Does Leather Fit in with Sustainable Home Design?

From on January 24, 2008 in Green Remodeling

Leather Swatches

There are many reasons why leather is a favorite remodeling material: it is durable, easy to clean, lasts long, and isn’t prone to fading as quickly as fabric does. Associated with luxury, homeowners are more than willing to spend extra on leather goods, which are comparatively more expensive than fabric.

But let’s face it: leather isn’t exactly good for the environment. Tanning is an intensely chemical process that results in copious by-products. Among the 250 chemicals used in tanning are chromium sulfate, alcohol, formaldehyde, lead, coal tar, and many others. In countries such as India, China, and Pakistan, environmental controls are lax, and these tanning pollutants end up in rivers, a hazard to people as well as the ecosystem.

On the other hand, as a bi-product of the beef industry, leather is readily available for those who want it. And it makes sense to use as much of the animal as possible. So while certifications for organically or humanely raised leather do not exist, it is possible to go about purchasing leather more selectively.

Your best bet is probably buying secondhand and recycled leather goods. For new leather, vegetable-tanned is more organic than other processes. Don’t be fooled, though, because recycled leather can look just like new. Here are some other sources for more environmentally friendly leather.


EcoDomo Leather FlooringThe tradition of putting leather on floors spans way back to the caveman days, when full hides covered dirt floors. Today, leather interiors, on walls and floors, has moved to the forefront of design. But not all leather interiors are the same.

Ecodomo carries recycled leather tiles, which contain a minimum of 65 percent post-industrial, recycled leather. Discarded leather scraps generated by manufacturing companies are mixed with water, rubber, and bark to create the tiles. The tiles install just as easily as cork and are maintained in a similar manner to wood floors. They can be installed in kitchens, living rooms, home offices, and elsewhere.

GreenFloors also carries leather floor tiles that can be run up the wall. GreenFloors’ leather tiles are 100 percent recycled. Keep in mind that leather floors are not recommended for DIYers to install. Even a professional flooring contractor may take more than one day to finish the job.


Joe Club ChairCompanies like Organic Leather in Mill Valley sells furniture and jewelry made from hides of animals that were organically fed and humanely raised. The tanning process uses plant and vegetable tannins. The company also uses recycled and reclaimed leather. The Q Collection offers the Joe Club Chair, made with leather from free-range cattle, also treated with vegetable dyes. For smaller accessories such as tableware, companies such as ply make table catchalls made from recycled leather.