Despite the pandemic and the economic context that followed, the leather sector in general has proved to be resilient. The European sector, despite a certain drop in turnover, is giving priority to the sustainable challenges of the sector. These challenges are also essential to its reputation.
A resilient and committed French sector
“On average, the sector as a whole saw an 18% drop in activity last year and we are forecasting a further drop of 10% to 15% in 2021, hoping that we will be closer to 10% than 15%,” said Frank Boehly, president of the National Leather Council (CNC), about the French market.
Indeed, France is the fourth largest exporter of leather goods in the world, and the third largest exporter of raw hides and skins. The year 2020 brought a 22% drop in activity for tanners and megissiers, a 25% drop for shoe manufacturers and distributors of leather goods and a 15% drop for leather goods manufacturers.
These figures inevitably lead to a significant loss of turnover over the year. However, the sector is not dismantling itself and is already preparing for its forecasts for the year 2021. But more importantly, the industry has not lost sight of its priorities in terms of sustainability. It has perpetuated its environmental commitments and approaches throughout 2020, notably through the publication of a White Paper and CSR Commitment 2021.
“Our ethical and responsible commitments must be long-term, in line with the issues that unite our companies and know-how,” said Frank Boehly.
These are necessary steps for the leather industry, which wants to differentiate itself on the world market but also contradicts the image of a polluting industry that is often associated with it. This image is all the more important since the luxury and high-end market represents the industry’s first customer.
“It is important to show that our companies are active and committed. We hear that the industry is polluting, that chrome tanning doesn’t have a good press, even though it has no impact on health, that there are no more discharges into the water, and that the tanneries respect strict regulations,” says Franck Boehly.
Better water management, waste reduction, emission filtration and traceability are processes not only implemented by the French leather industry, but also on a European scale.
Value and quality : European Tannery Mégisserie retains its leading position
COTANCE (Confederation of National Associations of Tanners and Millers of the European Community) and industriAll-Europe have recently published an environmental report on the European leather industry (SER 2020). This report lists all the environmental initiatives implemented by the sector, with supporting figures. It should be noted that these commitments have been undertaken since 2009 and that a first report was published in 2012.
The European Tannery Mégisserie is a world leader in terms of value and quality. The EU alone accounts for 30% of global turnover, ahead of China, Brazil, India and other producers.
COTANCE is also committed to the fashion pact instituted at the G7 in Biarritz, alongside 32 luxury and fashion brands, most of which are customers of tanners.
Leather is a natural and biodegradable material. It is therefore essential and logical that its production does not cause disproportionate environmental damage. Especially since most of it is avoidable. The sector must also respect strict social and environmental standards.
European industry monitors and sets its objectives on the social, environmental and ethical segments of its sector. In its reports, it also sets out its objectives and challenges for the future, after illustrating the progress it has made.
With regard to its social footprint, the sector is therefore very careful to ensure that human resources development and working environment conditions are respected. Craft know-how, productivity and innovation benefit from its advantages at the same time.
For example, permanent contracts represent 90% of the employment contracts offered by the sector, and nearly 50% of the workforce has been employed in the Tannerie Mégisserie sector for more than 10 years, which shows a high level of loyalty and therefore excellent working conditions. The industry also boosts the education sector and promotes diversity with 10% foreign employees and 15.4 European employees.
It is also important to know that COTANCE and industriAll-Europe have set up the OIRA tool to help tannery companies manage safety risks at work.
In terms of its environmental footprint, the industry controls its consumption of chemicals and water, its energy consumption and its distribution of energy sources. It also monitors its waste management and the elimination of water pollution. In addition, it uses the PEFCR, an official tool for assessing the environmental performance of leather.
As a result, the sector has reduced its energy consumption by 12% thanks to the implementation of energy efficiency solutions, including the replacement of old installations and machines with modern, low-consumption equipment. Similarly, between 2016 and 2018, European mega tanneries consumed around 7% less water than the amount published for the years 2010-2011. Also, natural gas is increasingly used for drying operations, and mega tanneries now use it more than electricity.
Over the years, the European leather industry has therefore invested colossally in its social responsibility with a figure of around 4% of turnover. This value represents the “balance threshold” between increased investment/cost and processing efficiency, according to the report. It also reflects the priority of sustainable development for all players in the industry.
These efforts are not without rewards and have enabled the company to acquire a large number of certifications in the field such as ICEC, Leather Working Group Ltd, ECOL…
With regard to future objectives and challenges, the industry intends to focus on the traceability of hides and skins at the global level as well as on its social partners with South-East Europe.
Traceability will initially protect the coat of arms of the leather by providing the origin and the path followed by the hides in their entirety. Secondly, it will convince the consumer of the high quality of the product as well as the respect for animals and the environment in its manufacture.
Read also > LUXURY PERFUMERY SECTOR FOLLOWS THE GREEN TREND
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