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Measuring the environmental footprint of leather processing technologies
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Sustainable development, Environmental science and Engineering, Industrial Ecology. (Sustainable Production and Consumption)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7717-600X
University of Northampton.
UPC Polytechnic University of Catalonia.
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Sustainable development, Environmental science and Engineering, Industrial Ecology.
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The selection of materials and manufacturing processes determines most of the environmental impact that a product will have during its life cycle. In directing consumption towards products with the least impact on the environment, measuring and comparing material alternatives with site-specific data is a fundamental prerequisite. Within the apparel and footwear industry, some famous brands have recently been basing their advertising on the claim that vegetable-tanned leather is more environmentally friendlythan chromium-tanned leather. However, there is a lack of scientific research assessing and comparing vegetable-and chromium-tanned leather in a wider context than the toxicity of chromium. To fill this gap, this study measured and compared the carbon, water and energy footprint of vegetable and chromium leather processing technology and intermediate processing stages in 12 selected tanneries in seven different countries world-wide. Each tannery proved to be very individual and therefore attempting to perform this type of analysis without simply producing meaningless generalities is a challenge for companies, researchers and regulators. The variability in results demonstrates that secondary data for the tanning phase should be utilizedwith caution in a decision-making context. The use of primary data would be advisable for life cycle assessment(LCA) studies of leather goods. No significant differences were found in the footprint of vegetable and chromium leather processes, but these are only indicative findings and need confirmation in further studies. An important area needing investigation is then how a fair comparison can be made between renewable natural materials and non-renewable materials used in both leather processing technologies.

Keyword [en]
leather processing, tanning, vegetable-tanned, chromium-tanned, water footprint, energy footprint, carbon footprint
National Category
Environmental Management
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-184225OAI: diva2:915670

QC 20160405

Available from: 2016-03-30 Created: 2016-03-30 Last updated: 2016-04-08Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. The Karma of Products: Exploring the Causality of Environmental Pressure with Causal Loop Diagram and Environmental Footprint
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Karma of Products: Exploring the Causality of Environmental Pressure with Causal Loop Diagram and Environmental Footprint
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Environmental pressures from consumer products and mechanisms of predetermination were examined in this thesis using causal loop diagram (CLD) and life cycle assessment (LCA) footprinting to respectively illustrate and provide some indicators about these mechanisms. Theoretical arguments and their practical implications were subjected to qualitative and quantitative analysis, using secondary and primary data. A study integrating theories from various research fields indicated that combining product-service system offerings and environmental policy instruments can be a salient aspect of the system change required for decoupling economic growth from consumption and environmental impacts. In a related study, modes of system behaviour identified were related to some pervasive sustainability challenges to the design of electronic products. This showed that because of consumption and investment dynamics, directing consumers to buy more expensive products in order to restrict their availability of money and avoid increased consumption will not necessarily decrease the total negative burden of consumption. In a study examining product systems, those of washing machines and passenger cars were modelled to identify variables causing environmental impacts through feedback loops, but left outside the scope of LCA studies. These variables can be considered in LCAs through scenario and sensitivity analysis. The carbon, water and energy footprint of leather processing technologies was measured in a study on 12 tanneries in seven countries, for which collection of primary data (even with narrow systems boundaries) proved to be very challenging. Moreover, there were wide variations in the primary data from different tanneries, demonstrating that secondary data should be used with caution in LCA of leather products. A study examining pre-consumer waste developed a footprint metric capable of improving knowledge and awareness among producers and consumers about the total waste generated in the course of producing products. The metric was tested on 10 generic consumer goods and showed that quantities, types and sources of waste generation can differ quite radically between product groups. This revealed a need for standardised ways to convey the environmental and scale of significance of waste types and for an international standard procedure for quantification and communication of product waste footprint. Finally, a planning framework was developed to facilitate inclusion of unintended environmental consequences when devising improvement actions. The results as a whole illustrate the quality and relevance of CLD; the problems with using secondary data in LCA studies; difficulties in acquiring primary data; a need for improved waste declaration in LCA and a standardised procedure for calculation and communication of the waste footprint of products; and systems change opportunities for product engineers, designers and policy makers.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm, Sweden: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2016. 77 p.
, TITRA-IM-PHD, 2016:01
Products, Environmental Pressure, Causal Loop Diagram, Environmental Footprint
National Category
Environmental Engineering Other Environmental Engineering
Research subject
Industrial Ecology
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-184223 (URN)978-91-7595-910-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2016-05-11, F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, Sing-Sing, våningsplan 2, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)

Jury committee

Henrikke Baumann, Associate Professor

Chalmers University of Technology

Department of Energy and Environment

Division of Environmental System Analysis

Joakim Krook, Associate Professor

Linköpings Universitet

Department of Management and Engineering (IEI) / Environmental Technology and Management (MILJÖ)

Karl Johan Bonnedal, Associate Professor

Umeå University

Umeå School of Business and Economics (USBE)

Sofia Ritzén, Professor

KTH Royal Institute of Technology

School of Industrial Engineering and Management

Department of Machine Design

Integrated Product Development

QC 20160405

Available from: 2016-04-08 Created: 2016-03-30 Last updated: 2016-04-11Bibliographically approved

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