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

Sustainability certifications promote transparency in the supply chain and risk management. A real cultural change.

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An interview with Sabrina Frontini, Director of ICEC

Sabrina Frontini is the director of ICEC – Quality Certification Institute for the Leather Area since 2007. The institute is a reference for the sector, in which it has been specialized and active for over twenty years. In addition to the most widely adopted national and international standards (UNI, EN, ISO, etc), ICEC also applies proprietary certification schemes.

Sabrina Frontini explains how, in recent years, alongside the more widespread ISO 9001 quality certification, which is always in great demand, in the Arzignano tannery district the environmental ones are spreading particularly with the ISO14001, then the leather Made in Italy certification and those dedicated to the traceability of raw materials according to the ICEC technical specifications TS410 / 412.

All indications that confirm that the leather sector is increasingly urged by the brands downstream to guarantee its sustainability and transparency. A problem that entrepreneurs often complain, says Frontini, is the duplication of controls by the various brands, sometimes even headed by the same parent company. Tanneries found themselves to be controlled over and over again differently on different subjects but in fact on the same topics. “For ICEC it is important – emphasizes Frontini on the issue – our dialogue with fashion brands in order to make them known the certifications already achieved by their suppliers to reduce or at least simplify the controls”.

Another peculiarity of the Arzignano district, explains the ICEC director, is the request for certification of the leather testing laboratories, due to the presence of large tanning companies equipped with such internal testing facilities.

When questioned about the difficulties that companies face in carrying out certifications, Frontini cites above all relational aspects between the individual company and its supply chain, upstream and downstream. “For example, for traceability, it is necessary to move certain relationships between customer and supplier to obtain information on supplies, but this requires a cultural change. The customer makes precise requests to his suppliers that are not always so willing to comply with them because often the information is not available, because they are often related to the meat and not to the hide, or if they are present, they are kept confidential for obvious commercial reasons ”.

Therefore, the difficulty of the supply chain is often relative to how to give guarantees to its customers while maintaining the confidentiality of know-how and company data. Obviously, the company wants to reassure its customers, but not necessarily by providing direct access to its data. The third type of voluntary certification performs this task of providing answers to the market while maintaining confidentiality on the data viewed during inspections, and with accreditation, it also guarantees competence, impartiality and absence of conflicts of interest in the audit processes.

There are many others advantages of voluntary certification, especially if applied without forcing and through recognized and accredited standards. “In addition to giving guarantees to the direct customer and protecting the final consumer, we work for continuous improvement, for the rationalization of the procedures in the company, for the efficiency of process and resource management. Through the control of the activities, the business risks are managed in every area, with the further benefit of protecting one’s own image “.

Asked if she finds entrepreneurs prepared on the subject of sustainability, Frontini points out that surely the opportunities for awareness are innumerable and companies are increasingly aware of the need to work carefully on sustainability issues to be competitive on the market.

The certifications required often differ according to the type of clientele of the companies: luxury brands have higher expectations whereas in general when they do not look at the top of the range as a market outlet for their leather, the requests can be less stringent. Consequently, the required certifications differ depending on the market of each tannery.

“The certification is open to all and is voluntary – Frontini explains – and must be seen as a virtuous, active and growth path useful to the company for internal and external purposes”. “We must be willing to invest in resources: time, money, people”. “We need to be willing to make technical changes and also make our performance verifiable”, concludes Frontini “but surely the most important change that the certification can bring is the cultural one, to the advantage of the transparency of the whole chain“.

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