Muttenz, October 10, 2013 – For those working in the global leather industry, sustainability and the environment take on added importance as it is the tanning industry that converts the by-product of the agricultural and meat industry into a valued product. While the food industry ensures a sustained flow of the by-product for tanneries, at the same time it depends on them to manage environmental issues resulting from its by-product, the hides and skins.
Transforming the by-product creates its own challenges, including the treatment of wastewaters, energy usage and the chemistry upon which the leather industry relies in producing its value-added material. The tanning sector in turn looks to the chemical industry to assist by supplying sustainable and environmentally sound solutions.
Clariant has continously taken positive steps in recent years to ensure its own sustainability credentials by developing sustainable process solutions for tanners and finishers, to help them minimise their environmental footprints.
It can be called a working eco-strategy, one that benefits everyone. It calls for using effective technology, innovation, enhanced processes, and working in partnership to add substance to the concept of sustainability.
“Sustainability is not new for Clariant,” says Oliver Kinkel, Head of BU Leather Services, Clariant. “We have a long and proven track record of generating innovative, more sustainable solutions for our partners in the industry. It’s an ongoing process to reconcile the demands of the environment, social responsibility and economics; it’s a balancing act but we don’t compromise.”
That balance is based on four pillars: sustainable formulation, reliable production, lean and clean application and an awareness of product after-use. The goal is always to design innovative products inspired by bio-based raw materials and developed to replace critical materials. “We are always a pioneer when it comes to banning or replacing restricted substances,” says Ralph Blach, Head of Marketing & Application Development. “As a major chemical producer, it may seem ironic but we actively try to reduce chemical demand in the solutions we provide to our customers.”
The underlying principle is to make chemical reactions happen more efficiently, using energy and water more effectively and keeping waste, effluents and greenhouse gases to a minimum. It is part of the integrated sustainability approach operated by Clariant and the same applies to its customers and their usage of its products. They need to work safely and efficiently, cause as little waste as possible, generating a minimum of leather waste while achieving maximum yield and quality.
Clariant’s chrome-free EasyWhite Tan system, based on its Granofin® Easy F-90 chemistry and efficient processes, is seen as an excellent example of sustainability in practice. The first new fundamental change in tanning for over a century, EasyWhite Tan has reduced process time, energy consumption, and chemical usage; it removed the need for additional salt, cut total water consumption and generated extremely fine grain leather with improved yield.
Another example is its environmentally friendlier Aqualen® product range. These innovative top coat products used in finishing leather are water-based, NMP/NEP free, with low or no VOCs. Emissions are reduced and all hazardous materials have been eliminated; their formulation provides an extra cost benefit as no additives are required.
“We are also very aware that leather has a very long life cycle,“ states Oliver Kinkel, Head of BU Leather Services “and to this end we need to work towards ensuring better environmental compatibility when these products are recycled or disposed of. It’s why we work continuously to enhance the recycling and reuse of leather chemicals back into the manufacturing process.”
While Clariant aims to help the leather industry improve its sustainability credentials, the company has also achieved some notable results of its own. Since 2005, Clariant has reduced its energy consumption by 24%, its direct CO2 emissions by 47%, water usage has fallen by 20% and waste generated has been reduced by 40%. Since 2007 Clariant has cut its specific global warming potential by a whisper under 12%. With its sustainability reporting, Clariant transparently communicates its sustainable issues. For Clariant sustainability is not just a slogan but an integrated part of its business strategy. On that basis, Clariant is proving that it is definitely adding substance to the concept of sustainability.
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