Sustainable Fashion

Everything you want to know about the sustainability of the textile and fashion industry

The Environmental Impact of Leather Production on Climate Change

Leather production is a multifaceted industry with significant environmental repercussions, particularly concerning climate change. This article examines the specific ways in which leather production contributes to global warming, from raw material sourcing to processing, and the disposal of leather products.

1. Raw Material Sourcing: Livestock Farming

The leather industry predominantly relies on animal hides, primarily sourced from cattle. Livestock farming is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, particularly methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), which have higher global warming potentials than carbon dioxide (CO2). According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), livestock contributes approximately 14.5% of anthropogenic GHG emissions, with cattle farming being a major component due to enteric fermentation and manure management.

2. Land Use and Deforestation

Cattle ranching necessitates vast tracts of land, often leading to deforestation, particularly in tropical regions like the Amazon rainforest. Deforestation not only releases stored carbon dioxide but also reduces the planet’s capacity to sequester carbon. The conversion of forests to grazing land for cattle contributes significantly to global CO2 emissions. For instance, the Amazon rainforest, a critical carbon sink, has seen substantial deforestation driven by cattle farming, which is closely linked to the leather industry.

3. Water Consumption and Pollution

Leather production is highly water-intensive. The water footprint of leather includes water consumed by cattle and extensive water use during the tanning process. Additionally, the leather tanning process is a major source of water pollution. Tanning often involves hazardous chemicals such as chromium, which, when discharged into water bodies, can contaminate ecosystems and harm aquatic life. The chemical runoff from tanneries also affects soil and groundwater, posing long-term environmental hazards.

4. Energy Consumption and Emissions from Tanning

The tanning process is energy-intensive, involving several stages that require substantial amounts of energy, primarily derived from fossil fuels. This energy consumption results in significant CO2 emissions. Tanneries in developing countries, where regulations may be lax, often rely on outdated technologies that are less energy-efficient and more polluting. The cumulative emissions from tanning operations contribute to the industry’s carbon footprint.

5. Waste Generation and Management

Leather production generates a substantial amount of waste, including solid waste (such as trimmings and shavings) and liquid waste laden with toxic chemicals. Inadequate waste management practices exacerbate environmental pollution. For example, improperly disposed of solid waste can produce methane emissions during decomposition, while untreated liquid waste can release harmful chemicals into the environment.

6. Transportation Emissions

The global nature of the leather industry involves significant transportation emissions. Hides and leather products are often transported across continents for processing and distribution, relying on fossil fuel-powered transportation. The CO2 emissions from the logistics of moving raw hides to tanneries and finished leather goods to markets add to the industry’s overall carbon footprint.

7. Lifecycle of Leather Products

The end-of-life phase of leather products also contributes to environmental impact. Leather goods that end up in landfills decompose anaerobically, producing methane. Moreover, the durability of leather, while a positive attribute in terms of product longevity, means that once discarded, leather products persist in landfills, continuing to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions over time.


The leather industry, from livestock farming to the disposal of leather products, has a profound impact on climate change. Key factors include GHG emissions from livestock, deforestation for cattle ranching, high water and energy consumption, pollution from tanning processes, and waste management challenges. Addressing these issues requires a multifaceted approach, including improving livestock farming practices, adopting more sustainable tanning technologies, enhancing waste management, and exploring alternatives to animal-based leather. Through these measures, the leather industry can mitigate its environmental impact and contribute to global efforts to combat climate change