Michael Costello discusses the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Michael Costello discusses the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

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July 6th, 2018

We continuously strive to offer solutions that make products more sustainable and improve the environmental footprint. That is a mission ingrained in our DNA, which is why we always look for ways to increase transparency within the supply chain. One way to achieve this is by using the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology. Our Director of Sustainability, Michael Costello, explains LCA.

What is LCA and what does it mean for the leather industry?

LCA is the most commonly used methodology to calculate the environmental impact (or footprint) of a product. every step in the life of the product is taken into account, including the extraction of materials used for its manufacture. Large quantities of data are already available for this purpose. After collection, conversion of data into recognizable environmental categories, like climate change, ozone hole, water quality, air pollution and so forth, takes place. This is summarized in a document known as an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), which clearly states the impact of the product.

How was the LCA methodology developed for leather?

Several years ago, Cotance, the Confederation of National Association of Tanners and Dressers of the European Community, began a pilot to establish rules and boundaries for measuring the environmental footprint of leather, using the LCA methodology. Various organizations in the industry contributed to this project. For example, in determining where LCA calculation begins and ends. Also, an allocation of the environmental impact of the meat and dairy industries to the raw hide had to be agreed upon.

Once these boundaries were drawn and the rules defined, the Product Category Rules were drafted. In April 2018 the Environmental Footprint Committee of the EU approved these rules. This means we have an established standard for the environmental impact of the leather industry.

What does this approval mean for the leather industry?

The approval of the proposed Leather Product Category Rules may read like a dull headline, but it is exciting news for the leather industry. These rules allow for the environmental impact of leather to be calculated in a harmonized way using the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology, something that thus far had not been possible. We believe this will facilitate a more scientific and fact-based approach to discussions about the impact of leather on the environment.

The approval also means that all aspects of leather manufacturing in tanneries, including input data on hides, chemicals, water and energy, together with the output data of water, air and waste can now be measured in the same way. Indeed, LCA modeling could become the standard practice for the future, allowing for real comparisons to be made. This, in turn, means better decisions on processes and technologies, as we will know their actual impact on the environment. A company can now choose to develop new products and processes with a high level of confidence.

How does Stahl make use of the LCA (methodology)?

Stahl is using the LCA methodology to calculate the environmental impact of our products on the processes where they are used. We believe that LCA is a key tool to achieve this goal. Stahl has begun a series of public speeches on this topic to explain how LCAs can be calculated using the Product Category Rules (known as PCR or PEFCR) to audiences in the leather industry.

The ILM webinar in June 4th is one example. The American Leather Chemists Association convention in Chicago on June 19-20 is another, where both UNIC and Stahl will give consecutive talks from different perspectives on the topic of LCA. At the recent AQEIC congress, the Spanish tanners' organization, in Barcelona, Stahl also explained the importance of the boundaries drawn under the leather PEFCR. This will allow the comparison of Life Cycle Assessment data for different input chemistry.

We believe that using the LCA methodology to measure the true impact of products and processes on the environment is an excellent opportunity for any industry to prosper since it will drive companies to reduce their footprint quantitatively.