Tanning Goes Green

Three cutting-edge tanneries weigh in on their key environmental efforts.

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ISA TanTec


Locations: Guangzhou, China; Saigon, Vietnam
Capacity: 2 million sq. ft./month (Guangzhou); 600,000 sq. ft./month now and 2 million sq. ft./month by mid-2011 (Saigon)
Clients: Keen, New Balance, The North Face, Reef, Timberland and the Wolverine brands

In both the company’s original tannery in Guangzhou and its 2009 facility in Saigon, ISA Tantec was able to make significant savings in water and energy use through a painstaking examination of every step of the manufacturing process. That focus led to a reengineering of the systems from beginning to end, which has paid off with significant savings, said Jon Graebin, VP of sales and marketing for ISA TanTec. “The software is the key part. If you don’t know the measurements, you don’t know where to begin,” he said. “We have measure points in every stage of the process, so we can treat [it] in each and every stage.” For example, hydraulic cooling systems have replaced fans in several pieces of equipment, meaning no extra electricity is needed to run the fans, and the water that is heated as it cools the fans later can be pumped into the boiler, where it won’t require as much energy to heat. In the China tannery, and especially in Vietnam, which was built with the green adaptations in mind, such changes have reduced energy consumption by 35 percent and water use by 50 percent.

Future: Continuing to reengineer the tanning process to save money and energy is top of mind for TanTec, Graebin said. A pilot program to filter wastewater with wetland plants, such as bamboo, is under way, he said — as is a plan to take advantage of space in the Saigon facility to separate streams of wastewater for treatment. The company intends to continue the initiatives it began in mid-2007, when it launched LITE (Low Impact to Environment), a program of measuring the carbon-dioxide emissions per square foot of leather. “We are not drifting away from the LITE initiative,” Graebin said, “but we are taking this a lot deeper.”


Next: PrimeAsia Leather Corp. >>


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