technology and idea to align in time. Automated vehicles have shown promising results since then, and in some applications, such as warehouse logistics and mining, their use is already frequent. However, current concerns about autonomous driving have limited this technology in automotive or personal mobility applications.

        The Society of Automotive Engineers established a 6-level classification system to define the roadmap to fully autonomous driving:

        • Level 0 (No Driving Automation)
          Manually controlled vehicles, where the human provides the ‘dynamic driving tasks.’ There may be systems in place to help the driver (such as an automatic braking system).
        • Level 1 (Driver Assistance)
          Vehicles with single automated systems for driver assistance, such as steering or accelerating (cruise control). Adaptive cruise control also qualifies as Level 1 as the human monitors other aspects of driving.
        • Level 2 (Partial Driving Automation)
          Vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems that can take control of both steering and accelerating/decelerating. Automation is not self-driving because the human driver can intervene at any time.
        • Level 3 (Conditional Driving Automation)
          The automated driving system performs most driving tasks and monitors the driving environment. However, the human driver can intervene in the case of any trouble.
        • Level 4 (High Driving Automation)
          The vehicle performs all driving tasks under specific circumstances (geofencing). Human override is still an option.
        • Level 5 (Full Automation)
          The vehicle performs all driving tasks. No human intervention is required.

        Developments do not necessarily follow this trajectory. While there are currently Level 4 automated driving projects underway and at advanced stages of implementation, no Level 3 vehicles are currently available. This is because the regulatory mechanisms weren’t in place to adequately address liability.

        So, while Audi delivered the first commercially available vehicle with level 3 autonomy, known as the ‘Traffic Jam Pilot’, the technology did not go live because of the uncertainty around liability and regulations. The EU implemented the first regulations on autonomous driving in 2020, opening the door for Level 3 implementation.

        An autonomous future?

        Most vehicles will soon be in a semi-autonomous state. This shift will highly impact interiors as they require a hybridization between interventional driving and autonomous driving. It is not very likely that the shift towards semi-autonomous cars will progress rapidly, as there are many concerns regarding self-driving cars. These concerns relate to data management, insurance, security & privacy, as well as the use of artificial intelligence.

        The functions of other automotive businesses, such as gas stations, dealerships and garages, will also change. The business models of these businesses are radically changing in line with an autonomous future. Accenture describes autonomous driving as ‘the biggest disruptor for the automotive and transportation industry since Henry Ford developed the assembly line in 1908, particularly, as it requires industry convergence on a not previously seen level. The latest thing? Quantum computing may have far-reaching implications for automotive driving, where efficiently dealing with variations and complex systems can boost efficiency (Burkacky et al., 2020).

        Leather is still the preferred premium interior material

        Amidst the high-tech autonomous innovation, the material revolution continues. As brands promote regenerative agriculture, we are likely to see a return to traditional materials. Leather is a natural material, which counterbalances the technology-infused environment of a third living space (the autonomous car interior). Leather also offers many desired properties. Although automotive leather has always appeared in car interiors, leather’s general perceptions are again becoming positive, and leather seats and trims are here to stay.

        Selected sources:

        • Sokurenko, W. (2017) Designing Interiors for Autonomous Vehicles. Retrieved from: Today’s Motor Vehicles.
        • Bel Geddes, N. (1940) Magic Motorways. Random House Publishing
        • Accenture (2015) Autonomous driving – are OEMs losing the driver seat? Retrieved from: Accenture.
        • Accenture (2017) Autonomous vehicles: Plotting a route to a driverless future. Retrieved from: Accenture.
        • Accenture (2018) Automated Driving: The Race is On. Retrieved from: Accenture.
        • Zou, B., Chen, Y., Liu, Y., Xie, R., Du, Q., Zhang, T., Shen, Y., Zheng, B., Li, S., Wu, J., Zhang, W., Huang, W., Huang, X., Huo, F., Adv. Sci. 2019, 6, 1801283. https://doi.org/10.1002/advs.201801283
        • SAE (2018) Taxonomy and Definitions for Terms Related to Driving Automation Systems for On-Road Motor Vehicles. Retrieved from: SAE.
        • Edelstein, S. (2020) Audi gives up on Level 3 autonomous driver-assist system in A8. Retrieved from: Motor Authority.
        • EUR-Lex (2019) Regulation (EU) 2019/2144 of the European Parliament and of the Council. Retrieved from: EUR-Lex
        • Nelson, C. (2019) Inside the Cocoon: What to Expect from Automated-Vehicle Interiors. Retrieved from: Automobile Mag.
        • St. Antoine, A. (2019) Driverless Cars: Where They Stand Now. Retrieved from: Automobile Mag.
        • McKinsey. Future Mobility – Automated Driving. Retrieved from: McKinsey.
        • Burkackey, O., Mohr, N., Pautasso, L. (2020) Will Quantum Computing drive the automotive future? Retrieved from: McKinsey.
        • Rychel, A. (2018) The interior of driverless cars: 5 game-changing business models. Retrieved from: 2025 AD: Driven by Driverless.

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          Benefits Of Leather: Get The Facts

          In Article2 Minutes

          Month: February 2021

          If you want to learn more about leather, particularly as a material used in other supply chains such as fashion or in upholstery, the platform of Leather Naturally offers a wide range of insights and documents for you to peruse. For example, Leather Naturally’s Naturallys factsheet on leather benefits provides you with a great overview of what it is that makes us love leather so much.

          You probably already realise that leather lasts a long time and often gets more beautiful with the years, making it different to most man-made synthetic materials. The unique look certain leathers acquire is what we call patina, which is quite unique to every item and user. The unique look is why a leather garment, or a product is usually a good choice if you want to ‘buy less, buy better’. Leather fits into the return of an artisan tradition, where craftsmanship is appreciated and we keep what we have. Furthermore, if leather is broken, we can fix it as it restores remarkably well with good care.

          Leather lasts a long time and often gets more beautiful with the years, making it different to most man-made synthetic materials

          If a product, made with leather, comes to the very end of its life, it is biodegradable. It typically takes 10 to 50 years for leather to fully return to nature, but tanners and leather chemists are working on leathers that are more readily compostable – all of this makes it a remarkable material, with immense potential for a sustainable future. There is a lot more to tell about leathers remarkable versatility, potential properties and of course its natural qualities that make it such a pleasant and luxurious material.

          Find out everything you want to know yourself on the platform of Leather Naturally.

          Read the full article here.

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