As brands are investigating methods to reduce the environmental damage of manufacturing, a Leather Working Group (LWG) has been formed to assess the environmental impact of the processes used by tanners and to promote positive environmental business practices in the leather footwear industry.

The group bases its collaboration on analysis and research made by LWG that revealed that that the degree of environmental damage is not so much related to the type of substances that are used in tanning, such as vegetal tanning, but rather to the methods used in the manufacturing of leather. That is to say that the effective control of leather manufacturing processes and the professional management of waste liquids, solids, energy, water consumption and chemicals have the most significant environmental impact.

The global collective was created over two years ago and it has contracted the technical expertise of the BLC leather technology center in the UK to manage the process. The multi-stakeholder group is made up of manufacturers, brands, retailers, technical experts, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academic institutions. Seven tanners and companies such as Adidas, Clarks, Nike, Pentland, Timberland, Ikea, Levi’s, Marks & Spencer and Next Retail are some of the 19 companies that are involved in the development.

Since LWG formed, an environmental auditing protocol for leather manufacturers has been developed to benefit both the leather manufacturer and the brand. During the process, the protocol underwent a series of evaluations and was reviewed by NGOs such as the World Wild Life Fund in the USA and various academic institutions. In January this year, a new protocol was issued, offering a set of suggested guidelines, an open dialog with industry peers and access to audited tanneries.

LWG is encouraging other brands or retailers concerned about environmental issues related to leather to give additional input for further development of the protocol.