Sustainability within the leather industry – Past 100 years

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsOral presentationResearch


Sustainability is the key word in the modern international leather industry and is now an integral part of leather making processes. Here, the environmental and limited resources, tighter legislations, customer awareness, social, cultural and economic issues are all driving the leather industry to consider various aspects of sustainability. This work intends to review how the concept of sustainability has changed within the past 100 years.
In the early 1900 people were not aware of carcinogenic effect of hexavalent chromium. However, the contact dermatitis due to the use of double bath processing was noticed. Arsenic compound were used during unharing and liming operations. Materials such as asbestos and lead compounds were used to fill and add weight to leathers. Benzene-based dyes were commonly used. Cadmium and lead based pigments were applied in finishing operations. At the same time concerns were being raised due to the discharge of high volume effluent from tanneries. A primary effluent treatment such as filtering through coal before discharging to water was being recorded as a common practice.
From the late 1950 pollution from the tannery was measured through the presence of solids, pH and oxygen demand. Methods for effluent treatments were experimented, and techniques such as oxidation of sulfides and biological treatment were recorded in literature. By the early 1960s some text books published on leather making already included a chapter on effluent treatment. The use of arsenic compound and the two bath process was historic, and the uses of hazardous products previously mentioned were drawing to a close.
Within the last 20 to 25 years changes specifically in the area of sustainability have rapidly came to the fore. The focuses were not only given to the treatment of effluents as early to mid-20th Century, but also in alternative technologies to minimise waste. More restrictions were placed on production and industrial application of many chemicals, but chromium has become a major point of discussion. Drum and machine technologies have evolved for increased efficiency and uniformity.
The environment and the safety of tannery workforce and consumers are now prioritised as well as extended above and beyond by many organisations. Personnel wellbeing is important for many tanneries and the provision of information to customers so that a formative decision can be made by a customer while purchasing goods has been emphasised. Debates and discussion on water-, carbon- and energy footprinting are on-going. The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability are very much intertwined.
Period16 Jun 2016
Held atInstitute for Creative Leather Technologies
Degree of RecognitionRegional


  • Leather