Objective of Sustainability for StahlFrom the launch of the Sustainable Leather Campaign, to the closing of the BASF transaction, to the opening of a new Lab in Arzignano: many innovations at the house of Stahl, which aims at an increasingly eco-friendly chemistry
The last quarter of 2017 is full of events for the Stahl group. These three months have seen the Dutch multinational company protagonist on the market on several occasions. The most sensational event is the acquisition of BASF’s Leather Chemical division, announced last March. The authorities examined the transition operations and gave the green light to the closing, which involved moving all the activities of the acquired division under Dutch control, including the production site in L’Hospitalet, Spain and the 210 employees worldwide (of which, one hundred in Asia). BASF received 16% of the equity of Stahl, and 150 million euros. “The chemical industry is changing at a rapid pace,” explained Huub van Beijeren, CEO of Stahl, after obtaining the go ahead. “To stay ahead of the game, we need a certain size to invest in two key topics: next-generation innovations and sustainability. This acquisition enables us to respond even better to these needs.” A “certain size” means a colossus, with total combined sales between 870 and 890 million euros and an estimated EBITDA of around 210 million euros. “This acquisition also allows us to accelerate the process towards a more transparent supply chain,” clarifies the Sustainability Manager, Michael Costello, “as we now have more influence to promote initiatives like the elimination of restricted substances, the reduction of greenhouse gases and the use of natural raw materials.” While this will soon become a reality, in the immediacy it will lead to a stronger product portfolio and new market opportunities for Stahl. BASF has a complete range of products to make high-performance waterproof leather and new polymeric retanning agents as well as a wide range of beamhouse products. “As part of Stahl Group, this division will be well positioned for the future,” guaranteed Anup Kothari, President Performance Chemicals at BASF. “Customers will be able to benefit from the combined expertise of both brands with a focus on innovation and sustainability along the entire leather-making value chain.”
Better than the ZDHC program
Intentions absolutely in line with the long-term strategies that the Stahl Management has implemented on the theme of sustainability. Only a month before the closing, the Dutch multinational launched the “Sustainable Leather Campaign” at ACLE, with which it presented a complete range for the entire process, from the beamhouse to finishing processes (Proviera – Probiotics for Leather, Stahl EasyWhite Tan and Stahl Neo), which ensures tanners a greener production. The Neo portfolio has over four hundred references, all of which are strictly free of any substance from the ZDHC-MRSL version 1.1. list. “We have drawn up our own internal list of MRSLs, which is more complete than the ZDHC program”, explains Matteo Baldi, Marketing Manager of Stahl’s Leather Finish division. “As soon as a new product is introduced, it must comply with “our” NEO parameters, which are however stricter than the ZDHC ones. Moreover, we are updating the entire product range: free from toluene, benzene, formaldehyde, poly-fluorocarbonates and so on.”
And what about the other lines?
“The Stahl global portfolio complies with 96% of the ZDNC standards. We are working on the remaining 4%, having also considered their possible elimination, if necessary. Out of almost five hundred products, there are only 20 non-standard ones, therefore a very small number. Of those within the parameters (i.e. 96%), half belong to the NEO portfolio. Therefore, finishing plays a key role. For the initial processes, we developed the Proviera range; then there is the Easy White Tan part, i.e. metal-free. The aim is to have 100% ZDHC compliance within the NEO portfolio. And we expect to reach this before the cut-off date of 2020”.
All this, of course, on a world-scale
“Obviously with the necessary local adaptations. The “NEO” project is global. It starts in Europe where there are very restrictive parameters (REACH), and then extends to the rest of the world with regional adaptations. In South America, for example, demand is more limited, and the range of products has been reduced from 500 in Europe to around one hundred. However, every new product developed there must also fall within the NEO parameters.”
We are talking about “parameters” not “products”
“Certainly. NEO is not a new range of products: they are the same lines as always, but free from those substances that do not comply with the ZDHC standard. It is important to underline this, because nothing changes for tanneries in terms of formulation and application. They will continue to work as always, obtaining the same results. The aim is to offer products that avoid any kind of problem that could arise from customer requests: the tanner no longer has to worry about lists of prohibited products, because there are none. With the advantage, however, of not having to change anything when using the products.”
What are the market references?
“Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) is a very important outlet: European brands demand total sustainability. China and India are another two very important realities that are going very well. It’s true that India is facing various problems that have led to a heavy slowdown in the tanning sector, but in the future, it is a very interesting country, because the demand for sustainability at a government level becomes a great opportunity. So, they will need products that help them to meet certain standards: let’s not forget that many Indian companies, even important ones, work with European brands. There is a lot of work to be done, but there are also good prospects.”
A global eye and special attention to our country. Immediately after closing the BASF transaction, there was another important appointment on the agenda of the Dutch multinational company. On 12 October 2017 the CEO Huub van Beijeren inaugurated a new cutting-edge Application Lab in Arzignano for automotive, leather goods, footwear and furnishings. A further presence – in addition to the Italian division in Paderno Dugnano (MI) and the Centre of Excellence Shoes and Leather Goods in Santa Croce (headed by Matteo Baldi) – to develop solutions tailored to meet the specific needs of customers, and also to offer valuable training aimed (also) at explaining the advantages of the lines inside the Sustainable Leather Campaign. “Our most innovative solutions will be the heart of this new laboratory,” confirmed Alberto Cantone, General Manager of Stahl Italy, during the elegant gala dinner held in Villa Favorita (Sarego). “One example: the new range of high-performance finishing products for car leather upholstery, still under development. Our experts will show that everything is possible and can be made to measure.” In other words, “if you can imagine it, you can do it,” as inscribed in block letters on the façade of the building. The large laboratory in Arzignano provides technicians with a wide range of drums for the wet part (from the beamhouse operations to the mixing of colours), a finishing department, a room dedicated to precision chromatic control, a laboratory for physical tests and an area dedicated to footwear with small spray chambers and everything needed for garment-dyeing of the models and after-care services.