Leather „made in Germany“ – Sustainability as part of the process

Leather as a natural product has always been highly valued by consumers. Skins and hides as renewable resources have been processed into leather for humanity’s entire existence. This is because leather, in addition to being a natural and decorative product, also combines unique and useful material properties such as toughness with limited elasticity, high tear resistance and longevity in a single material.

The highest product quality is a matter of course for the German leather industry and it also guarantees maximum ecological quality to its customers.

In order to live up to this ecology claim, the requirements for sustainable leather production are consistently put into practice and developed further.

Composting leather waste

This includes:

  • Energy-efficient manufacturing methods that conserve resources
  • Environmentally friendly production processes
  • Substitution of substances that are hazardous to health
  • Socially acceptable working conditions and the best possible occupational safety

The German leather industry has therefore developed into an ecological leader recognised around the world, with comprehensive and trendsetting expertise in environmentally friendly leather production. Here a few examples:

Raw materials

Skins and hides from domestic farm animals as by-products of the livestock-friendly keeping of animals for the food industry are preferred for processing. Working hides that have been refrigerated or preserved with common salt means that chemical preservatives can be eliminated and reduces transportation costs significantly.

Leather production

Only ecologically safe chemical agents that do not constitute a health hazard according to the scientific state of knowledge are used for tanning and subsequent leather refining.

By developing optimised tanning processes and consistently implementing measures to integrate environmental protection in production, the consumption of chemicals and water for leather production in Germany for example was significantly reduced in recent years.

Environmental protection

Waste water from German leather factories is not discharged into bodies of water until all unwanted substances have been removed, either fully in the operation’s own waste water treatment plant or with the support of a municipal waste water treatment plant.

The German leather industry is making great efforts in the further development of focused recycling management, in other words the environmentally friendly use of unavoidable waste as secondary raw materials. Even today, all waste except a portion of sewage sludge from waste water treatment is used biologically or to generate energy.

Research and development for sustainable leather production

In close cooperation with the chemical additives industry, the German leather industry is always striving to make further progress in the area of environmental protection.

The Verband der Deutschen Lederindustrie e.V. (German Leather Federation) as a member of Forschungsgemeinschaft Leder e.V. (Leather Research Association) also supports joint pre-competitive research projects and studies for the further development of environmental protection integrated in production.

Literature reference:

Ökologische Aspekte wichtiger Gerbverfahren

(Ecological Aspects of Major Tanning Processes)
by Prof. Dr. Günter Reich, publisher: Forschungsgemeinschaft Leder e.V. (Leather Research Association)

The objective of this work by the recognised tannery scientist and author, Prof. Günter Reich, is to provide leather processors, consumers, public authorities, journalists and other interested parties with objective information about the ecological aspects of leather and its production with modern methods. This appears all the more essential since there are numerous misunderstandings, misinformation and a lack of knowledge in this field.

For example, chrome-free leather (known as eco and bio-leather) and tanning processes are occasionally praised as “a priori” better without discussion and justification in the media and by consumer associations, without taking an overall ecological assessment into account.

In his work, Prof. Reich among other things refers to the results of comprehensive studies in a project subsidised by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy through AiF e.V. comparing the various tanning methods and their overall ecological impact. This project was conducted in cooperation between the Forschungsinstitut für Leder und Kunststoffbahnen (FILK) (Research Institute of Leather and Plastic Sheeting), Freiberg/Saxony and the Lederinstitut Gerberschule Reutlingen (LGR) (Leather Institute Tanner School Reutlingen).

The publication can be ordered for a nominal fee of EUR 8.00 from the Verband der Deutschen Lederindustrie e.V. (German Leather Federation). Address see ‘contact us’.