UNIC Assembly, Italian leather’s sustainable goals


Unic, Italian Tanners Association gathered last December in Milan to present the 16th Sustainability Report as well as the new communication project addressing the leather sector.

“This report underlines how, for us, sustainability is a value built through time and how we have pursued it with perseverance, with tools and costs shouldered by us, getting amazing results. The tanning industry represents one of the first recycle businesses developed by human beings, we have taken down this road way before others, as circular economy is part of our DNA, we are bent on reducing the environmental impact, on saving natural resources, on ensuring animal welfare.” This is an excerpt of the opening speech given by Gianni Russo, UNIC’s President, for the presentation of the Sustainability Report, launched in its summary version during the association’s assembly that took place on December 3rd, 2019, in Milan. The initiative aimed at both conveying UNIC’s active contribution to several projects – concerning scientific information and the safeguard of the sustainability excellence of the products as well as of the Italian tanning process – and at highlighting the need to carry on a strong, transparent communication strategy regarding leather, able to fight off the growing attacks based on clichés revolving around a sector that, “for at least fifty years, it has been a step ahead when it comes to the strictest sustainability regulations as well as to the most recent customers’ demands.”

“The industry is under attack,” underlined Luca Boltri, UNIC’s Deputy General Manager, “it is subject to charges borderline illegal, as leather and the tanning process are falsely accused especially with regard to sustainability and environmental impact.” Hence the need to help people understand that leather is, by definition, a natural, eco-friendly material, a byproduct of the food chain, and that this sector is a well-established example of circular economy – way before this expression became fashionable. A task carried out in partnership with the London-based Space Studios agency (the latter owning an office in Milan as well, since 2016), creator of a new communication campaign that will rely not only on videos, but also on advertisements released on the digital channels, printed on magazines and displayed in several strategic locations during appealing events related to the fashion, automotive and furnishing sectors. The campaign will strive to undermine all the false beliefs told daily to the customers. “Words often misused by brands that try to define themselves as sustainable,” explained Aziza Ibrahim, strategy manager, “such as “plastic free”, “bio”, “recyclable”, “green”, will specifically refer to leather, a material that can truly boast the aforementioned features. We have reversed the concept: it is not leather that is thoroughly sustainable, but, on the other hand, it is true sustainability that turns into leather.” The campaign merges nature and leather in a single message: “We have found in leather the same dynamism, patterns, colours, textures and emotions provided by nature,” stated Stella Margari, art director. “And we have chosen to blend in one visual such similar elements so as to underline once again the sustainability of truly unique, natural material. A modern, innovative, contemporary material.”

During the assembly, the certificates ICEC – Certification Institute for the Leather Area were awarded to UNIC-member tanneries that stood out for their commitment to sustainability in all its facets. Here are the names of the seventeen companies: B.C.N. Concerie, Bonaudo, Conceria Antiba, Conceria Incas, Conceria Laba, Conceria Lloyd, Conceria M2, Conceria Superior, Dean Industria Conciaria Pelli, DMD Solofra, Ellegi Pellami, Masoni Industria Conciaria, Rivadavia Industria Conciaria, Russo di Casandrino, San Lorenzo, Sciarada Industria Conciaria, Vesta Corporation. www.unic.it

The Italian tanning industry and UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
UNIC kept on explaining the sustainability of the domestic tanning industry through the release of the Sustainability Report 2019. For this edition, the association chose to match the sector’s commitment to sustainability with the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development launched by the United Nations in 2015 to foster human wellbeing and safeguard the environment. “Aware of our industry’s pivotal contribution to this matter,” explained Luca Boltri, UNIC’s Deputy Manager, “we have focused on the 17 strategic goals identified by ONU and compared them with the results of our sector, thus pointing out 12 tasks (affordable clean energy, decent work and economic growth, quality education, fight against climate change, clean and sustainable cities, responsible consumption and production, health and wellbeing, and so on), that we have in turn summed up into seven slogans: Wellbeing, Growth, Responsible, Commitment, Future, Respect, Synergy.” Among the data collected, UNIC focused on some aspects, starting with the figures related to workplaces: since 2003, according to Inail estimates, on-the-job injuries in the tanning industry have decreased by 42%; commuting accidents still account for a significant share of said injuries. 90% of the human resources employed in the sector have an open-ended contract, women and foreign workers amount to respectively 22% and 23% of the total workforce; 74% of the employees sign a second-level bargaining agreement. Concerning environmental-related issues, noteworthy is our tanneries’ commitment in terms of consumption efficiency as well as of the ever-growing interest in renewable energy sources: since 2003, the use of chemicals, water and energy has lowered respectively by 3%, 19% and 30%. Out of the total amount of energy produced, 14% comes from cogeneration.
Animal welfare, traceability, projects against deforestation: these are just some of the other goals pursued by the national tanning industry. UNIC cooperates with the Veterinary Medicine department of Milan’s University so as to outline animal welfare conditions in the main supply markets; it also takes part in the Traceability UNECE – ITC project, that is, a multi-stakeholder initiative bent on defining the leather cycle.
The association supports the sector in its commitment against deforestation as well, with the DCFL (Deforestation and Conversion Free Leather) project, focused on the Brazilian cowhides supply chain. The ultimate goal lies in the preservation of the Amazon rainforest through the development of a certification standard aimed at ensuring full traceability, so as to use hides coming from sources not related to deforested areas. Last but not least, UNIC has joined the ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) programme, the latter taken up by the most renowned Fashion Industry brands with the goal to get rid of hazardous chemicals from the leather, footwear and textile supply chains.