Environmental awareness can mean a significant strategic variable to improve the competitiveness of footwear companies and for their medium and long-term development. There are many aspects to be addressed, but no doubt the most important thing is to abide by environmental regulations. In order to be able to comply with environmental legislation, it is essential to know about the requirements that apply to footwear companies. This is not always easy, since environmental legislation is quite dispersed and companies find it difficult to compile the applicable requirements in the national and European scope. In addition, such information is not easily understood and requires certain knowledge, time and dedication, which are not always at the reach of footwear companies that are generally short-staffed and lack specialised knowledge of these issues.

In order to address this need, the project ‘Promotion of the Environmental Legislation among European Footwear Industries (ShoeLAW)’ was launched, which is partially supported by the European Union under the LIFE+ programme. The project aims to develop an online legislative and environmental diagnosis tool that allows companies to know about and improve their legal environmental situation.

The ShoeLAW project is coordinated by the Footwear Technological Institute (INESCOP). The project consortium is comprised of partners from five EU member states:

– Footwear Technological Institute (Inescop, Spain)

– FICE Servicios (Spain)

– Ecomedium Sistemas, (Spain)

– Fundación Comunidad Valenciana-Región Europea (Spain)

– Centro Tecnológico do Calçado de Portugal (CTCP, Portugal)

– C.G.S. di Coluccia Michele & D,  (Italy)

– Zavod IRCUO (Slovenia)

– ELKEDE Technology & Design Centre, (Greece)

In general, any industrial activity has an impact on the environment. In the specific case of footwear manufacturing, different resources are used (leather, chemicals, energy, etc.), which have a greater or lower impact on the environment: waste, atmospheric emissions, discharges, etc. In order to avoid and reduce these environmental impacts, public administrations have established numerous legal requirements.

The most significant environmental aspects associated with the footwear industry are the following:

– Production of solid waste: In the footwear manufacturing process different operations take part, which generate a great variety of solid waste (leather scraps, plastic, paper, cardboard, containers, used oils etc…).

– Water contamination: In footwear companies, wastewater discharges come from sanitary use of water in the facilities and from water used in spraying booths. Wastewater coming from spraying booths can sometimes have high concentrations of chemicals that are harmful to the environment.

– Air pollution: Gas emitted by footwear companies may originate from the application of adhesives or finishing products and, to a lower extent, from heating boiler combustion. Among the substances which are usually emitted by footwear companies are the so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are potentially harmful to health and the environment.

– Noise pollution: Noise can be considered an important environmental pollution element, especially when footwear factories are within or close to an urban area.

To help footwear companies gain access to the legislation in force, the ShoeLAW tool has been developed, which gathers all the legal requirements applicable to them expressed in an easier vocabulary in order to improve their understanding. This feature, together with the user-friendliness of the tool, will help companies perform the self-diagnoses by themselves. In case of failure to comply with one of the requirements, the tool gives some advice on how to amend this failure.

To ShoeLAW environmental self-diagnosis tool can be accessed from the website www.shoelaw.eu. The main features of this tool are the following:

– Sector-oriented nature: this tool is specifically addressed to the footwear sector.

– Multi-language version: it is initially available in 6 languages (English, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Portuguese and Slovenian), and it is ready to be extended to other languages in the future.

– It protects the confidentiality of the company’s sensitive information: thanks to a completely anonymous user management process.

– Alert service to inform companies about changes in the environmental legislation.

– Statistics service to help companies know about their environmental situation and compare themselves with other companies, with the national average or even with other countries, and find out about their environmental evolution.

After completing the environmental questionnaire, companies can generate a report that can be queried by area or globally. This way, companies can obtain straightforward information about their degree of environmental excellence. Finally, surveyed companies are advised on an individual basis to rectify any failure detected or improve their environmental situation.

The questions of the environmental self-diagnosis are grouped into the following areas: waste, atmosphere and nuisance, water, packaging, hazardous substances and others (see figure 1). In addition, an ‘Export’ area is also available, which is very helpful for companies to know about the restrictions to abide by when exporting footwear to other countries.

Although the ShoeLAW tool has been developed by partners in five European countries, it is ready to be extended to any interested country, whether it is inside or outside the European Union.

The ShoeLAW tool has been successfully tested in 40 European footwear companies. The main results achieved are detailed below:

– Waste: The tested companies achieved almost 60% of environmental excellence in terms of compliance with the applicable environmental requirements in this area. This percentage ranged between 45% and 80% from country to country.

– Atmosphere and nuisance: companies were not so familiar with the requirements in this area and thus many questions were left unanswered. Similarly, the environmental excellence in this area ranged between 30% and 60% from country to country.

– Water: in this area, most of the countries reported an environmental excellence degree of around 70%. However, in some cases this percentage dropped to 30%.

– Packaging: the degree of environmental excellence in this area also varied significantly from one country to another, although as a whole, it was around 55%.

– Hazardous substances: many questions in this area were left unanswered due to ignorance of the requirements. Again, the degree of environmental excellence in this area was quite changeable from one country to another, ranging between 25% and 70%.

– Others: this area reported the greatest variability in the degree of environmental excellence, which ranged between 15% and 80%.

After completing the environmental self-diagnosis, the participating companies were requested to fill out an opinion survey on the use of the ShoeLAW tool. According to the results, the tool is considered to be simple and user-friendly, as well as useful and comprehensive. Moreover, companies expressed their interest in knowing about the environmental requirements applicable to them in general terms as well as the possibility to extend this to other countries than those participating in the project, such as the USA, Germany or France.

According to the data obtained from the first environmental self-diagnoses performed in different European footwear companies, it is observed that there are many environmental aspects to be improved by the participating companies, which are quite interested in knowing the environmental requirements that apply to them and are also willing to rectify them in order to improve their future environmental situation.