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Dyeing to be green

Much emphasis has been placed on aircraft emissions and their effect on global warming, but the waste and by-products associated with the manufacture of leathers and textiles for aircraft interiors are also increasingly coming under the spotlight, as Kerry Reals discovers
 

Manufacturers in this sector are now highlighting the steps they are taking to make their products more environmentally-friendly – not just during the production process, but also when they reach the end of their useful life.

 

Some are even building their eco-credentials into their marketing campaigns and using them to sell to an industry that finds itself under growing pressure to find new ways of reducing its carbon footprint.

 

Take Muirhead Leather, for instance. This manufacturer of leather products for aviation and other industries is a subsidiary of Scottish Leather Group – which proudly displays a ‘Low Carbon Leather’ logo on its website. Muirhead claims to have the “lowest carbon footprint of any leather maker in the world,” and boasts its own on-site thermal energy plant, capable of converting waste into energy.

 

The company spent £6 million on the plant, which opened in 2010, to help fulfil its objective of becoming a ‘zero waste’ firm.

 

“The intention was to treat our waste as a resource. We make an awful lot of by-products and they all have a value. The objective was to convert our by-products into something useful – in our case, heat,” says Scottish Leather Group Environmental Director Dr Warren Bowden. The thermal energy plant has enabled the group to divert 60% of its total waste away from landfill. Its goal is 100%, which Bowden admits is “a heck of a target, but it’s a good target”.

 

Scottish Leather Group has also built a £1.3 million ultrafiltration plant, which it says has resulted in 30% of its water now being recycled. The company says it uses locally-sourced hides for its products, to cut down on the amount of fuel burned in the transportation process. 

 

Solid waste – produced during the process of turning the hides into usable leather products – is sent to the thermal energy plant where it is converted into heat for use in the tannery, and oil for use in its electricity generators. Liquid waste is sent to the group’s waste treatment plant, which converts it into clean water that can also be used in the tannery.

 

Bowden describes the process as a “virtual and virtuous circle,” and says the company has patented it and “others are looking at it”. He adds that Scottish Leather Group is “looking to expand the capacity” of its energy and waste water plants.

 

Environmental concerns also prompted Switzerland’s Lantal Textiles to work alongside the Hamburg-based Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA) to design its Climatex Lifeguard FR seat cover fabric. Lantal stresses that the use of renewable resources – in this case virgin wool and beechwood cellulose – together with “16 ecologically-safe dye chemicals” results in the covers being fully biodegradable.

 

“Climatex Lifeguard FR is an environmentally-safe industrial product. After a long service life, the seat cover fabric can be returned to biological cycles,” says Guido Gander, Director of Brand Communication at Lantal. The wool used to make the fabric originates from “carefully selected farms in New Zealand,” while the cellulose “is the result of a four-year research and development effort aimed at optimising the environmental and health-related properties of wood-pulp fibres in the final product," says Gander, adding that “the production process is environmentally safe and requires no toxicologically objectionable chemicals.”

 

This is all well and good, but do such claims help the company sell this product to the airlines? Gander believes so: “Awareness of climate change and other ecological issues is rapidly growing and, without doubt, represents a major future trend. Using ecologically unobjectionable materials thus greatly enhances the image of transport providers,” he says. Airlines that select these covers “are seen as ambassadors of ecological sustainability and can directly communicate their values to their customers”. >>


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