Is Leather Sustainable?

Nature of Leather and Biodegradability

Leather has been around for the longest time. As people started using livestock for nutritional purposes, turning raw hides and skins into leather was practiced. Since it is a byproduct of the meat industry, leather itself is a sustainable material. Leather produce is exceptional not only for being sustainable, but it is also durable, easy to repair and clean, and, most importantly, biodegradable.

Natural and unprocessed leather is biodegradable in all cases. However, biodegradability may vary depending on the chemicals being used in the process of tanning. The tanning process is essential for producing leather goods to prevent enzymes from fungi and bacteria from breaking down leather fibres.

Hence, not all leather is biodegradable due to the tanning chemicals being used, but it can be, and it should be. The ecological imprint behind the materials that cannot degrade back into the natural environment should be addressed. Leather is one of those that can be fully sustainable if handled right.


Now, as the ocean is turning to "plastic soup" and sustainable practices are being encouraged across businesses, people demand transparency and traceability. Thus, industries are making efforts to shift towards more sustainable means of business to meet customer demand. However, these efforts are being strictly regulated with growing scrutiny and legislative pressure to ensure legitimacy of the sustainability claims.

The ongoing practice of greenwashing is expanding, with organisations throwing away words like "eco-friendly", "sustainable", and "green", which may not necessarily be true. That is why it is essential to increase the information, evidence and credibility of those claims.

Environmental Labelling

According to International Standard Organisation (ISO), there are three types of environmental labelling:

  1. Type I - Third-party labels (guided by ISO 14024:2018)
  2. Type II- Self-declared claims (guided by ISO 14021:2016)
  3. Type III- Product-level lifecycle assessments (guided by ISO 14025:2006 )

UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) sets do's and don'ts for businesses while discussing sustainability. Before claiming anything, companies should:

  1. Be true and accurate
  2. Be unambiguous
  3. Not omit important information
  4. Only make meaningful comparisons
  5. Consider the entire lifecycle of the product
  6. Be substantiated with credible, up-to-date evidence.

What is LWG?

Organisations like Leather Working Group (LWG) encourage leather manufacturers to become more transparent with their practices and traceable with their materials. Their new Leather Manufacturers Audit Protocol 7.0 ramps up traceability requirements for leather manufacturers.

For better sustainability claims, LWG is:

  1. Pushing for more robust traceability from our certified leather manufacturers;
  2. Revising the LWG Claims Framework for more detailed, evidence-based claims;
  3. Consulting Brand Members and significant conducted retailers for guidance on how they are handling green claims to ensure industry alignment;
  4. Encouraging brands to declare their current and target sourcing level publicly;
  5. Enabling brands to map their supply chains.

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