Say No to Fake: Choosing Leather for sustainability

The global leather industry is a complex network of interrelated processes involving hundreds of species, techniques, and products. Raw materials are key to the leather industry, and it relies heavily on the sustainable management of animal hides and skins. The industry is constantly striving to reduce environmental impacts and employ responsible and sustainable production practices to produce leather of the highest quality. 
However, the leather industry still has to deal with the challenge of creating a production process that is both efficient and environmentally friendly. As such, stakeholders in the leather industry have started to explore more sustainable production techniques and materials that will reduce the impact on both the environment and the local communities.
The raw material input to the leather industry is animal hides and skins. Leather hides and skins can be obtained from a variety of animals, such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, and exotic species.
A report ‘Quantifying the Relationship Between US Cattle Hide Prices/Value and US Cattle Production’ was commissioned by the Leather & Hide Council of America [L&HCA] and was led by Dr. Gary W. Brester, Professor Emeritus at Montana State University and leading Agricultural Economist Dr. Kole Swanser PhD (2021), that also was published at Leather Naturally site we got valuable insights.
The report looked at the use of animal hides in the leather industry and found that hides are a product of the dairy and meat industries – not a driver. Therefore, using leather does not result in more intensively farmed animals, nor will ending the use of leather have an effect on the number of animals farmed.

 The number of cattle reared for meat and dairy production would remain the same even if people stopped buying leather, says the research published   However, the environmental impact would be significant. The burning or disposal in landfills of 33 million unused US hides would generate more than 750,000 tons of CO2 emissions every year – and fill all US landfill sites within four years. Globally this would see 300 million hides wasted and 6.6 million tons of surplus emissions every year.
“Cutting out leather will damage the environment, cause more waste, more greenhouse gas emissions and more demand for cheap, often polluting, substitutes” (Sothmann,2021) 
In comparison, fake or synthetic leather has a much higher carbon footprint than leather, due to the fact that it is usually made from non-renewable sources. Furthermore, fake leather does not provide jobs for those in impoverished areas, while many cheap synthetic leathers may also contain dangerous chemicals.
Additionally, the report showed that not only does leather provide livelihoods for people in the leather supply chain, it is also an environmentally-friendly material. Leather is produced using organic and non-toxic chemicals, while upcycling hides reduces the demand for non-sustainable materials.
Overall, it is clear that leather is the most sustainable option when it comes to materials. Not only do tanneries take the burden of disposing of animal hides from the dairy and meat industries, they also contribute to tackling pollution. Therefore, if we want to continue to enjoy the benefits of the leather industry going forward, it is important that we encourage the use of more leather and less fake or synthetic leather. 

In conclusion, this research has shown that the need for beef primarily drives the demand for leather and that leather provides positive economic and environmental impacts. The leather industry also has made significant commitments to environmental sustainability and animal welfare, while fake or synthetic leather has a much higher carbon footprint and does not provide job opportunities. Therefore, when customers purchase leather products rather than beef, they are encouraged to support the leather industry and help it tackle pollution.
We all have a responsibility as stakeholders in the leather industry to provide quality products to our customers and to point out the importance of leather sustainability in our global ecosystem. By using leather effectively and thoughtfully, we can ensure that the industry continues to thrive and contribute to a more sustainable future.
Dr.Gustavo Frecia, PhD
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