At the end of 2021, after the Conference of Addis Ababa, Luis Zugno concluded successfully his mandate as president of IULTCS, the international organisation of leather chemists. As planned, his deputy, the Frenchman Jean-Pierre Gualino, takes over the office. He will be joined by Joan Carlos Castell as vice-president. Luis Zugno will remain operational as secretary, taking over from Campbell Page who has served the association in this role for the past thirteen years.
In this interview, the new president of IULTCS Jean-Pierre Gualino, now vice president of the family company ATC Tannery Chemicals, announces the main objectives of his work programme and comments on the current post-pandemic situation, indicating the most promising research areas and highlighting the importance of Congresses to promote dissemination of scientific culture.

Jean-Pierre Gualino

As the new IULTCS president what are the guidelines and goals of your program?
“First of all, let me tell you that I’m honoured to be the new president of IULTCS which is ‘the’ learned society of the leather industry.
The role of the IULTCS is to support the many national leather associations worldwide. These associations are strong and creative when the IULTCS is strong. The IULTCS supports the national leather associations to promote the best possible technologies to achieve the highest standard of sustainability in leather making, The IULTCS assist the associations via their established Commissions in the following categories: Environment, Research, Training and education, Communication, Leather test methods.
One of my goals, as president, is to strengthen these Commissions, by working closely with them and supporting their own goals and targets.
As an example, in the Leather Test Methods Commission, there is a strong demand from the industry to standardise test methods for the tannery chemicals sector. A combined technical group, CEN/TC 289 (WG1), initiated a new Working Group for 2022, ‘(WG 6): test methods for tannery chemicals’, whose aim is to produce these standardised test methods. The development of WG6, was made possible by the Italian association AICC, under the leadership of Dr. Tiziana Gambicorti. I fully support this important area of development.
Another of my goals as president is to work closely with each national association to encourage participation and scientific contributions at the many congresses around the world. These congresses provide excellent opportunities for knowledge transfer, innovation and education in our industry”.

In recent years, the global leather industry has seen disruptive changes in demand and severe challenges to its identity and image on the market. What do you think? 
“Consumers are increasingly concerned by ecology, animal welfare, sustainability and deforestation. There is fake news and widespread misinformation on social networks and other media. Conversely, people still love leather articles and luxury leather goods.
One of the goals that I have, as president, is to defend the leather industry against misleading and false information fostered by animal rights activists and environmental campaign groups. This can be achieved by actively supporting the tanning industry to use science and technology as methods to produce accurate, reliable and verifiable data. This will enable the leather industry to counteract these negative arguments and communicate them to consumers. To defend the leather industry, we must communicate the use of innovation and sustainability within the industry”.
                                                                                                                                       
 After two years of pandemic, 2022 began with many unknowns both in health and economics. How do you see the near future for the leather sector?
“The tanning industry is very mature and resilient. In 2020 and 2021, for the first time, a lot of raw hides and skins were destroyed because the markets and tanneries worldwide were forced to close. Fortunately, this situation is over. The luxury sector is performing like never before, thanks to Italian and French companies. The shoe industry and furniture industry are also recovering. While the automotive leather industry remains uncertain, due to factors outside of its control, overall, we are optimistic about the future.
For centuries, and especially since the industrial revolution, this industry has experienced fluctuations due to raw material prices and availability of hides and skins, and chemicals, but it has been able to incorporate new technologies to improve environmental regulations and productivity. I have no doubt that this will continue in the future. For as long as there is a meat industry, there will be a leather industry”.

What are the main challenges of the tanning sector from the point of view of seeking greater sustainability? 
“Sustainability was one of the major subjects at the last IULTCS congress in Ethiopia. The Congress promoted multiple examples of new technologies and production innovations to improve sustainability, to lower the impact on the environment and to improve the safety of workers and leather producers. Most of these technologies are being implemented very successfully and we will continue to support this implementation globally”.

As regards leather processing what are the most interesting research areas? 
“For decades the leather industry has been under pressure to improve its environmental impact in the production of leather. In response, it has successfully reduced the consumption of many of the toxic chemicals previously commonplace in the industry, but lot of work is remaining on free formaldehyde, bisphenols, high levels of VOC’s, strong acids and salts etc. More has yet to be done to increase the use of cleaner production methods, bio-sourced raw materials and recycled products, while at the same time reducing the consumption of petrochemicals, reducing the industries carbon footprint, water consumption and improving recycling and composting methods. I am very confident that with the IULTCS by its side, the leather industry will continue in this interesting and positive direction”.

What technical results would it be useful to achieve in the near future?                                                                                      “Biodegradability of worn out and unwanted leather articles, improving the performance of end products, while reducing the impact on the planet are essentials for the near, and long term, future of the leather industry. Being able to manufacture performance leathers without the use of any metal compounds in an economic way, would be a superb technical target. Greentech and environmental sustainability are the technical challenges we face as an industry and we must continue to find solutions to these challenges”.

Upcoming public commitments?
“During my mandate as President of the IULTCS there will be a number of congresses. Amongst the many that will take place are the Eurocongress in Vicenza, Italy, in September 2022; the 12th AICLST congress in October 2022, in Queenstown, New Zealand, and in October 2023 the 37th IULTCS Congress will be held in Chengdu, China. I sincerely hope that all these events can take place in a safe and Covid free environment.
We can all help make these IULTCS supported events successful by attending in numbers, joining the discussions and by providing a high standard of scientific presentation. This will benefit all in our beautiful industry.
As President of the IULTCS I would like to wish you all a successful and prosperous 2022”.