The Consequence Of Displacing Automotive Leather

In Article, Fact3 Minutes

Fact

With the recent EU vote for anti-greenwashing laws by an overwhelming majority, which will ban the use of environmentally friendly claims without proof, it will change how products are labelled, prevent unfounded durability claims, and stop companies trying to kid on that products made with plastic are ok because trees were planted to offset the carbon.

What does this mean for automotive leather? Companies that make “vegan leather” will be required by law to stop making unsubstantiated claims about the green credentials of these materials. As reported by the Filk Institute, none of the leather alternative materials they tested perform anything like genuine leather regarding durability, cracking strength and tear resistance, and none of the tested substitutes could truly be called an “alternative” for leather.

At the same time these new laws are coming into place, the leather industry is working hard to produce accurate Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and to understand the impact leather has on the planet. More is being understood about Consequential LCA and system expansion with avoided processes and products. Hides are a by-product of the meat and dairy industry, and processing them into automotive leather displaces the need to create alternative “vegan-leather” materials.

Companies that make “vegan leather” will be required by law to stop making unsubstantiated claims about the green credentials of these materials

The consequence of making “vegan leather” is we are creating a new material that has a high percentage of plastic included. No matter whether it’s virgin plastic or recycled, the impact on the planet from producing plastic is significant. These alternative leather materials are shown to have limited performance and, therefore, a reduced life span. These composite materials can’t be recycled and will inevitably end up in landfill, where it will take hundreds of years to decompose and release toxins and greenhouse gases into our land and oceans.

Let’s not forget the consequence when we displace automotive leather with a product that can be avoided; the cattle hides left over from the meat and dairy industry will also need to be disposed of, releasing millions of tonnes of additional and unnecessary CO2e, creating a double whammy for the environment.

Indeed, this must raise questions as to why we would create new materials to displace genuine automotive leather, which we want to perform like leather but is ultimately harmful to the planet.

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    Fact or Fiction: More water is used to make genuine automotive leather

    In Article, Fact3 Minutes

    Fact

    Water is one of the world's most important elements and is crucial in the production of genuine automotive leather, and its use and reduction are something the automotive tanneries take very seriously. Water usage has reduced significantly in the past few decades*, and the latest innovations will see this reduce further, lessening their impact on the planet.

    It takes an average of 121 litres of water** to make 1m2 of finished automotive leather. A finished UK hide is, on average, 4.1m2 and weighs 3.7kg***, giving us a figure of 109 litres of water used to make 1kg of finished automotive leather. Please read this earlier article which lays out how and where the water is used during production.

    Let’s review this against “vegan leather”, often quoted online and in the media as a more sustainable alternative to genuine leather. A large proportion of vegan leather contains a high percentage of plastic (PU, PVC and rPET), which is used to bond plant-based materials such as pineapple leaves, cork, apple peels, etc, to produce this artificial material.

    Water is one of the world's most important elements and is crucial in the production of genuine automotive leather, and its use and reduction are something the automotive tanneries take very seriously.

    Water is used at each phase of the plastic life cycle, from the extraction of oil or natural gas to the various steps involved in producing the resins that eventually give rise to different types of plastic. The total water footprint calculates the entire volume of freshwater consumed during the entire production process. It is important to include both the “blue” and “grey” components when calculating this. The blue water footprint encompasses water consumption during drilling, refining, and manufacturing, while the grey water footprint takes into account the water needed to mitigate pollution during the production process.

    If we take the production of PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) as an example, the blue water footprint is quoted**** as 10 litres per kg, but when you add the grey water footprint, it rises to 235 litres per kg.

    Some leather alternatives now claim to use rPET, and water is also heavily used in the recycling of plastic, as well as in the production process of the finished material. When you add these all together, the water required to make this leather alternative is two to three times that of genuine automotive leather, clearly showing why it’s a more sustainable choice for your car interior.

    Reference And Sources Used
    * https://sustainfashion.info/water-in-leather-production-the-incredible-shrinking-act/

    ** www.cotance.com/doc/SER/European%20Leather%20Industry%20-%20Social%20and%20Environmental%20Report%202020%20-%20EN%20web.pdf

    *** FAO Global compendium on conversion factors for raw hides and skins and leather using UK statistics

    **** https://foodprint.org/blog/plastic-water-bottle/

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      Leather. The Ultimate Upcycled Material

      In Article, Fact7 Minutes

      Fact

      Increasingly, our daily actions significantly influence our planet, necessitating collective efforts to reduce this impact. Choices related to our holiday destinations, our choice of vehicles, our clothing preferences, and our dietary habits all play a part. The global demand for beef is rising and is expected to continue growing in the coming decade and beyond. Consequently, the generation of non-meat components, such as animal hides, is also on the rise. Without the leather industry, this waste component would find its way to landfills, decomposing and emitting methane gas.

      Leather has been produced for thousands of years, with the earliest examples of leatherworking tools dating back to 5,000 BC. Leather, renowned for its timeless beauty and remarkable durability, embodies the ethos of “buy once, buy well”. Over the last few years, billions have been spent trying to invent lower-cost alternative “fast fashion” materials to look like leather ($450m in 2022 alone), with most of these materials heavily reliant on fossil fuels like PU or PVC to make them. One might question why such significant resources are allocated to reinventing something that already exists.

      These new materials have been labelled as planet-saving alternatives to leather when the truth is the opposite. Leather is part of the circular economy, where every part of the cow is used, and nothing is wasted. The hides are upcycled into leather, a natural material with a biogenic carbon count of over 80%. Leather has an exceptional lifespan, boasts remarkable durability and easy repairability, and upon reaching the end of its life, it can be composted to enrich the soil. This, in turn, nurtures the growth of grass, providing sustenance for the very cows that initiate this regenerative cycle all over again.

      Leather has been produced for thousands of years, with the earliest examples of leatherworking tools dating back to 5,000 BC. Leather, renowned for its timeless beauty and remarkable durability, embodies the ethos of "buy once, buy well”

      Compare this to most new leather alternatives that are linear. Commonly, a plant-based material, like mushrooms or pineapple husks, is mixed with fossil fuels like PU or PVC (in the region of 80 – 90% of the total) to create a composite material. There is no simple or cost-effective way to recycle these products, so they end up in landfills, a “Take, Make, Waste” approach with a tangible impact on the planet, but we are led to believe they are more sustainable. It’s virtually impossible to find any mention of it containing PU or PVC or the percentages contained in the materials as the marketing teams ‘greenwash’ the credentials found on websites or labels.

      In 2022, the Market Institute at the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) claimed “Leather is entirely a by-product of the beef and dairy industries”, with the farmer receiving between 1-2% of the total value of the cow from its hide, yet leather must take an unfairly large portion of the CO2 impact of downstream farming when calculating its carbon footprint. Compare this to ‘vegan leather’, where the heavy impact of adding plastics and micro-plastics to an already polluted planet is not taken into account in the CO2 calculations. We need to take a look at the whole impact and not just a single number often taken out of context.

      When we consider the “cost per use” comparison between leather and alternative materials, it becomes clear that leather outlasts the rest, retaining its quality and functionality while others need to be discarded and replaced. This enduring performance gives leather a substantial edge in terms of sustainability credentials.

      The ’fast fashion’ materials have come under fire recently, with government watchdogs and mass torts calling out the greenwashing of the sustainability of these materials. There have been, and continue to be, demands to protect the consumer from deceptively calling alternative materials “leather”.

      The influential rating system, the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), was launched by a group of fashion industry heavyweights and maintained by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. They introduced a suite of tools created for the fashion industry to assess the sustainability of the materials used in their products. They have been said to strongly favour synthetic materials made from fossil fuels over natural ones like leather, cotton, or wool. The consumer portion of the MSI was suspended following a legal challenge to review the figures and get more accurate data independently, something the leather industry has collectively been calling on for a long time.

      Many are unaware of the remarkable advancements in automotive leather manufacturing over the past 25 years. Today’s automotive tanneries operate under strict regulations, utilising cutting-edge machinery to drastically reduce water and energy consumption, an area that has historically faced criticism, albeit wrongly. Furthermore, there’s a notable shift in the use of tanning chemicals, with tanneries actively exploring options incorporating higher or entirely biobased content. This transition aims to diminish their carbon footprint further while maintaining the performance standards demanded by automotive OEMs.

      So, when choosing a material for the interior of cars, should we select a fossil fuel-derived product that will end up in landfill or a natural, beautiful, circular by-product destined for landfill? The choice should be yours.

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        5 Reasons To Choose Real Automotive Leather For Your Car

        In Article, Fact7 Minutes

        Fact

        Purchasing a new car is an involved, emotive experience for most of us, and there are many choices we must make along the way before our purchase is finalised, and some can be hard or confusing.

        What brand? Electric, hybrid or ICE? What exterior paint colour? Which of the many accessory packs on offer do you select? There are so many choices, which can be overwhelming, so this article can hopefully help with one of your choices on interior materials and why leather is the best for your seats, steering wheel, and trim.

        1. Leather is a durable material.

        Performance automotive leather is high quality and made to last and, in most cases, will last longer than the car; many classic cars still have the original leather interior that was fitted decades previously.

        Interiors are subjected to many external factors during use, such as people sitting on them, getting in and out, sweat from our hands on the steering wheel, high/low temperatures, sunlight, staining and soiling. Automotive leather manufacturers must produce products to meet the exacting standards of the OEMs to ensure leather can withstand all these factors and more and look as good as it did on day one.

        Compare this to the new wave of alternative materials, often called ‘vegan leather’ (a term to greenwash their credentials). Many of these materials do not have the durability of real leather and deteriorate when exposed to these same factors. There are now studies, such as the FILK report1, that prove leather’s durability, and there are increasing stories on the internet2 of consumers who have major issues with their interiors after just a couple of years of use.

        2. Leather is easy to maintain.

        Very little is needed to be done to keep automotive leather looking fantastic. Its anti-soiling properties mean a spilt coffee, muddy dogs or children’s snacks won’t stain, smell, or ruin your seats.

        Post-pandemic, the easy nature of being able to kill bugs and viruses with a simple wipe is very reassuring; some companies now offer anti-viral finishes doing the job for you. Leather doesn’t trap pollen or dust, making it ideal for people who suffer from allergies.

        Regularly vacuuming the seats and wiping them with a damp, light soap solution will keep them clean and fresh, and once or twice a year, use an approved conditioner to ensure they remain in great shape.

        Performance automotive leather is high quality and made to last and, in most cases, will last longer than the car

        3. Leather increases the residual value of your car.

        Leather seats are near the top of the list of many people’s ‘must haves’ when they are looking at buying a premium second-hand car and are in demand with a higher perceived value that is often associated with luxury.

        Whether you keep your car for 1, 3 or 5 years before selling it, a leather interior will retain its look and feel due to its durability and ensure the residual value of your car remains high, giving you a better return on your investment when compared with alternative PU/PVC based materials that will not perform or look the same.

        4. Leather is the sustainable option.

        Contrary to the wave of opinion often portrayed in the media, automotive leather is the sustainable option to choose.

        Leather is a by-product of the meat industry and is the ultimate upcycled material, saving significant waste going to landfill. Modern leather manufacturing techniques and legislation have led to an ever-reducing impact on the planet, especially when compared to what’s involved in manufacturing PU/PVC, which makes up a large part of ‘vegan leather alternatives.

        Leather is part of a circular process where everything can be used, repurposed, or recycled. PU/PVC-based composite materials, often mixed with fruit or vegetables like pineapple or mushrooms, are part of a linear process as it’s extremely difficult and expensive to recycle once discarded, so they are destined for landfill.

        The durability of leather ensures a long lifespan, and retrims or seat covers are not required, saving unnecessary manufacturing of new materials by choosing right the first time.

        5. Leather is the most comfortable option.

        Passenger wellbeing is high on the agenda of modern car design, and with the amount of time we spend in a car, it’s important we are comfortable.

        Automotive leather feels great and has a natural flex or give, making it very comfortable on long (and short) journeys, unlike PU/PVC alternatives, which are generally rigid with no flex.

        The natural characteristics of automotive leather mean it will wick away sweat on a hot day, and modern perforated leather allows cooling systems installed in the seat to help. On cold days, the leather works well with heating systems to keep you warm.

        Whilst these 5 reasons should be compelling as to why you should choose real automotive leather for your next car, we respect everyone’s right to choose should you not want a natural animal product in your car. When choosing an alternative, please take the time to find out what the material is made of, as “vegan leather” doesn’t necessarily mean sustainable.

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          Vegan Interiors Are Not Necessarily More Sustainable Than Leather

          In Article, Fact1 Minute

          Fact

          According to Erin Baker, UK automotive journalist "vegan interiors are not necessarily more sustainable than leather".

          Erin opens her article with “Leather bad, vegan good”, is the general chant that has swept out of California ever since Tesla set forth on a pledge of 100 per cent vegan interiors in all its cars, an idea which has trickled down into the portfolios of multiple brands since.”

          In the article, she discusses topics such as leather being a waste product and by-product of the meat industry, vegan materials contain plastic and the importance of responsible sourcing and traceability.

          To read this insightful article on the Goodwood website, please click here: https://bit.ly/45CANRr

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            Responsible Water Management Drives Automotive Tanneries

            Did you know that the leather on your car seat is not only supremely comfortable but supremely hard-wearing too? From the day-to-day demands of you getting in and out, to occasional food or coffee spillages and even the effects of UV light from the sun, leather outperforms other materials by miles. Take a look at our short video to find out more.


            Nothing Beats Genuine Leather: Just Ask A Trimmer

            In Article, Fact7 Minutes

            Fact

            While there’s a wide choice of interior finish options for vehicle owners these days, genuine leather still remains the number one choice.

            That’s according to Paul Hewitt, founder of Seat Surgeons in England and one of the country’s leading leather trimmers. In a career spanning over thirty years, Paul has seen many changes in the business – not to mention in people’s tastes. But for feel, durability and aesthetic appeal he says nothing comes close to leather. Which is why he is so proud to be still handcrafting leather interiors today and passing on his very special skills to a new generation.

            Since helping out in his father’s bodyshop at the age of 13, Paul always knew this is what he wanted to do. After training as a coach trimmer at college, he went on to trim leather for everything from luxury cars to buses to speed boats. Soon he was running his own businesses in places as diverse as Malaysia and China as well as in the UK.

            Leather for commercial vehicles

            Today, Seat Surgeons is one of the leading vehicle interior specialists in the UK. Paul has invested heavily in state-of-the-art cutting systems, sewing machinery and embroidery tooling, and is proud that all his raw materials – apart from thread, for some reason – is sourced from the UK. Part of Seat Surgeon’s work focuses on the luxury car market – and Range Rovers in particular. But there is also big demand for high spec leather interiors for commercial vehicles. For instance, they specialise in adding sports seats to VW Transporter vans covered with tailormade leather upholstery. “Our leather interiors make commercial vehicles much nicer to drive,” says Paul, “and leather is so much more durable than synthetic alternatives especially in work situations.”

            “I’m seeing car manufacturers going more and more for ‘plastic’,” says Paul, “but, ironically, we’re getting busier than ever doing leather!”

            Luxury upgrades

            On the luxury side, Paul has worked on prestigious upgrade projects for companies like Overfinch as well as for celebrities including boxer Tyson Fury and footballer Wayne Rooney. According to Paul, Range Rover has improved its own leather a lot in recent years so he sees fewer new models coming into the shop, but the demand from used car owners is booming with people looking to take their interiors to a higher level. “Diamond stitching is a particularly impressive way to add elegance and refinement to a leather refurb,” says Paul, who also lays claim to introducing the technique to the mass market a few years ago. Other customers simply want to upgrade from cloth or plastic seats to the feel of genuine leather.

            Leather’s superior performance

            Although Seat Surgeons does offer synthetic alternatives, Paul says they are nowhere near as nice as leather. They don’t have the feel, the touch that genuine leather does. “I prefer to work with leather,” he says, “even if it’s a little harder to cut and sew than man-made synthetics. As far as the end product is concerned, nothing beats a really nice grainy leather with a soft touch and nice smell.”

            Performance is an issue too. “Fake or PU leather – and fabric – covers do make you sweat,” Paul says. He feels that genuine leather that hasn’t been over-corrected, on the other hand, “does seem to take the heat out of the seat even in full sun”.

            Changing trends

            Having been in the business for decades, Paul has seen a lot of change in the industry. In the past he would get a lot of trade from car dealers and converters looking to add value to cars before selling them on. It’s a clear sign of the high value that car owners continue to place on a genuine leather interior, and yet this isn’t being reflected in the choices car manufacturers are offering their customers right now. “I’m seeing car manufacturers going more and more for ‘plastic’,” says Paul, “but, ironically, we’re getting busier than ever doing leather!”

            Today, thanks to supply chain issues and rising prices, the market for second-hand cars is booming – which is good news for companies like Seat Surgeons. Paul continues, “That’s what’s feeding our business right now. Vehicles are like clothes horses. Entrepreneurs aren’t so much selling the car or van itself but the ‘kit’ inside – that’s what people are looking for.”

            Sustainability and ethics

            Sustainability is also a hot topic in the car market. Manufacturers are finding ever more outlandish materials which they can position as ‘sustainable’ although, as One 4 Leather has pointed out repeatedly, many of these are plastic-based and a lot more harmful to the environment than natural, biodegradable leather. As for emissions from the tanning process, Paul’s view is that the situation is improving. Having worked extensively in China, he saw first hand how sustainability issues have become more and more important there. He recalls sitting in meetings where Chinese government officials would insist that tanneries meet ever stricter controls on emissions. If it’s happening in China you can be sure it’s happening elsewhere too.

            Increasingly, animal welfare is an important issue as well. While in the past, everything was driven solely by price, today Paul pays close attention to the source of his hides. Working with companies such as Pittards and Bridge of Weir, Seat Surgeons can be sure its leather is coming from animals that have been well cared for. Gradually, Paul thinks, customers will come to understand this distinction too and embrace leather even more widely.

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              For Leather, Traceability And Sustainability Go Hand In Hand

              In Article, Fact3 Minutes

              Fact

              Our friends at Leather Naturally told us about an interesting video, part of a series called ‘Sustainable Talks with N&N’. It features an interview with two companies that are promoting a system that provides complete traceability from cow to finished product.

              Imagine that: being able to trace the leather in your shoe, bag or car seat back to an individual cow and finding out how it was raised, what it was fed on and, basically, if it had had a good life.

              Full leather traceability

              The tracing technology has been developed by SPOOR, an offshoot of the Danish leather supplier, Scan-Hide. When hides come from an abattoir, they include the ear tag the cow was given at birth. Having registered all the information from the tag, the SPOOR system uses laser technology to imprint each hide with a unique number which can then be used to access the full backstory of the animal. According to their website, “Unlike other methods of identification, our laser mark is resistant and stays on the hide throughout the entire tanning and refinement process to the final leather cut. In this way, we can guarantee that our rawhides come with 100% documented traceability all the way back to the farm.”

              Being able to trace the source of leather right back to the farm could be a huge benefit for leather product manufacturers

              Ethically sourced leather

              Being able to trace the source of leather right back to the farm could be a huge benefit for leather product manufacturers – including those in the automotive industry. It enables them to show consumers who might have questions over animal welfare, for example, that their automotive leather has been humanely and ethically sourced. It could be a vital element in telling the real story of sustainable leather. As we have reported before, when it comes to leather for car seats, the issue of traceability is being taken very seriously and various routes are being explored to find viable and reliable ways to deliver it.

              Birgitte Holgaard Langer, Business Development Director at SPOOR, says that their technology is a real game-changer: “Sustainability is not a destination. It’s a new way of collaborating, thinking, a way of finding solutions together through the value chain.”

              SPOOR is an offshoot of Scan-Hide, Denmark’s last remaining tannery, which is run with a co-operative spirit and built on local heritage and unique craftmanship. Based on the island of Funen, it supplies rawhides internationally – each one with a unique story of sustainability to tell.

              Watch the video here

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                How Changing Cattle Feed Cuts Leather’s Carbon Footprint

                In Fact, Article3 Minutes

                Fact

                Although leather is simply a by-product of the meat industry, its critics often draw a direct connection between its production and the environmental impact of raising cattle. One of the key factors here is the production of soybeans used as cattle feed. Soybean production is regularly cited as being detrimental to the environment due to the pesticides used and possible deforestation to clear land for its cultivation.

                Measuring leather’s environmental impact

                Under the PEFCR (Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules) – agreed between leather manufacturers represented by COTANCE, national governments and the European Commission – the impact of cattle rearing is now indeed taken into account when measuring the carbon footprint of leather up to the point of sale (‘cradle to gate’). As a biodegradable material with long usable life, leather also outperforms many alternatives (including ‘vegan leather’) when it comes to a whole lifetime assessment – although this is not specifically covered by the PEFCR. Alternatives may not be as durable as leather and often contain plastics that are highly damaging to the environment in the long term.

                Still, anything that can reduce the environmental impact of cattle rearing is to be welcomed to further enhance leather’s sustainability credentials. One area being explored is the use of alternative animal feeds to reduce the dependency on crops like soybeans while maintaining animal welfare.

                More sustainable cattle feed

                An article in Planet of Plenty describes 5 eco-friendly alternative protein sources for animal feed “which are allowing farmers to increase their output and performance while protecting the world around us.” The new food sources include insects, earthworms, seaweed & microalgae, pea protein and single-cell protein. Insects, in particular, are a rich source of protein and can be reared with a relatively small carbon footprint. Seaweed and microalgae can be used to significantly reduce a cow’s methane output. Methane is a GHG (greenhouse gas) which, although less damaging than CO2 since it lasts only about ten years in the atmosphere, contributes to global warming, so any means of limiting emissions is good news.

                Allowing farmers to increase their output and performance while protecting the world around us

                Healthier options

                According to Planet of Plenty, these alternative foodstuffs are seen as cost-effective feed management strategies that are not only better for the environment but healthier for animals as well. While sustainable animal nutrition won’t happen at scale overnight, it is another tool in the world’s arsenal to tackle climate change and protect the earth from further damage.

                Read full article here

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                  White Leather Is The Most Difficult To Create

                  In Fact1 Minutes

                  Fact

                  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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