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Comparative LCA study of traditional leather and Flyleather

CASE STUDY | If companies are looking into using an innovative, potentially more environmentally friendly material for their products, it is essential to find out how it performs, compared to the original solution. And if the performance is good, companies want to be able to use the environmental benefits in their marketing to win more customers. For shoe manufacturer Nike, PRé did an ISO-compliant LCA to assess the performance of traditional leather and the new material Flyleather. With this study in hand, Nike can now confidently communicate the benefits of Flyleather.

By Katarzyna Cenian on May 22, 2019

nike sneakers outdoors

 

Challenge

 

It can be tricky to introduce an innovative material and communicate about its environmental benefits. Especially for companies whose marketing activities reach and influence millions, such as Nike. They need a credible assessment of environmental impacts that provides a basis for fair communication.

 

In their transition towards sustainability, Nike introduced Flyleather – a new footwear material manufactured from leather scraps, with characteristics similar to traditional leather. Since Flyleather uses waste material from leather production and has an improved cutting efficiency, it was expected to have a good environmental performance as compared to leather. Since Nike intended to use environmental claims in their marketing activities, they needed comprehensive and transparent analyses to back them up.

 

Solution 

 

A stepwise approach brought Nike from a screening LCA to a full, ISO-compliant study. With moderate requirements and investments, the initial project helped them understand the difference in environmental performance of Flyleather and traditional leather. Once it became clear that Flyleather had a lower environmental footprint than leather, Nike asked PRé to refine the LCA models and report to meet all the ISO requirements. For some critical aspects – like the allocation factors at the farm, slaughterhouse and tannery – we used the available data that was closest to a consensus, which in this case is the outcome of the Environmental Footprint initiative.

 

Like any LCA study, this one was not free of assumptions, uncertainties and limitations. In sensitivity analysis, we investigated the influence of certain assumptions on the final conclusions. This showed that the outcomes remain valid even if different modelling choices are made. An uncertainty analysis showed that the difference between the two materials is statistically significant for the majority of the analysed impact categories. Any limitations were discussed and documented to provide Nike with a transparent report as a basis for their communication.

 

ISO compliance is needed to guarantee the credibility and robustness of the LCA study and its results. To attain ISO compliance, the study passed an external review by a panel of LCA and leather experts. This made a great contribution to the overall quality of the project and confirmed that ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 guidelines were followed.

 

Benefits

 

Because they now have ISO-compliant studies on leather and Flyleather that have undergone a critical review process, Nike can communicate the environmental benefits of Flyleather in their marketing. The LCA results can be used to reach a broader audience and influence the purchasing decisions of Nike customers.

 

Furthermore, understanding the hotspots and improvement opportunities in Flyleather is a win-win for both Nike and the Flyleather manufacturer, Eleather. With this information, they can decrease the environmental impacts further, making Flyleather an even more competitive and environmentally friendly material.

 

After moving the models to SimaPro Share, Nike can create and analyze variations of Flyleather and compare new results to leather. Online, by themselves and without digging into the original model.

"Nike has worked with PRé on a number of LCA studies over the years and have found their work to be highly professional, detail-oriented, and well managed. I am impressed with the final work product that met our needs and level of engagement from PRé to support us in understanding the implications of the LCA study, the uncertainties, and recommendations. In addition, I’m pleased that PRé collaborated with another life cycle consultancy to provide a third-party review of their LCA for external communication leading to a top quality end product produced with great teamwork!"

Adam Brundage, Senior Manager, Sustainable Business and Innovation, Nike
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Contact the author

“I started working with LCA because I was determined to find out whether the processes I designed in the lab would not only be economically feasible but also benefit the environment. Soon, LCA took hold, making me assess many aspects of my daily life. I see overconsumption wherever I look and I would like to help companies understand and minimise their impacts, while leaving them free to develop their products.”

Contact Katarzyna Cenian
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