The catastrophe of Higg

Redwood Comment
Published:  06 July, 2022
The fossil carbon industry likes to label livestock as the bad guy.

Last Autumn over thirty leather industry organisations from around the world agreed to publish a Leather Manifesto, which was sent out shortly before the start of COP-26 held in Glasgow. In the weeks after, a few critical articles were published arguing that the Manifesto had failed to make any impact and animal rights bodies and individuals, not least Stella McCartney, had been able to steal the show. 

Given that our industry has been so fragmented it was amazing that the Manifesto was produced at all and shows the changes in its public voice that the leather industry has made over the last five+ years, having previously quite aggressively opposed getting together to defend leather’s market share and publicise its consumer and societal benefits.

Many changes were forcing the industry to rethink its bunker mentality, but it has been very resistant to change. The environmental aspects and the improvement in competitiveness of alternate materials have been constant factors additionally the poor practice adopted by groups opposing livestock and leather accelerated, especially the abusive handling of the facts and the science, sometimes looking to deliberately lead customers and consumers to reject leather as their preferred material, with some major institutions following with actual or implied regulations related to meat, livestock and materials. 

Fossil fuel industry lobbying

One part of this was an intense lobbying by the fossil fuel industry to reduce action on CO2reduction and to blame livestock and other natural materials for climate change. This was fully proven when fossil fuel companies openly admitted at COP-21 in Paris 2015 that they funded academics to write articles diminishing the role of CO2 and blaming any climate change on livestock emissions instead via major news outlets, while hiding their source of payment. 

Throughout all this it cannot be overlooked that the large parts of the leather industry has been busy transforming its approaches and facilities for most of the past thirty years. As we entered the last decade many tanneries were undertaking their own scientific analyses of their carbon footprints and the whole industry has been hugely impacted, for the better, by the exceedingly rigorous activities of the Leather Working Group. Many major tanning groups have become leaders in this precise collecting of data and investing in improvements at every stage. As the leather industry representative organisations slowly changed their approach, they found that the industry had in quite large areas moved on and with other new bodies were working through the science and language with which the industry should talk about leather. 

Fossil fabrics are bad for the planet

Hence, we found ourselves with a clear and simple COP-26 Leather Manifesto. Quite different to the “talking to itself material” the decades had made us come to expect. It emphasised the potential value of natural materials replacing fossil carbon based fabrics, offering sustainable, renewable, recyclable and relatively easily biodegradable materials. When ethically and properly produced they reduce the need for continued large scale fossil carbon extraction.