Taking Strides to Save the Amazon

Photo: Rachel Kramer/NWF

As the weather turns beautiful again on the east coast, spring and summer fashions have arrived! Patent leather heels and flats are especially big this season. If hiking outdoors is more your style, great new leather boots and gear are now on sale. But  these products bear hidden costs beyond their price tags. When we buy leather in glittering malls in the United States, many of us are unaware of the impacts our purchases have on distant rainforests.

Thanks to a new environmental standard for tanneries adopted by the international Leather Working Group (whose members include industry giants like Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Timberland, and Puma), participating shoe and apparel brands are now one step closer to assuring us that leather products they sell aren’t causing new deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

Half of all tropical deforestation on our planet occurs in Brazil, where 80% of cleared land is used for cattle.  Last year Brazil directly exported $170 million of leather and leather goods to the United States (although far more than this reached the U.S. under the labels “Made in Italy” and “Made in China”). Without a system for tracking the origins of leather coming from Brazil, international brands have had no way of knowing whether their leather products are driving new deforestation—until recently.

A new measure adopted into the Leather Working Group’s latest environmental standard for tanneries, represents a major move by key shoe and apparel brands to reduce the forest footprint of their industry.

National Wildlife Federation applauds the Leather Working Group for its initiative in developing this standard. Once it goes into effect this fall, it should provide a means for participating brands to trace exactly which farms in Brazil supplied the leather in shoes, garments and accessories they sell—assuring us that our purchases aren’t playing a role in deforesting the Amazon rainforest. Now that is something we can all support!


Related Resources:


Update from the field:

Last month, Nathalie Walker and Rachel Kramer from National Wildlife Federation’s international team traveled to Hong Kong for the world’s largest leather and materials trade show, where they met with leather brands and producers to promote industry solutions to Amazon clearing for cattle in Brazil. They also visited a model tannery in China that employs more environmentally-friendly methods of processing the leather sold to major shoe and apparel brands. More details coming soon!


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