Dr. Luis Zugno has been president of the IULTCS since the beginning of 2020. Of Italian origins, engaged for over 40 years in the chemical-tanning research sector, Zugno currently holds the position of Global Innovation Manager at Buckman International (USA). In this interview, the president of the International Union of Leather Technologists and Chemists Societies recalls the importance of working together with all the leather organizations, indicates the research priorities and underlines the need to produce more scientific data (LCA, CF, etc.) to advance the sector. In view of a real post-pandemic economic and cultural renaissance.

Luis Zugno, president of IULTCS

Dr. Zugno, can you give us a brief summary of the program of your mandate?
“Some of the planned activities we had on the year were not possible due to the inability to have face to face meetings, but we adapted and went remote. We had 5 meetings with the Executive Committee, one global meeting with the Member Societies. Most of our Member Societies had virtual meetings and technical programs; we are constantly working with them to share industry information and activities. Our website www.IULTCS.org has been updated to a version that support mobile devices. We thank the support of ATC on this project. We are active on LinkedIn and Facebook with the support of our colleagues Dr. Patricia Casey and Julian Osgood. IULTCS has participated on the Sustainability Forum in September with Dr. Scholz. We welcome two new Associate Members: Leather Naturally and UNIDO; IULTCS will be the Scientific arm of Leather Naturally and UNIDO will work together with IULTCS on the educational program for the leather industry. We have been participating in several meetings regarding sustainability with international organizations. The Young Leather Scientist Award continues the 7th year to promote leather research”.

As you wrote in your incoming message as president, the leather industry faces disruptive changes in demand and challenges to its identity and image in the marketplace. What’s the main role of IULTCS in this context?
“One of the biggest issues in our industry are the incorrect and misleading information about leather. IULTCS with its Member Societies is actively working to educate and bring the real facts about leather. We are working closely with Leather Naturally to develop technical and scientific literature; this is an example of the leather organizations working together. We are planning new activities for the next year.
IULTCS together with ICT (International Council of Tanners) and ICHSLTA (International Council of Hides and Skins Traders Association) have created the GLCC (Global Leather Coordinating Committee). The GLCC will be acting to develop a strategy for the leather industry that will address actions for the current and future issues.
In October we worked with ICT and IULTCS was co-signatory of a letter to SAC (Sustainable Leather Coalition) to request for the suspension of the score it applies to leather in its Higg Material Sustainability Index (MSI). The Higg Index has affected adversely the leather industry.
We are experiencing that the leather organizations are working better together for the same cause. It is important that all organizations have the same voice to defend leather against the wrong and misleading information about leather”.

The 36th IULTCS Congress is scheduled in Ethiopia in November 2021. Can you anticipate what will be the main focus of this important event?
“The congress theme is “Greening the Leather Value Chain”, will focus on cleaner technologies, waste reduction/reuse, sustainability and leather processing. We will still maintain the core on basic research on collagen and leather manufacturing. The IULTCS congresses are the most important scientific and technical events on the Leather industry. This is the place where we have the active participation of universities, research institutes, chemical and machinery suppliers and consulting companies. The congresses provide the best opportunity for technical and scientific exchange, networking and to strengthen the leather community. In 2021 the leather world will meet in Addis Ababa. We invite and encourage everybody to participate in this event by submitting papers and attending the full program”.
Due to Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 is turning out to be a very tough year. In your opinion what will be the main consequences on the sector?
“The pandemic brough a lot of things that are out of our control. We need to focus on what we can do and explore the opportunities that arises.
One of the behavioral changes we observed on the pandemic is ‘My home is my castle’ since we had lockdown. The need to spend more time at home brought the need of having better things at home for comfort and this has boosted the leather upholstery business; the personal transportation also has increased bringing good business for automotive leather. Since most people were at home the need for new leather shoes, belts, bags and accessories have reduced and impacted this segment.
On a wider perspective when this pandemic ends the things will not be the same. We will have a great economic boom, but also will be a time for a renaissance of the arts, beauty and nature. This will be a great opportunity for the leather industry to capitalize on the leather properties and sustainability.
I’m optimistic that we will have a bright future to the leather industry. The innovation, creativity and adaptability of our industry will help us”.
As a scientist, what’s today the biggest challenge in the tanning sector from an environmental point of view? In what directions should research be concentrated?
“We need more data in our industry to better understand the environmental impact of leather production, and this will vary from tannery to tannery, from country to country and from different types of leathers produced. Without data we have only opinions and emotions. The industry will need to build this database of LCA (Life Cycle Assessment), Carbon Footprint and others.
Research should be done to minimize the environmental impact of the leather production. In practical terms we should reduce the waste streams, recycle, reduce water, energy and chemicals. In my opinion the research should be concentrated on chemistry and equipment to make leather with less chemicals, less waste, less by products and produce leathers more degradable. Opportunities are for example to alternative tannages, reduction of the salts on syntans, renewable retanning and fatliquoring, reduce the amount of dyes used in dyeing (not all leathers need full dye penetration) and biodegradable leather finishes. Possibly the leather we make is too good; we do not need all the properties and longevity on the product. We need to bring innovation to meet the future requirements”.