Nov 13, 2019. Leather Working Group: a long-lasting dialogue among tannery stakeholders worldwide has created a protocol for environmental stewardship globally recognised.
Deborah Taylor is the manager of the Leather Working Group (LWG), a multi-stakeholder body including representatives of tanneries, chemicals suppliers, machinery suppliers, traders, technical experts, retailers and brands. The LWG has developed protocols to verify the management of all environmental aspects in the production of tanned leather.
The LWG operates worldwide and evaluates companies that are subject to its audit, rating them with bronze, silver or gold medals. “Being an audited company is a recognition that the company complies with basic environmental standards, in line with our protocol,” explains Taylor. The advantage for certified companies is to be able to demonstrate environmental good practice to their supply chain and their stakeholders. “We want sustainability to be included in everyday processes and strategic thoughts” says Taylor.
“The strength of this protocol is in its technical value, there is no emotion in what we do, we don’t prescribe but we evaluate,” explains Taylor.
It is a technical protocol developed over the years and updated frequently to consider the innovations and the evolution of skills in the tanning process, along with changing priorities and challenges. The protocol also considers the regulations enforced in various countries, taking the stricter as a benchmark. According to Ms Taylor, “This is part of a growth process for companies, and we provide a final report with notes on the improvements they could implement”. When asked about the differences between the LWG protocol and the ISO, Taylor said that: “LWG measures environmental performance and actual data results while ISOs relate to system management and do not focus on environmental performance”.
LWG also involves a mini audit for sub-contracting suppliers, without issuing a rating. A brand member must commit to have at least 25% of fully certified LWG suppliers within 3 years of membership. In case of persistent violations, LWG has the power to revoke the certification. Regarding the inclusion of corporate social responsibility (CSR) aspects in their evaluation, Taylor says that within the audit there is a question that allows auditors to stop an audit if they see anything that is unbefitting an LWG certified tannery. In addition, the newly re-designed “Tannery of the Future – Are You Ready For An Audit?” offers best practice guidance for social aspects.
She further adds that “social aspects are not part of our protocol and probably will not be included in the future because this would mean changing the entire structure of LWG, from inspectors’ competences, to the protocol rating, and in an area in which cultures and perceptions differ substantially”.
The strength of LWG lies in its ability to assess leather manufacturers worldwide based on exactly the same criteria.
For example, Italy is an important market and its features include fragmentation among a large number of small companies. But from a global standpoint, not every aspect of the national industry is taken into account. It is precisely this uniform global approach has led to concrete results for environmental sustainability: approximately 21% of the world population of leather in now under audit with approximately 12.1 billion litres of water and 775 megawatts of energy saved every year by LWG leather manufacturers.