“The real challenge today is to improve the quality of life,” says Matteo Macilotti, head of environmental services for the Province of Vicenza as well as mayor of Chiampo, a municipality in the Vicenza leather district. “I strongly wanted to have a public role linked to the environment, because I have a personal passion for life in the open air, mountains and nature. We have worked hard and done a lot over the years, with unique work patterns in the world, but now the effort must be aimed at improving the quality of the environment in which we live”.
For the tanning district of Arzignano, Macilotti dreams of global recognition linked to a high-sustainability tanning production. It is the market that pushes in this direction and a conditio sine qua non to be able to continue to exist. The increasingly stringent standardisation and the request for environmental certifications prevent companies from neglecting their impact on the environment, even in cases where there is no entrepreneur who is considerate to the issue. “Those who do not adapt must be isolated,” he says. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, complain of a regulatory complexity that makes the application of the rules difficult, multi-level from the EU to the single local administration, and often not adequate to the BAT (Best Available Techniques) for which he hopes for more adaptation mechanisms at UE level. “The role of consultants is strategic, whose expertise, I see, is much improved,” he states, “and specialisation is unavoidable given the detailed technical standards”.
Furthermore, there is no reward mechanism for the most attentive entrepreneurs, even if the concept “who least pollutes, less pays” is applied. On this, he believes that there are important margins for improvements; for example, a new regulation is being defined in the province of Vicenza to reward those who reduce emissions of hydrogen sulphide.
On the thorny issue of tannery sludge disposal (ed. The district is experiencing a critical moment due to the lack of sludge delivery spaces and the fast depletion of landfills), Macilotti does not hide his concern for a system that could collapse. “If the problem of their management is not solved with technological improvements to improve their quality and decrease their quantities, for example what was studied in the context of the greenLIFE project, there is the risk of a crash“. But the technologies are available and a tender is underway, it will have to define the steps to be taken by the end of the year. The mayor attributes this extreme situation to a chronic lack of programming.
Another factor the district is penalised for is the lack of representativeness in the EU, resulting from scarce unity. “The competitor is not the one next door,” Macilotti argues “but it is the whole world. If we don’t move together and engage in dialogue, we can’t think of surviving”.
The joke would be if the eco-leather, this vaguely defined, deceptive, and often not at all eco-friendly “fake leather” would became the icon of the ecological alternative to real leather, in the near future. When, in reality, it is enough just to think about the quantity of waste that would end up in landfills if tanning did not work on the by-products of the meat industry.
More communication about the value of the leather, union and capacity for dialogue, more research, open science, diffusion of skills in a small valley that has developed invaluable know-how, and also programming and specialisation for Macilotti is needed for a leather district with a rosy future and recognised as a green excellence. “Producing must no longer represent an antagonistic concept to the care of the environment,” concludes the mayor.