What was the nature of your project? 

The goal of our project was to perform an environmental assessment of Nisolo’s tannery suppliers, specifically looking at their waste management and wastewater treatment practices. We also met with members of the management team to investigate the shoe factory operations and identify any areas for improvement in their waste management processes. We worked with Nisolo’s supply chain team to coordinate the tannery visits and a private wastewater management company, but also took the initiative to go out on our own and meet with OEFA, which is the Peruvian equivalent of the EPA.

What were some of your key learnings, both in the class and during the trip?

The tannery visits were the most eye-opening portion of the trip. None of us had ever seen a tannery before, or even knew much about the process of making leather. After spending a couple of afternoons at the facilities that convert raw cow skins to finished leather we all gained a new appreciation for leather goods, to say the least. The biggest takeaway from these visits was that any environmental law regarding the treatment / disposal of wastewater was not heavily enforced at the tanneries.

What were some unexpected challenges and how did you overcome them?

During our visits with the private wastewater treatment company and OEFA (Peru’s EPA), we learned that Peruvian environmental law is relatively new. That being said, the laws are very much in the development phase and the agencies in charge of regulation are still developing their enforcement capabilities. The enforcement agencies, in their current stage, can only tell the tanneries what they should be doing and guiding them towards more environmentally-friendly practices, but they are still giving them a grace period to actually get up to standards.