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Two weeks ago, I was very impressed with the clarity of thought that came across from a group of students at the University of Northampton in the UK. Their understanding of what we were saying about responsible tanning and sustainability was apparent, as was their concern that in much of the world the leather industry had more to do to correct matters than we were suggesting.
I wrote in my column at that time: “If we are fighting the misrepresentation of leather, in particular by those promoting inferior alternates such as plastics, we need to be able to tell a positive story of responsible processing and continual technical advancement.”
What is meant by responsible processing is described in a video released today by Leather Naturally that was produced together with some of our European partners and members. It tries to rebalance the often presented view that tanneries are dirty places that do not use normal protective work-wear, are careless with dangerous chemicals and never treat their wastes.
Relationship with nature
In essence, it defines what we mean by responsible tanning today. It is important that we counter attacks on industry, on chemistry and on the use of natural materials that come from individuals with doubtful motives and no interest in truth. Everything we handle in everyday life is based on chemical engineering in one way or another. Labeling some items as “good” and others as “bad” on the basis of whim or prejudice is an improper way to be educating our younger generations, who are too pressured, too urbanised, to screen-centric to look up and observe nature, and mankind’s symbiotic relationship with it.
Some key points need to be understood from all this. One is that it is clear is that, all round the world, we have some excellent tanners who look very much like those in the video, making leather for all sectors. Many are large and significant in the world, and a good number have joined us in Leather Naturally since they are proud of what they have achieved and want that image to be presented correctly to consumers. At the same time, there are a lot of plants, often quite small ones, that feel able to evade the regulations and others that find ways to ignore proper behaviour in managing processing and people.
We need to pull non-complying sectors up to a much higher level
It would be incredibly useful for the industry as a whole if our national trade associations and their associated international bodies could address this issue as a top priority. For as long as we have any areas in our industry where responsible procedures are not being followed, the leather that we promote and sell is being damaged. Its value and reputation will fall. We need to find ways of pulling these non-complying sectors of our industry up to meet a much higher level of standards. It is a fight worth fighting, and the consequences of failure are unimaginable.
Generally speaking, all the members of Leather Naturally, and that includes the chemical companies that have been very supportive and involved members, will recognise being part of a huge change in culture within our industry over the last 25-30 years. The leather being produced now, is tanned, sold and consumed with pride. We are willing to confront detractors because we know that leather is a well-made material, from a sustainable source that lasts a long time in use. Compared with all alternates responsibly made leather is a material well worthy of promotion.
And the last “takeaway” from all this is, while the video shows how we see responsible tanning today and explains some of the principles behind it, this is an ongoing process of improvement. The industry continues to research how to do things better in every aspect.
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Dr Mike Redwood
February 28, 2017
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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