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PrimeAsia – Footprinting Leather

Problems cannot be solved by the same thinking used to create them’, stated Albert Einstein. In today’s world, every company faces ecological challenges and at tanning group, PrimeAsia we seek to address our ecological challenges by embracing change and creating an environment of innovation. As a whole, industry needs to find ways to reduce the usage of water, chemicals, and carbon emitted during the manufacturing of products. PrimeAsia’s footprint programme, measuring those inputs, demonstrates our continued commitment to invest and measure our progress adopting more sustainable practices.

PrimeAsia defines sustainability in three dimensions: environmental, economic and social; and we seek to involve all three dimensions in our Sustainable PrimeAsia Programme. PrimeAsia’s sustainability goals are fourfold including moving towards zero waste and inefficiencies, reducing usage of finite energy sources, utilising more sustainable raw materials and engaging our employees, customers and suppliers in environmentally responsible choices. Over the next five years, PrimeAsia have set the ambitious target of reducing energy, water, and waste production per square foot of leather by a minimum of 30%. PrimeAsia’s foot printing programme provides the necessary data to educate, evaluate and motivate our company in our sustainability endeavours since what is not measured and understood cannot be easily reduced.

Sustainable PrimeAsia

Even before footprinting our leathers, PrimeAsia have focused on sustainability as a key to progress and continued quality. In 2005, PrimeAsia were among the founding members of the Leather Working Group (LWG), believing in the creation of an organisation that supported sustainable and environmental stewardship practices within the footwear and leather industry. Both of our tanneries have the highest LWG rating ‘gold’, due to continued focus on making energy and water reductions high priorities.

Only an average of 8% of PrimeAsia’s carbon footprint is emitted within our tanneries (about 1% of that 8% is waste), yet it is very important to us to address our own directly controllable actions. Within our tanneries, PrimeAsia have more control over pushing limits by embracing new technologies, processes, and mentalities. We wish tobecome a good example for other tanneries. Manufacturing leather has long been categorised as energy, water and waste intensive. PrimeAsia wishes to change that mentality by implementing new technologies, instilling behaviour change, and by challenging old manufacturing assumptions.

We understand that environmental action is necessary on many fronts including analysing our supply chain inputs, implementing energy efficiency at our factories, developing renewable energy, reducingand utilising our waste in a productive manner, and engaging our employees in all these endeavours.

PrimeAsia Efficiency

The first stage of the Sustainable PrimeAsia programme, to take charge of our carbon emissions and water and chemical consumption, is to make our tanneries as efficient as possible while reducing waste. The easiest way to cut down on the environmental impact of a product is to eliminate energy usage that is not necessary. Our China tannery utilises waste steam that is a by-product of a nearby industrial factory’s process rather than running our own boilers. Our China tannery also recycles more than 50% of its water directly back into its dyeing drums. Between PrimeAsia Vietnam’s 2008 to 2011 LWG audits its total energy usage, including electricity and heavy oil for production of wet-blue to finished leathers, decreased from 38.2 MJ/m2 to 30 MJ/m2. In 2011, PrimeAsia Vietnam implemented rollercoating machines to increase the efficiency of applying finishes to leather compared to spray machines. PrimeAsia are proud of their tanneries’ environmental successes, but the ecological challenges in today’s world require global companies to continually change and improve their environmental actions. Concerning waste, we also understand that we must close the energy cycle loop and start investigating ways to reduce and utilise all waste for its resources and energy.

Customers

PrimeAsia customers will be given a new level of environmental transparency with the ability to access foot printing data for each of PrimeAsia’s leathers. Customers will be able to request a footprint certificate showing the leather’s carbon, water, and chemicals emitted/utilised per sq ft (see Figure 2). An accurate footprint taken with 2010 and 2011 data will allow customers to follow our own and our supply chain’s continued headway towards reducing the amount of carbon, water and chemicals required to manufacture leather in the future. The footprint project also provides invaluable information to shoe brands trying to footprint their own end consumer leather products. As a tannery in the middle of a complete supply chain, we have in depth access to our suppliers at the start of the supply chain. For a finished product to truly push the boundaries of sustainability, it is necessary for a complete supply chain to commit to bold environmental actions.

In addition to providing transparency, our footprint programme will help PrimeAsia develop leather products that use less water, chemicals, and emit less carbon while being manufactured. We want our customers to choose leather because it is durable, beautiful, and every pair of shoes made out of leather is unique. Leather’s uniqueness is due to it being a natural product, rather than a completely manufactured entity. One may forget that leather starts its life as the skin of a cow or steer and protects that animal just as finished leather protects our feet. PrimeAsia wants to build on the naturalness of our original input and create a leather manufacturing process that mimics a natural ecological process.

PrimeAsia Footprinting

PrimeAsia are one of the first tanneries worldwide to extensively measure the individual carbon footprint of our leather products against international standards. SGS in collaboration with the Plastics Industry Development Center certified PrimeAsia leather product’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) according to ISO14064-3:2006 as meeting the requirements of PAS 2050:2008 (Publicly Available Specification that came into effect in 2008). As a business-to-business assessment, all GHG emissions including the raw material inputs and transportation of those materials to PrimeAsia, manufacturing of the leather at a PrimeAsia facility, and transportation of the finished leather to a shoe factory are accurately measured. PrimeAsia leathers, divided by type, colour and thickness, each have the total amount of carbon calculated from data collected during those three stages of the supply chain. An average square foot of PrimeAsia leather, calculated by adding all three of those stages together, emits 5.5 kg of carbon and carbon equivalents.

In addition to carbon emissions, water is one of the main resources utilised to manufacture leather. PrimeAsia’s water foot printing programme was launched during March 2012. Similar to our carbon footprint programme, SGS are collecting water usage data from each of PrimeAsia’s tanneries to calculate the amount of water used to produce a square foot of each individual PrimeAsia leathers. The results will be available in June 2012.

Chemicals are used to manufacture durable and creative leathers according to PrimeAsia customer’s requirements. PrimeAsia have completed a chemical footprint for each of their leathers and divided chemical usage into dyeing and finishing chemicals. Approximately 0.075kg of colouring and 0.069 kg of finishing chemicals are consumed in an average square foot of PrimeAsia leather. PrimeAsia will continue to develop leathers with smaller amounts and less potent chemicals while achieving the same quality results. It is important that we understand the type and amount of chemicals used in our finished leathers so that we can collaborate with our suppliers to develop more environmentally friendly options.

Suppliers – Sustainable Raw Materials

The raw materials PrimeAsia purchase constitute an average of 87% of our final carbon footprint compared to the 8% that is emitted during the manufacturing of leather at PrimeAsia’s facilities (see Figure1). Hence, PrimeAsia will be focusing on collaborating with our suppliers to create a more sustainable supply chain. An average of 5% of our leather’s carbon footprint is due to the carbon emitted in the transportation of raw materials from our supplier’s facilities to our tanneries in China and Vietnam. Only 0.1% of our leather’s carbon footprint is due to transportation of our finished leather from our tanneries to our customers. Our tanneries are located near our end customers, mostly shoe factories, but many of our raw materials are transported considerable distances to reach our tanneries.

To engage and collaborate with our suppliers, PrimeAsia will be collecting information from our suppliers about their environmental policies, certifications, and actions. In this preferred supplier’s questionnaire we seek to better understand how we can collaborate with our supply chain to reduce emitted carbon and consumption of water and chemicals. PrimeAsia wants to collaborate and support suppliers seeking to uphold similarinnovative environmental visions, to ensure that our supply chain is managed in an environmentally conscious manner. Wet-blue/crust suppliers and chemical/service providers will all be required to demonstrate a consistent commitment and attainment of high environmental standards.

Renewable Energy

In addition to energy efficiency and waste programs, PrimeAsia have and will continue to invest in renewable energy technologies by analysing the best sources of renewable resources in each of their unique localities. PrimeAsia Vietnam’s solar farm decreased the facility’s oil needs by over 27%, which equates to over 600,000 litres of oil per year. This programme completely replaced the need for oil generated hot water in our Vietnam tanning operation. We are in the process of identifying renewable sources including solar, wind, and geothermal at both our tanneries to decrease overall finite energy requirements.

PrimeAsia Engagement

Efficiency and new technologies are not enough to drive success. PrimeAsia’s exceptional leaders and collaborative tannery communities will steer the programme towards success. PrimeAsia wants all employees to participate in our sustainability programme by understanding, adapting and contributing ideas to projects. Ultimately, this is the most difficult aspect of the programme to implement because humans often do not easily adopt new behaviours and mentalities. PrimeAsia have sustainability committees and will be collaboratively sharing environmental knowledge in each of our tanneries to motivate employees about future environmental projects and gain their input.

By addressing sustainability in many dimensions, PrimeAsia seeks to implement an innovative and forward thinking sustainability programme. PrimeAsia CEO Jon Clark states: ‘We believe in continually finding new ways forward that challenge old assumptions and the public’s perception of manufactured leather. It’s all about thinking about how we can make the monumental leap towards turning our plants (tanneries) into natural plants that use renewable inputs and energy while outputting durable leather that can be recycled and reconstituted at the end of its useful life.’

Conclusion

PrimeAsia seek to continue driving environmental progress within the leather industry by accurately measuring our current environmental footprint and continuing to push the limits of our sustainability programme. We hope that our present and future actions will inspire other tanneries and manufacturing facilities to adopt similar goals and initiatives, ultimately creating collaborative sustainable supply chains. PrimeAsia’s success is and will continue to be built upon finding new opportunities and overcoming challenges to manufacture the highest quality sustainable leather products.

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