Tasman Tanning Co Ltd celebrates 70 years, eyes sustainability in industry

Tasman Tanning produces aviation-grade leather for aircraft in New Zealand and in automotive products.

A Whanganui-based leather producer is taking a lead in sustainability within the industry.

Tasman Tanning Co. Ltd., a family-owned business, is Australasia’s only end-to-end leather processor and recently celebrated 70 years in business.

Hides from meat-processing plants around the country, including ANZCO and Silver Fern Farms, are taken from their raw form to a semi-processed or finished product that is sent around the world.

The company processes 35 percent of the hide harvest in the country each year. The majority of its finished product is used for industrial footwear, and also for casual footwear such as products produced by R M Williams, Steel Blue, Blundstones and Redback.

Other product makes its way to a client in the United States of America to be used primarily for furniture, and some are used domestically for furniture.

They also produce aviation-grade leather for aircraft in New Zealand and in automotive products. CEO Neville Dyer said part of the company’s success was the “New Zealand story.”

“(The country has) a strong agricultural base, and is recognized as having world-class farming practices and that our animals are free range and grass-fed. The leather we produce is from hides and skins that are the byproduct of this well-managed and controlled industry.”

Being a family-owned business with the original family still in ownership was also a drawcard, offering stability to clients. “We’ve had some highs and lows, and they’ve been there all the time.”

“Some of our customers require us to be carbon-neutral and provide plans to achieve this within the next 5-10 years. Work with the EECA has been part of this program and is ongoing.”

Moving forward, the company focuses on sustainability and has invested heavily in new plant and equipment, assisted by a fund available through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), Neville said. “Where possible we’re transitioning away from gas and more towards renewable electricity.”

Gas and steam-supplied drying systems have been replaced by infrared banks that have reduced energy use by 30 percent with more modern design and technology. “We have also upgraded tanning and drying equipment which uses new technology in the way they operate which enables us to reduce water, chemical and energy usage.”

Further improvements are planned in the new year when a vacuum drying unit will be installed which will use a heat pump to provide its energy. “To be competitive, we need to build on the New Zealand story and look for more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways of operating.”

In some cases, it’s non-negotiable. “Some of our customers require us to be carbon-neutral and provide plans to achieve this within the next 5-10 years. Work with the EECA has been part of this program and is ongoing.”

“EECA supported us with our projects on this journey. We are currently working with them on other initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint and energy usage.” Another move towards sustainability was to use more bio-based chemicals and reduce dependency on fossil fuel-derived products.

“There’s new technology becoming available all the time and it is a constant challenge to adapt.”

By its nature, leather is a sustainable product. “We often say we are one of the largest repurposing and recycling industries. We take a byproduct from the food industry, and we repurpose it.”

The company was a significant contributor to the local economy, employing up to 250 people. It also engaged local contractors where possible. “Where we can, we work local, and this helps the community as a whole.”

© Waterford Press Ltd 2023 – Independent Print Media New Zealand

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