Fact or Fiction: More water is used to make genuine automotive leather compared to “vegan leather”
Water is one of the world's most important elements and is crucial in the production of genuine automotive leather, and its use and reduction are something the automotive tanneries take very seriously. Water usage has reduced significantly in the past few decades*, and the latest innovations will see this reduce further, lessening their impact on the planet.
It takes an average of 121 litres of water** to make 1m2 of finished automotive leather. A finished UK hide is, on average, 4.1m2 and weighs 3.7kg***, giving us a figure of 109 litres of water used to make 1kg of finished automotive leather. Please read this earlier article which lays out how and where the water is used during production.
Let's review this against “vegan leather”, often quoted online and in the media as a more sustainable alternative to genuine leather. A large proportion of vegan leather contains a high percentage of plastic (PU, PVC and rPET), which is used to bond plant-based materials such as pineapple leaves, cork, apple peels, etc, to produce this artificial material.
Water is used at each phase of the plastic life cycle, from the extraction of oil or natural gas to the various steps involved in producing the resins that eventually give rise to different types of plastic. The total water footprint calculates the entire volume of freshwater consumed during the entire production process. It is important to include both the "blue" and "grey" components when calculating this. The blue water footprint encompasses water consumption during drilling, refining, and manufacturing, while the grey water footprint takes into account the water needed to mitigate pollution during the production process.
If we take the production of PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) as an example, the blue water footprint is quoted**** as 10 litres per kg, but when you add the grey water footprint, it rises to 235 litres per kg.
Some leather alternatives now claim to use rPET, and water is also heavily used in the recycling of plastic, as well as in the production process of the finished material. When you add these all together, the water required to make this leather alternative is two to three times that of genuine automotive leather, clearly showing why it's a more sustainable choice for your car interior.
Reference And Sources Used
*** FAO Global compendium on conversion factors for raw hides and skins and leather using UK statistics