Bridge of Weir Leather calls for step change in transparency on material sustainabilty claims

Date Posted: 7 Jul, 2023

Bridge of Weir Leather, the leading supplier of Fine Automotive Leather to the world’s most respected luxury car brands, today calls for a step change in transparency around the sustainability claims of synthetic automotive interior materials.

As the industry transitions to a zero-emission future, the environmental impact of the supply chain is rightly being more rigorously scrutinized – with Bridge of Weir playing a key role in supporting car makers’ carbon reduction targets through its long-term commitment to responsible and sustainable leather manufacturing, driven by a series of significant, multi-million-pound investments implemented over the last twenty years.

However, with new, non-animal materials – often called ‘vegan leathers’ – increasingly gaining publicity based on claims they outperform leather when it comes to welfare and sustainability, Bridge of Weir Leather is concerned that both car makers and consumers are being ‘greenwashed’.

A recent report by the Filk Frieberg Institute uncovered the presence of plastics in a range of leather alternatives; fossil fuel-derived materials that do not biodegrade safely or efficiently and, because they are often composites, cannot be fully recycled, posing a major environmental problem. Such products also do not last as long or are as robust as leather, leading to more frequent replacement, resulting in a significant volume having to be made each year that re-enter the cycle.

Materials based on recycled plastics are also not as green as claimed, often requiring new virgin plastic material to fully manufacture them, introducing an environmental issue rather than solving one. This was recently backed up by the World Wildlife Fund – which also called out the use of plastic in non-animal materials – while highlighting the key role leather has to play in the fight against deforestation.

Bridge of Weir strongly believes that greater transparency is needed, enabling car makers and consumers to make informed decisions regarding the provenance and impact of materials. Bridge of Weir calls on automotive material manufacturers to fully reveal their supply chain and true environmental impact of products, enabling the verification of their green claims.

Dr Warren Bowden, Head of Sustainability & Innovation, Bridge of Weir leather, said: “Car makers and consumers are being led to believe that many non-animal materials, which can be made from various plant-based products or recycled plastic bottles, perform better and are more sustainable than real leather.  

“But this isn’t the case and there is real concern they are being greenwashed. Unlike leather, synthetic materials created using fossil fuels do not biodegrade. They litter oceans and soils with debris and microplastics, and cause tremendous damage to biodiversity. The materials industry must be more transparent on its sustainability claims enabling both car companies and consumers to make fully informed decisions.” Leather is a by-product of the meat industry with no cattle ever bred for its hide. With global beef consumption rising, the leather industry plays an absolutely crucial role in circularity, upcycling hides that would otherwise become landfill where they would emit hundreds of tonnes of methane each year.

Dr Warren Bowden, Head of Sustainability & Innovation, Bridge of Weir leather, continued: “It is here that the claims around the emissions contribution of leather vs non-animal materials are also awash with misinformation. Automotive leather comes from cows, which also provide meat, dairy, animal glues and leather to other industries. Usage in a car interior is a tiny part of the equation, equating to just one per cent of the economic value of the carcass, further underlining why no animal is ever bred for its hide alone.”  

Since 2003, Bridge of Weir has pioneered and patented circular manufacturing processes that minimise waste to landfill and radically reduce its carbon footprint, while its multi-million-pound Thermal Energy Plant [TEP] reclaims energy as steam and uses a proportion of this heat to directly power its tannery.

Leather is the ultimate upcycled material made via a ‘circular’ low impact manufacturing process. All the raw hides used by Bridge of Weir in leather-making are a by-product of the local beef and dairy industries, of which over 98% are sourced locally within the UK and Ireland. Bridge of Weir sources natural, clean, local water from its own loch – its Water Treatment & Recycling Plant (WTRP) plant enables the recycling of up to 40% of treated water back into use within production – while its world-class tannery uses 50% less water per hide than the industry standard.

It is the only automotive leather manufacturer to publish an independent lifecycle analysis of the product and makes the lowest carbon leather for the sector, helping its customers reduce their carbon impact on the planet without offsetting. The raw hides used to make Bridge of Weir leather are always sourced from responsible suppliers with 100% traceability and without risk of deforestation.

Bridge of Weir leather is the material of choice for the world’s leading automotive luxury brands, including Aston Martin, McLaren, Jaguar Land Rover and Polestar, thanks to its quality, durability, versatility, and sustainability.

Dr Warren Bowden, Head of Sustainability & Innovation, Bridge of Weir leather, concluded: “Leather’s environmental credentials are one of its most important advantages. It is one of the oldest forms of upcycling and the irony is, if it were invented today, leather would be considered ground breaking. 

“Over the last two decades Bridge of Weir has cemented its position as an industry-leader, producing leather in the most responsible manner. Our strategy and innovations demonstrate that leather is a naturally sustainable product, and by choosing our leather, car manufacturers can significantly reduce their carbon impact, and, by proxy, reduce the amount of plastic manufactured too.

“We pride ourselves on employing leading environmental practices – and call on the automotive materials industry to do the same. Only by being transparent around the supply chain and manufacturing practices can car companies and consumers know the true sustainability of a material – and make a genuinely informed choice.” 

To find out more about Bridge of Weir’s call for greater material transparency, please read our journal article: