Inspiration for a greener tanning industry from the Arzignano tanning district.

No fear for the Green Deal and Italian Tanning sector

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The European Green Deal set of policies aims to make Europe carbon neutral by 2050. It requires a rethinking of the production systems of the Union members to comply with a sustainable development and a more efficient use of resources.

Will the Green Deal impact or add complexity to the management of the Italian tanneries?

GreenLIFE asked Professor Tiberio Daddi, a member of the working group dedicated to corporate sustainability at the Institute of Management of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa.

Daddi believes that the Italian tanning sector will not be disrupted by the introduction and implementation of these new European policies, for a very simple reason: “The (Italian Edit.) tanning industry is firmly at the forefront regarding its impact on the environment and the use of resources, in a situation that is not comparable to many other sectors”.

To confirm this, he recalls how the sector quickly transposed the European Directive 75 of 2010 on industrial emissions and that the BAT – Best Available Techniques – identified at that time are still the best in preventing and reducing pollution.

According to Daddi, this particular attention to the environment and resources issue is due to two  factors: Firstly, due to its high impact the tanning industry had to face rigorous examination and stand strong in its environmental sustainability to ensure continuity.

Secondly, the big groups of luxury, fashion, furniture and automotive have acknowledged a change in consumer sensitivity and imposed increased standards of environmental quality and social responsibility on tanners and the supply chain. Sustainable production has therefore become a sine qua non to survive.

Daddi comments: “It is notable how many media programmes and tv news about the tanning industry hardly talk about the quality of leather, but rather the quality achieved in terms of its low-impact production process”.

He emphasized “The contribution of trade associations has been decisive to facilitate this positive process by improving awareness on the adoption of common environmental actions at a local and district levels”.

Daddi tells about the Santa Croce tanning district where waste is managed from a territorial point of view – a perspective favoured by a widespread industrialization that has facilitated a common vision on the topic of waste.

In Santa Croce, for example, there is a consortium dedicated to the recovery of chrome which removes this chemical element from the process water and gives it back to the consortium members who reuse it, as well as a public and private owned company called Ecoespanso which transforms sewage sludge into inert material that can be used in construction.

Daddi tells of an LCA – Life Cycle Assessment – study on the Santa Croce tannery District, carried out by the Institute of Management of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna which examined the benefit derived from the presence of consortium companies on a single square meter of leather. The analysis involved a sample of companies representing 15% of the total production of tanned leather. The presence of the consortia led to an improvement in the carbon footprint of 22% per square meter of leather produced.

The question is: in terms of community perception of the sector, are these aspects of excellence understood?

“If we consider people living near the district, I believe there is a good knowledge of these activities and that the perception is positive. There may, however, be less in-depth knowledge of environmental quality standards and the circularity of the sector and more attention paid to tangible aspects such odour and traffic generated by the industrial settlement. I believe that on a general level there is still a lot to do to make it clear that animals are not sacrificed for the tanning of their skins, but that the sector reuses meat industry by-products“.

After having enumerated several positive aspects, Daddi focuses on a critical issue concerning the waste generated by leather goods. “The issue of the recovery and reuse of leather scraps represents the future challenge for this sector as they will have to study new recovery methods or a scraps reduction through new processing techniques, for example”.

Given the precedents, it is expected that the tanning industry will be keen to actively collaborate with leather goods companies, to respond promptly and effectively to this new environmental challenge.

 

Tiberio Daddi is an assistant professor at the Institute of Management of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, where he is also a member of the group working on sustainability issues. Tiberio Daddi’s research interests range from corporate environmental management to performance evaluation, from circular economy to industrial symbiosis and from the analysis of the life cycle of products to the evaluation and development of environmental policies. He is also a lecturer at the International PhD in Management, at the Master in Environmental Management and Control of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna and at the Executive Master in Circular Economy Management at the Luiss Business School of Rome.

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