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SATRA holds successful sustainability forum

Reporting on a recent event discussing a hot industry topic.

‘Sustainability’ is fast becoming a key issue faced by suppliers of almost every product available – including footwear. SATRA recently organised a ‘Sustainable Footwear Forum’ in order to provide members with highly relevant and up-to-date information on this important topic. This inaugural event, which was held at SATRA’s head office, was attended by more than 90 delegates.

A number of industry experts had gathered to speak at this full-day programme. After all present were welcomed by SATRA chief executive John Hooker and assistant director Christine Powley-Williams, the forum opened with Applied DNA Sciences managing director Tony Benson delivering the keynote presentation on the subject of ‘Enabling traceability in the value chain’.

Starting the discussion

Mr Benson drew attention to the fact that consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about environmental issues, and want answers to such questions as ‘why should I buy from you?’ and ‘can you prove your sustainability claims?’ These consumers, he emphasised, want traceability, transparency and trust.

This talk revealed that through DNA tagging, brand owners and manufacturers can prove that what they are selling is genuine. As an example, Mr Benson showed how leather can be tagged early in the tanning process, thus allowing testing to be conducted throughout the entire manufacturing procedure – right up to the point of producing finished footwear.

The next speaker to the microphone was SATRA’s technical manager John Hubbard, who explained that ethical customers want clear messages from brand owners. He mentioned that while the Leather Working Group has environmental protocols that allow buyers to check what happens in tanneries, similar schemes could be introduced for factories and other sections of the supply chain to prove their sustainable practices.

According to Mr Hubbard, European Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) could be used to compare different footwear styles, but there is currently no single template for modern sustainable footwear. He reminded the delegates that SATRA helped to develop the Ecotextyle training module, which is now up and running for use across Europe.

Orietta Pelizzari, global trend consultant of Milan-based Arsutoria, next presented information on the topic of ‘Sustainable design’. She highlighted how consumers buy the ‘value’ of a brand, so it is important to communicate this – giving consumers online and offline information about the sustainable practices of the company, while reporting how the company ‘reduces’, ‘reuses’ and ‘recycles’. In line with this, Ms Pelizzari told the audience of the new ‘Continew’ brand, which offers a process called ‘auto upcycling’ in which old car leather seats, seatbelts and airbags are made into backpacks.

Airwair International’s corporate social responsibility manager Tuze Mekik and director of sourcing Mike Watson-Smith then joined forces to speak on ‘The journey towards sustainability’. This presentation described the company’s five-year sustainability goals for the plant and employees – a scheme organised to create a challenge to consider all aspects of production and then make changes, such as removing the plastic packaging around spare laces.

Steve Cross – vice president of laboratory operations and technical services of Wolverine Worldwide – concluded the morning sessions by revealing his company’s journey to sustainability. He reported that Wolverine Worldwide has 12 brands, each with its own unique identity, and that the company looked holistically at sustainability. This included how its offices could use renewable energy, internal recycling and waste management, as well making sure that the company’s shoe boxes are 100 per cent recyclable and using recycled materials.

Mr Cross stressed that apparently obvious measures are not always sustainable, when he said: “Green is not always black and white.” He added that it is necessary to question what ‘green’ actually means and what is used to achieve it.

Following a panel discussion in which the presenters took questions from the audience, a buffet lunch provided the delegates with a valuable networking opportunity.

The programme included two panel discussions in which the presenters took questions from the audience.

Into the afternoon

The first speaker of the afternoon was Martin Heels – SATRA’s head of chemistry, who developed the subject ‘Controlling chemicals in the supply chain’. In his presentation, he identified why companies need to be aware of the chemicals used in their products, and how restricted substances lists, manufacturing substances lists and laboratory testing can be used to manage chemicals in the supply chain.

Iris van Wanrooij – programme manager, corporate social responsibility of EMMA Safety Footwear – discussed how a company can work towards a 100 per cent circular footwear production. She described how EMMA Safety Footwear sends its leather waste to be made into fertiliser, which not only saves the company money by avoiding having to dispose of it, but it is also better for the environment. Ms van Wanrooij recommended beginning such a circular system by asking the design team to choose recycled materials. She explained that the company prints a QR code on its labels to indicate where the materials are used, so that when worn shoes are accepted back, the materials they contain can be identified, after which they can be recycled. All this information is communicated to the consumer on the company’s website.

Founder of the Shoe Aid charity – Lee Todd – then drew attention to how in 2019 some four million children in UK were wearing the wrong sized shoes, and at least 200,000 people were homeless, yet over two million items of footwear are disposed of every week in the UK. During his presentation, Mr Todd urged UK shoe brand owners to work with Shoe Aid to help recycle its shoes. According to Mr Lee, food waste and plastic waste has been under scrutiny in recent years, and it is going to be fashion and footwear’s turn in 2020.

Sharon Reason – director of global packaging solutions, at L&E International – made the final presentation of the day on the subject of ‘The sustainable challenge’. In this part of the programme, she emphasised how a company can save money by changing the design of its packaging – for instance, by making it recyclable, going to a one-piece box instead of using two pieces, and changing from double corrugated card to a single corrugated version. Ms Reason left the audience with a question to ponder – “What happens when ‘less bad’ is not good enough?” The busy programme concluded with a final experts’ panel discussion.

Future plans

Future actions were also mentioned – especially how SATRA can help members become more sustainable. In line with these plans, SATRA wants to hear from members to find out if focus groups to share best practice on topics such as packaging, reducing waste, and durability are a good idea. Please email with your thoughts on this matter.

This first SATRA Sustainable Footwear Forum proved to be a great success. The final word can be from presenter John Hubbard: “It was refreshing that everyone in the room was able to be open and honest about the challenges that industries are facing in addressing the major sustainability and getting their message across.”

SATRA Sustainable Footwear Forums are also planned for China and the USA during 2020 and, following the feedback from these events, further initiatives will be planned by SATRA to facilitate the movement of the industry towards shared best practice in sustainability while maintaining the diverse range of products for the consumer.

The photograph at the top of this page shows Applied DNA Sciences managing director Tony Benson deliveing the keynote address on the subject of traceability and DNA tagging.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 6 of the January 2020 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

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