The future is bio-circular by ECOTAN
Silvateam - 800 employees, five plants and a turnover of more than 200 million - bet on sustainable tanning with the Ecotan Leather Project and now reaps the results. We took stock with Alessandra Taccon, Project Director of Ecotan.
Ecotan is a project that was launched on the market a couple of years ago: what is its track record in this time frame?
"The impact generated has been huge, a disruptive idea for the industry i.e. a "green chemistry" that allows for biocircular skins that return to nature at the end of their life cycle. This is a time of great change, not only in lifestyles, but also in generations and sensibilities. With Ecotan, we have responded concretely to the inputs and requests that come to us from the market-that is, from the brands that we dialogue with and help to effectively ground the concepts of sustainability. And the tanneries are believing in this new three-way working model; they are our allies in the process of raising brand awareness. There is also to keep in mind that the demand for safe and healthy tanning is increasing, exponentially. Evolved leather tanned with formulations based on natural ingredients such as tannin and biopolymers, in harmony with people and the environment."
Ecotan and the new generation of consumers, what are the strengths of your innovation?
"The new generations are very attentive to what they consume, how they consume it, where a product comes from, what kind of impact it has in terms of carbon footprint. So certainly we were ahead of the times and today we are ready to respond to the market and, dare I say it, we are in pole position. Then speaking specifically about the leather and tanning sector, the transition from historical productions based on traditional methods to more sustainable and modern technologies with reduced resource consumption and reduced CO2 emissions is now unstoppable. This is evident from almost all the protocols of the major fashion houses requesting developments of new collections with FOM (free of metals) leathers whose LCA data we are asked for."
As for brands, how are you "telling the story" of Ecotan?
"Our big effort is precisely to translate the language of sustainability into metrics that are understandable not only to tanneries and brands, but also to the end consumer. That is why we have invested so much in the scientific part of the project and in specific certifications. Silvateam, for example, was the first in the industry to certify the production of chestnut and quebracho tannin according to PEFC standards, which attest to sustainable forest management and its defense, following deforestation-free logic. In addition, the company, through collaboration with a Tuscan laboratory, has certified the biological carbon content of Ecotan leathers, which show values of up to 96 percent. Free of metals, glutaraldehyde and other potentially hazardous substances, 100% recyclable, the leathers are thus made as an integral part of nature's cycles. In Ecotan's case, both the finished articles and the leather processing waste are designed to be biocircular: in fact, through an acid hydrolysis process, the hides return to the environment in the form of fertilizer for organic agriculture, instead of ending up in landfills to be incinerated. This allows the leather, at the end of its life, to be valorized instead of becoming a waste that produces additional CO2. Through biofertilizer, plants are fed which, in turn, absorb CO2 generating an emission credit."
Are there any new projects in the pipeline for the company?
"We have various initiatives in the pipeline, from marketing to technical and scientific aspects. We are developing with various brands a QR-code tag that can be attached to the finished product, for example a shoe, telling the story of the leather and all the details of the processing with maximum transparency. We are carrying out an "Ecotan Tour" program in major global markets to promote the uniqueness of this technology. We have recently started the EU-funded Life I'm Tan project (LIFE20 ENV/IT/000759) that will enable us to develop cutting-edge biomolecules for the sustainable tanning systems of the future. Soon, in December, we will organize an Openhouse in Tuscany to meet with fashion brands and spread the word that beauty and sustainability can go hand in hand. We certainly think it is important to convey this message of sustainability "in the facts" not only to tanneries, but also to those who then use the leather, from shoe manufacturers to designers to fashion brands. And also, as noted at this last edition of Lineapelle in Milan, the antibacterial aspect of Ecotan is of great interest especially to companies in the furniture and automotive sectors: product use patterns are changing with "sharing" formulas and shared spaces or services that require innovative and healthy materials capable of inhibiting bacterial proliferation."