Words With … Aku’s CSR Manager Giulio Piccin

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Words With … Aku’s CSR Manager Giulio Piccin

Giulio Piccin

One of the great things about trade shows is to see people you wouldn’t normally get to meet. Giulio Piccin, Product & CSR Manager at Italian footwear specialist AKU, was one of the speakers at the OTS Sustainability Breakfast and Outdoor i caught up with him at the brand’s UK distributor, Ardblair Sports Importers. Founded by Galliano Bordin, Aku has grown from a small workshop into an industry leader with more than thirty years’ experience in the design and production of high-quality trekking, outdoor and, more recently, military footwear.

As the first and only company in the footwear sector to achieve the international EPD System certificate, it was no surprise that sustainability is in the brand’s DNA. The international EPD System is an Environmental Product Declaration programme, founded in 1998 by Sweden’s Environmental Protection Agency and industry. Third-party verification is based on ISO 14025 and ISO 15804. The approach and commitment is seen clearly in Aku’s first Responsibility Report – Bilancio di sostenibilità 2021 – Aku

To put the brand’s credentials in perspective, Puccin had explained, “We started, in 2011, a project that was called ‘Sustainability at Aku’ and, as soon as we got into that big topic, we learned immediately that we are not sustainable. So we decided in 2012 that we skipped the word ‘sustainability’ in the company and we use the world ‘responsibility’. And we do that by building three groups in the company that have the task every year to find better ways of doing what we do. And that’s our way of working. We saw that we cannot be sustainable in a very near future but we can be responsible to make little steps every single year to go in that direction.”

At the Sustainability Breakfast, he had explained how the company had explored the carbon footprint it created from the acquisition of raw materials through to stock delivery. “We’ve been the first and only footwear to publish an Environmental Product Declaration in footwear. Why? Because it’s super complicated. It is really a challenge. It’s very, very complex. You have to look at everything. All the raw materials, all the transportation, the packaging processes, waste, the energy transportation to all accounts across the globe. So it was really a challenge but we went through that because we believe one thing – that if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re don’t know how to react.”

In discussion about the current themes of durability and product end of life, the problems facing mountaineering footwear are obvious. “Imagine that some of our product has up to 70 different components  – tiny objects. A lot of different components and a lot of different materials. Polyethylene, polypropylene, polyurethane, carbon fibre, all built to last and not to fall apart. So the challenge is the end of life. There was a project in Germany that built a proper machine to dismantle footwear. I sent them a sample of our products, including mountaineering, and the project stopped there. Put into the machine, say, running shoes, the machine operates very well. If you put mountaineering boots with a carbon fibre lasting board with aluminium inside and most likely it will break down your machine.”

Regarding product development, he noted, “The first topic at Aku is fit. So, the boot has to have a very special fit. You need to have the experience to step in and find something very special. It takes very long to get to that point. The main concern is that and the fit according to their type of use. And then the question goes what material we’re using and the responsibilities of them. Like, for example, you can have recycled rubber for the soles but then the performance is not as good as the standard one. So it always depends on what the product is meant for.”


That’s where durability is a key consideration. He made the point that passing quality, well maintained  walking boots through generations is not uncommon which led on to a discussion about balancing priorities which exercises many brands as insight and understanding evolves. “There is a tension between all. Is there an ideal solution? No, and I think when you focus on a responsible approach, so that product has to function in that context, Then this probably is the best answer – that you add as much recyclable content as possible as possible.”

This feature first appeared in Outdoor i – the outdoor industries’ trusted source for trade news, insight and opinion.

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