[2023] What Makes Leather Sustainable?

Leather has long been a popular material in the fashion industry, known for its durability, versatility, and timeless appeal. However, in recent years, there has been a growing concern about the environmental impact of leather production. People are asking, “Is leather sustainable?” In this article, we will explore the sustainability of leather and what makes it a responsible choice for purse brands.

Table of Contents

Quick Answer

Yes, leather can be sustainable. It is a by-product of the food industry, preventing millions of tons of waste each year. Leather is long-lasting, repairable, and biodegradable. Responsible tanneries comply with environmental controls, manage waste and chemicals, ensure worker safety, and track energy and water usage. By choosing leather from sustainable sources, you can support the circular economy and contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

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Quick Tips and Facts

Before we dive deeper into the sustainability of leather, here are some quick tips and facts to keep in mind:

  • Leather is a natural material made from the hides of animals, typically cows, sheep, or goats.
  • The leather industry is highly regulated, with strict environmental controls and standards in place.
  • Look for leather products that are certified by reputable organizations, such as the Leather Working Group (LWG) or the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).
  • Leather can be recycled and upcycled into new products, reducing waste and extending its lifespan.
  • Opt for vegetable-tanned leather, which uses natural tannins instead of harmful chemicals in the tanning process.


Leather has been used for centuries, dating back to ancient civilizations. It has always been valued for its durability and ability to withstand the test of time. However, with the rise of fast fashion and concerns about animal welfare and the environment, the sustainability of leather has come into question.

In the past, leather production was associated with environmental issues, such as deforestation, water pollution, and the use of toxic chemicals. However, the leather industry has made significant strides in recent years to address these concerns and improve its sustainability practices.

Why Leather is Sustainable

Leather is considered sustainable for several reasons:

  1. By-Product of the Food Industry: Leather is a by-product of the meat industry, meaning it comes from animals that are raised for food. Using the hides of these animals prevents them from going to waste. According to Leather Naturally, the leather industry prevents approximately 7.3 million tons of waste each year.

  2. Durability and Longevity: Leather products are known for their durability and longevity. A well-cared-for leather purse can last for decades, reducing the need for frequent replacements. This longevity helps to minimize waste and the overall environmental impact of the fashion industry.

  3. Repairability: Unlike many synthetic materials, leather can be repaired and restored. Minor scratches or scuffs can often be buffed out, and larger damages can be professionally repaired. This extends the lifespan of leather products and reduces the need for new purchases.

  4. Biodegradability: At the end of its life, leather degrades naturally through chemical and biological means. Unlike synthetic materials that can take hundreds of years to decompose, leather returns to the earth relatively quickly. This makes it a more environmentally friendly choice compared to non-biodegradable alternatives.

  5. Supports the Circular Economy: The leather industry supports the circular economy by utilizing waste materials and creating a closed-loop system. By recycling and upcycling leather, the industry reduces waste and conserves resources. This aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.

How to Make the Leather Industry Sustainable

To ensure the sustainability of the leather industry, several measures are being taken by responsible tanneries and organizations:

  1. Environmental Controls: Responsible tanneries comply with strict environmental controls to minimize their impact on the environment. This includes proper waste management, water treatment, and air pollution control measures.

  2. Chemical Management: Tanneries are working towards reducing the use of harmful chemicals in the leather production process. Many are adopting more sustainable tanning methods, such as vegetable tanning, which uses natural tannins derived from plants.

  3. Worker Safety: Ensuring the safety and well-being of workers in the leather industry is crucial for sustainability. Responsible tanneries prioritize worker safety and provide proper training and protective equipment.

  4. Energy and Water Usage: Tracking and reducing energy and water usage is a key aspect of sustainable leather production. Tanneries are implementing measures to optimize their energy and water consumption, such as using renewable energy sources and implementing water recycling systems.

By supporting brands that source leather from responsible tanneries and are transparent about their sustainability practices, you can contribute to making the leather industry more sustainable.

What is Eco-Friendly Leather Made Of?

Eco-friendly leather, also known as sustainable leather, is made using environmentally friendly practices and materials. Here are some common types of eco-friendly leather:

  1. Vegetable-Tanned Leather: Vegetable-tanned leather is tanned using natural tannins derived from plants, such as tree bark. This traditional tanning method is more sustainable than chrome tanning, which uses toxic chemicals. Vegetable-tanned leather is known for its natural and earthy appearance.

  2. Recycled Leather: Recycled leather is made by reconstituting leather scraps and fibers into new materials. This process helps to reduce waste and extend the lifespan of leather. Recycled leather can be used in various applications, including purse linings and small leather goods.

  3. Bio-Based Leather: Bio-based leather is made from renewable resources, such as plant fibers or agricultural waste. These materials are processed to create a leather-like material that mimics the properties of traditional leather. Bio-based leather offers a more sustainable alternative to conventional leather.

Environmental Benefits of Leather

Leather production offers several environmental benefits:

  1. Waste Reduction: As mentioned earlier, leather is a by-product of the meat industry. By utilizing the hides of animals that are raised for food, the leather industry helps to reduce waste and make use of a valuable resource that would otherwise be discarded.

  2. Biodegradability: Leather is a natural material that biodegrades over time. When disposed of properly, it breaks down through chemical and biological processes, returning to the earth without leaving behind harmful pollutants.

  3. Carbon Sequestration: Leather products, especially those made from vegetable-tanned leather, can sequester carbon. The tanning process involves the use of natural tannins derived from plants, which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during their growth. This helps to offset the carbon emissions associated with leather production.

  4. Durability: Leather products are known for their durability and longevity. By choosing leather over synthetic materials that may need to be replaced more frequently, you can reduce your overall environmental footprint.


makes leather sustainable? Purse Brands

Can leather be made sustainably?

Yes, leather can be made sustainably. By sourcing leather from responsible tanneries that comply with environmental controls, manage waste and chemicals, and prioritize worker safety, you can ensure that the leather you choose is sustainable.

How can we make the leather industry sustainable?

To make the leather industry sustainable, it is important to support brands that prioritize sustainability and transparency in their practices. Look for certifications from reputable organizations, such as the Leather Working Group (LWG), that ensure responsible and sustainable leather production.

Read more about “… The Sustainable Bag: A Comprehensive Guide to Sustainable Bags”

What is eco-friendly leather made of?

Eco-friendly leather can be made from various materials and processes. Some examples include vegetable-tanned leather, recycled leather, and bio-based leather. These materials offer more sustainable alternatives to conventional leather.

Read more about “… What Makes a Bag Sustainable? The Ultimate Guide”

What are the environmental benefits of leather?

Leather production offers several environmental benefits, including waste reduction, biodegradability, carbon sequestration, and durability. By choosing leather products, you can contribute to a more sustainable fashion industry.

Read more about “… Purses Made from Recycled Leather: Sustainable Style for the Eco-conscious Fashionista”


Leather is a sustainable material when sourced from responsible tanneries and produced using environmentally friendly practices. It is a by-product of the food industry, preventing millions of tons of waste each year. Leather products are known for their durability, repairability, and biodegradability. By choosing leather, you can support the circular economy and contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

When shopping for leather products, look for certifications from reputable organizations and brands that prioritize sustainability. By making informed choices, you can enjoy the timeless appeal of leather while minimizing your environmental impact.

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