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Sometimes to get matters into proper perspective you have to look at them from the other way round. Last week was typical. If I have understood all the messages flying around the press and Internet Kering produced quite an interesting report called the Kering Environmental Profit & Loss (E P&L).
It is very well written and a lot of work has gone into it. It is a scientific document covering the very complex area of the environment and how our activities related to it can be measured. This is not an area where scientists have an agreed view, but the document offers tools to help guide us. I do not agree with some of the content, but I support the concept and consider this a good initiative.
Problems arose when this went public and out came the thoughtless one-liners - at least we hope they were thoughtless - that said leather was the worst material that Kering uses.
But another examination of leather and comparison with the alternatives by Leather Naturally! would suggest that the headlines should have one word reversed. Leather is not the worst material it is in fact the best.
If you ignore the livestock, as the Brugnoli COTANCE paper suggests, and only look from the slaughterhouse on, some points need to be noted:
- hides and skins are a renewable resource
- modern leather making techniques with proper waste management is not wasteful in energy, water or using chemicals that should be avoided, and that includes chromium
- leather provides safe jobs for millions of people making articles in the emerging world
- leather articles last much longer than alternates, often by decades, and most can be repaired if needed
The Brugnoli paper suggests that good environmental science would put the environmental load from livestock onto the meat and dairy industries with the leather industry only accepting it for that minuscule volume of items such as some reptiles, which are bred for their skins. It is a valid point of argument and one still being debated.
Yet I am a fan of cows and all our livestock friends and I like working with the meat and livestock industry. I remember well the days of the hide improvement society and all the good we did together improving flay and getting rid of warble fly. More importantly I think Simon Fairlie was 100% correct when he said: “the exaggerated emphasis on the alleged four or five percent of GHGs emitted by cattle, and the mendacious rhetoric about cows causing more global warming than cars, look suspiciously like an attempt to shift some of the blame for global warming from below ground to above ground, from fossil fuels to the natural biosphere, from the town to the country and from the rich nations to the poor." Yes cows do produce methane but the volume calculations and the impacts are still highly contentious and zero credit is given for the fact that long-term grassland is so powerful at carbon sequestration.
Because we need to remember that while the cow, and therefore leather, gets loaded with every possible blame from deforestation to stealing water regardless of where it comes from, plastic never gets any blame for coming from fossil fuels or for having such a short useful life. This is absolutely not a level playing field.
Were the figures looked at objectively Leather Naturally! is confident that leather is the very best material Kering can use. There is more to be done to improve the industry and they can help ensure progress continues through the four tanneries they own.
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