Tanners plan move towards more “sustainable” leathers

Worldwide
Published:  13 September, 2022
Credit: Anya Hindmarch

Analysis from the 2022 edition of the ILM Tanner Business Confidence Survey reveals a trend towards more sustainability-focused leathers.

ILM added three new questions to the latest edition of the annual ILM tanner survey in response to moves from the industry further towards the kinds of leather processing that appeals to contemporary consumers.

These new questions were: “Are you considering producing fully biodegradable leathers in the next year?”, “Are you looking to source more biobased chemicals for your leather production in the next year?” and “Are you planning to move towards metal-free tanning systems in the next year?”

While the answers from tanners who responded to this year’s survey were not unexpected, it’s interesting to have confirmation of a trend towards these aspects of leather manufacturing.

A total of 57% of the respondents said that they would consider producing fully biodegradable leathers in the next year, keying into a hot topic for ILM’s reporting in the past year, with more chemical companies and leather brands seeking to offer the opportunity for biodegradable leather. Although this counters the classic longevity aspect of leather, it is an aspect that a natural material such as leather can offer when synthetic competitors are almost always unable to.

Switch to biobased

Meanwhile, a vast majority of tanners, at 84%, said in the survey that they are planning to source more biobased chemicals for their leather production in the next 12 months, with just 16% confirming that they wouldn’t.

You need only look at the marketing efforts of any leather chemicals company across the world, particularly in Europe, to see the trend in this direction. Biobased is the buzzword of the moment for the chemicals industry and the demand is clear, customers and consumers want leathers that can tangibly prove their sustainability across the board and, by using responsibly sourced and low-impact chemicals from renewable feedstocks, tanners can add another string to their bow on the environmental front.

Evolution of tanning

Finally, although metal-free and chrome-free tanning are tough subjects to tackle, it has become clear that more leather producers are looking to move away from those types of tannages either entirely or to offer an option for customers looking for a more “sustainable” leather, primarily from an image standpoint.

Most respondents from the 2022 survey, a total of 69%, confirmed that they wanted to make a move in this direction in the next year, while a not insignificant 31% counted it out. Chrome tanning is not yet out of the door, but it seems that by moving to a tannage which is tangibly or perceived as better for the environment or easier to market in a pro-environmental way, tanners can make great headway towards producing leather for markets which demand certain standards or images for pro-environmental consumers.

Ultimately, leather and the way it is processed is changing. A slow change to be sure but one which ILM is dedicated to keeping an eye on. We can only wait and see what comes next but, though further surveys in the years to come and key expert insights from the tanning and chemical sectors, ILM will ensure that you can see where the road will lead.

The full results of the 2022 ILM Tanner Business Confidence Survey are available online now to all ILM subscribers. Find out more about subscribing to ILM here.