LWG – improving tanners green credentials11 January 2010
The Leather Working Group (LWG) is now in its fourth year and the environmental stewardship programme has really gathered momentum. In September 2009, the US HQ of sportswear brand, New Balance hosted a two-day biannual meeting. In attendance were more than 50 delegates made up of international brands, tanners and chemical companies
The LWG project has now carried out more than 80 first time leather manufacturing audits. This equates to 1.7 billion ft2 of leather or approximately 15% of global footwear leather production. This coverage is expected to grow as the programme is rolled out and more brands sign up.
The vast majority of audits are conducted in Asia but a large number are now being scheduled in South America, North America and Europe. One of the major elements of these environmental stewardship audits is the scoring system and the ability for the manufacturers to be rated. The rating system gives a percentage score and a medal rating if they perform well. For the manufacturer to achieve a medal rating they must achieve minimum performance scores in the critical sections. The critical sections include: restricted substance management, operating permits, energy consumption, air emissions, waste management, environmental management systems, water usage, chrome management and effluent treatment.
A list of the medal rated tanneries can be found on the Leather Working Group website: www.leatherworkinggroup.com
This scoring mechanism has two significant benefits. Firstly, it enables the brands to select suppliers that meet their environmental criteria and secondly, it enables tanners to benchmark their performance and therefore creates a framework for improvement. Many of the manufacturers who have used the guidelines within the audit protocol have identified significant areas for improvement in both management and process.
As the LWG moves towards its fifth year a number of second audits are being conducted, enabling the group to measure the actual improvements achieved by the leather manufacturers. At the last meeting, the group was able to demonstrate significant improvements in environmental performance. The benchmarking data shows that total scores have improved proportionally by 22%. In addition leather manufacturers have improved their restricted substance level management scores by 50%. This was a key area for improvement identified during initial audits and a real concern for some of the brands involved. The group have also seen reductions in water usage down by 18% and energy consumption down by 16%. These savings have resulted in significant cost savings of between $250,000 and $500,000 per year for several manufacturers.
The LWG programme is dynamic and as such the group looks to adjust the protocol to drive improvement and address developing issues. Therefore, at the last meeting further improvements to the audit protocol were discussed. A key issue that arose from these discussions was the need to increase the coverage of the supply chain. Although the wet-blue producers are beginning to be audited against the protocol, this is embryonic. Therefore, a programme to involve and audit the wet-blue suppliers was agreed as a priority. It is expected that this programme will gather momentum in 2010. Another key area was the need for traceability of raw materials driven by the situation relating to Amazon deforestation in Brazil.
The Leather Working Group meets every six months and the next meeting will be held in Asia prior to the 2010 Asia Pacific Leather Fair in Hong Kong.
Deforestation and cattle ranching in Brazil
The second day of the meeting was dedicated to the deforestation issue raised by Greenpeace regarding the cattle industry in Brazil. Several of the brands involved with the LWG are being affected by the situation, so it was an important issue for discussion and debate.
A key element of the meeting was a presentation by Lindsay Allen of Greenpeace USA. She gave a balanced presentation on the situation and explained that the purpose of the Greenpeace initiative was to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
Deforestation is one of the biggest causes of emissions due to the burning process used to clear the land. Greenpeace also point out that cattle ranching in Brazil accounted for 14% of global deforestation and ranches occupy approximately 80% of all deforested land in the Amazon.
The Greenpeace initiative aims to stop all deforestation in the Amazon and they encourage the meat processors to insist that their suppliers register their farms and map and log their boundaries as a minimum requirement. They encourage companies to cancel orders with suppliers that are not prepared to stop deforestation and adhere to these minimum requirements.
Nathalie Walker of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) also gave a presentation to the group about the work they were doing in Brazil and endorsed the initiative from Greenpeace. The NWF had recently held a meeting of stakeholders in Brazil and an overview of that meeting and some of the actions from it were discussed.
This issue is supported by many of the LWG brands who have already made commitments to a moratorium on hides sourced from farms involved in deforestation after July 2006. At the meeting it was agreed that a sub group of the LWG should be formed to review and manage the deforestation issues from a hide sourcing perspective. A proposal for discussion has been circulated and several brands and tanners will participate in a hide traceability project.
This project intends to identify and engage with the key stakeholders in Brazil, investigate traceability solutions, conduct trials and implement third party auditing solutions over the next 2-3 years.
Currently the consumer brands involved with the LWG are: Adidas-group, Clarks International, Ikea of Sweden, New Balance Athletic Shoe, Nike Inc, Pentland Group including (Berghaus, Boxfresh, Brasher, Ellesse, Franco Sarto, Gio-Goi, Hunter, KangaROOS, Mitre, Kickers (UK), Lacoste Chaussures, ONETrueSaxon, Radcliffe, Red or Dead, Speedo, Ted Baker Footwear), The North Face, The Timberland Company, Wolverine World Wide Inc including (CAT, Merrel, Hush Puppies, Patagonia, Wolverine, Track n Trail, Sebago, Chaco, Hytest, Bates, Cushe, Soft Style). New brands recently joined are Airwair International Ltd, K-Swiss International, Marks & Spencers and Nine West Group.
To join the Leather Working Group please contact Adam Hughes at BLC Leather Technology Centre Ltd.