Last month, during the Olympics, the Washington Post ran an article saying for an environmental games althletes should use sythetic footwear rather than leather. It relied on an old study from a California College which itself was based on older generic information. Carbon footprinting is an evolving topic, about which more soon; but meanwhile here is what LeatherNaturally! wrote, but the WP did not publish:
1150 15th Street Northwest #4
Washington, DC 20071, United States
8th August 2012
If Brian Palmer (6th August, Would your shoes win a medal in the green games) really wanted to make the best recommendation for footwear for Olympic sprints he would have looked a little further and discovered that no better material exists than well made kangaroo leather. There is a great danger in rushing to conclusions in matters related to the environment and sustainability and the move to condemn “leather” is a typical example.
Most kangaroo sports leather is tanned in a family tannery in Australia that is one of the most modern in the world. The long list of issues with waste materials has long since been fully and properly dealt with. When chromium is used it is only as chromium III and there is no chance whatsoever that this could convert to the hexavalent form. The kangaroo does not produce methane in the way cows or sheep do, is not fed on fertiliser demanding grains and if the skins from the environmentally culled animals were not tanned they would create a waste hazard.
Far better to use kangaroo leather than a fossil fuel alternative.
There are two issues which any leather scientist would have with Mr Palmer. First he draws conclusions for all “leather” based on a study related only to bovine suede of unknown origin, and which itself used generic data. Leather comes as a by-product from so many animal types that generalisations of that sort are entirely improper. Any tanner also knows that cattle hides vary enormously by breed, husbandry and climate. Looking at any carbon footprint data the difference between an intensively managed cow and a pasture fed one is immense.
Early analysis of carbon footprints in agriculture deserve a great deal of scrutiny. They put huge weightings on biospherical emissions from agriculture and underestimate those from fossil fuels and the rational for this has never been explained. This approach appears to involve major errors. Even the methane argument should be challenged given that if farmed ruminants were removed the IPCC acknowledge that the crops grown to replace the protein would create at least fifty per cent of the ruminant methane.
As author David Fairlie wrote last year “cows (and therefore leather) have been around for thousands of years, while global warming takes off with the discovery of oil…….A child could deduce that if we were serious about preventing global warming, the most obvious and reliable course of action would be to leave all fossil fuels in the ground.”
Since all mainstream leathers come from animals bred for meat or dairy purposes, and not their skins the supply of leather is likely to diminish in future years. Yet those who use it can rest assured that modern processing of leather has removed the dangers which worry Mr Palmer and that in using leather they are working with a fine, long lasting renewable natural resource.
Michael Redwood on behalf of the LeatherNaturally! programme
Visiting Professor in Business Development in Leather, University of Northampton, England
Leather Naturally! Is a not for profit body dedicated to educating the consumer about the value of leather as high quality sustainable material.