If there is one podcast you listen to this year, switch on Leather and meat on the inside at COP27 from ILM’s View from the Top series. It involves a discussion with Stephen Sothmann, President of the Leather and Hide Council of America, who attended COP27 along with Eric Mittenthal, Chief Strategy Officer at the North American Meat Institute.
While there was a tiny presence at COP26 in Glasgow, where I had hoped in vain for several leather industry organisations to have stands, this was the first time the global leather industry has gotten seriously involved. Having Stephen Sothmann there was particularly useful since his lobbying skills allows him to quickly get to grips with what is going on.
COP27 was clearly going to be fraught. Following on from Glasgow, the idea was that countries would arrive with improved promises, but we started to see backtracking even before 2021 ended and then Russia’s senseless attack on Ukraine pushed worried countries back towards fossil supplies. The last opportunity for Russia to use its fossil fuels as a leverage in war.
Fossil fuel lobby
We were also forewarned that food and agriculture would be discussed with both the food and fossil lobbies blaming livestock emissions for planetary enemy rather than coal, oil, gas and fertiliser production for crops grown on unsuitable terrain; or even considering food waste.
Listening to the podcast, both the value of being present and the even greater danger of being absent comes across very clearly. Fashion is added in as a key topic where the podcast highlights the role the leather industry has already played in contesting inaccurate indices such as the long contested Higg Index. The value of engagement is identified many times in this entertaining podcast.
A need to step up to the plate
The question must be asked about the rest of the industry? It is a huge step to have a leather representative there but what about the wider industry? Should not the International Council of Tanners have been leading a bigger group covering more of the world industry with a skilled team able to cover multiple discussions simultaneously? Who represented Africa and vital need for the jobs leather offers, and grassland needs with well managed grazing to sequester carbon? Listeners learn of many important discussions with major international figures and CEOs present: people funding meat and material substitutes and the CEOs from brands that are currently considering whether or not leather is a suitable material for the future.
Individual tanners and stakeholders need to get the message out loud and clear that leather does not hold a secure or privileged position. Because tanners know it is special and good does not make it immune from challenge; and the challenges are many, from different directions, passionately supported and very well funded. It is far too late to sit back and expect others to reverse the trend against leather with an occasional corrective pronouncement.
The fight to get leather recognised as a sustainable material with added longevity that can help the planet back on to the 1.5oC track needs to be a relentless one. If you have not joined and paid your dues to one or more of the 30 companies that co-wrote and signed the COP27 statement, do so now. You cannot expect the LHCA, Leather Naturally and others to do all the work on their own with limited funds and dependent almost wholly on industry volunteers.
The COP26 Leather Manifesto was a perfect start to a collaborative approach and with messaging for the current moment in history and, as the podcast explains, the COP27 update simplifies the language and extends the process. They are outstanding documents to help the industry to get the conversation going in all the environments we need to be present. Documents that can be sent to politicians and influencers of all sorts.
Fashion, food, agriculture, deforestation, circularity, energy and water are all areas tanners must be involved in. We need to have a full understanding of where we stand, areas we must improve, what those against leather are saying and be present at the table.
What will transition to net-zero emissions entail?
And if our leadership bodies can keep communicating as they have to produce these manifestos, then why not push this further and start examining what transition to net zero emissions will entail? Engaging and planning for better are not insurmountable edifices for the leather industry but correct and achievable objectives.
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood
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