The urgent need to indicate interventions that favour more sustainable development of our planet has been the target of various institutional agendas at national, European and global levels for some time. But the implementation times of operational measures that really influence critical factors are no longer compatible with the current, extraordinarily rapid, incredibly dramatic, evolution of the Earth. Therefore, a change of pace is essential, inescapable, also with the fielding of ‘bottom up’ action which may, on one hand, favour the spread of best practices and change citizens’ habits and, on the other, further influence institutional programming. With this in mind, what are the areas of our daily life that should be prioritised for intervention? And what are the main initiatives already implemented by individuals in this direction?
PIERLUIGI SASSI – We’re living a Kafka-like paradox. The United Nations have been promoting discussions on climate change for 30 years but, without a true decision-making hierarchy, world government representatives have exploited, and still exploit, the conferences on climate to defend their competitive position in the markets in relation to climate change rather than discussing the ongoing problem. This paradox generates institutional paralysis so much so that, despite the 26 conferences on climate, emissions have continued to increase, exceeding the reversibility threshold. However, the economy is now beginning to show signs of enormous imbalance. During its second Stress Test, the ECB showed that European GDP risks falling and 40 European banks out of 100 could fail because of the sums they will have to guarantee to businesses that have suffered damage from climate change. This is the description of an economic-financial system that’s crashing. It’s significant that Pope Frances’s encyclical ‘Laudato Sì’ is the only document on sustainability to have convinced governments and global institutions, also garnering support
from representatives of religions other than Christianity. An on-line platform , established with the aim of collecting and activating bottom up initiatives in support of the environment followed the encyclical. Today, people are experiencing first-hand the consequences of climate change – heat, environmental disasters, and animal and plant species about to become extinct. This situation generates a strong feeling of consumer dissatisfaction, and they have started to orientate their buying (and electoral) choices more radically. There are plenty of opportunities to change things from the bottom. Every family and every business can now produce renewable energy autonomously, join energy communities, and access state incentives supporting these initiatives. The same applies to mobility. Sustainable forms of mobility can be chosen, people can even choose to reduce their mobility, taking advantage of the technological platforms available. Therefore, it’s essential that each of us champions these subjects in the areas where they can make a difference.
In this situation, business organisations are certainly called on to take an active part in this undertaking, challenging in its aims, but also potentially very pervasive and incisive in the daily behaviour of all of us. There are already many organisations which are making sustainability one of the basic themes of their mission. What concrete action can be implemented by small and medium companies, typical of the Italian entrepreneurial fabric, to reduce their environmental footprint? What innovations are there in this field?
PS – Companies certainly have a central role in this situation. Initially, they completely rejected the topic in the name of profit; then there was green washing, i.e. “let’s give ourselves a green coat but, in essence, we’re doing the same things as before but talking about them in a sustainable way”. Now there’s an emergency and even companies are beginning to wonder how they can be truly sustainable, i.e. how to create value for the environment and society (this means being sustainable) in the face of the wealth of the planet they exploit to produce their goods or services. In two years’ time, Sustainability Reports will be compulsory and a company will have to demonstrate its support for the ESG factors (through special metrics) to access investment funds. Large brands will only be able to choose sustainable suppliers; that is why companies must already undertake a realistic path towards sustainability. The risk is to find themselves out of the supply chains and unable to work.
Governments, which spend Euro 6 trillion a year globally on projects that impoverish the environment, are calling on companies to act. Therefore, the time has come for companies to be the key players. On mobility, for example, companies must bear responsibility for the CO₂ they generate and the impact they have on the area, including in the calculation the home-office journeys of their employees. There are various incentives in favour of sustainability of the mobility of businesses. The Green Mobility Platform was created for this purpose. It talks to other platforms and allows the indication and measurement of the assessment of company sustainability parameters (such as fuel for vehicles and maintenance), certifying the reduction in CO₂ emissions of individual companies at European level and suggesting personalised upgrades (community sharing mobility, shared fleets between companies which also enable a reduction in costs for individual companies, etc.).
Urban regeneration is another large area for the implementation of measures for sustainable development, oriented to the urban areas that can make the most contribution to the reduction of polluting emissions, energy consumption, the activation of a virtuous circle that starts from daily habits and achieves new models of urban life. There are now many initiatives in the urban architectural and infrastructural design sphere, there are various national and international competitions on the regeneration of urban areas that stimulate the designer to imagine new development models. In this situation, how do you see a ‘bottom up’ approach possible leading to innovative measures that can be rapidly fulfilled?
PS – If we talk of sustainability, we have to take account of the cities. They are the key players in climatic change because consumption is high in urban spaces yet, at the same time, sustainability projects can take root and make the difference in city government. I believe that, first of all, cities should be rethought. Up to now, urban spaces have been designed to generate economic, not environmental and social, efficiency. These spaces need to be
redesigned not only to support and guide cultural changes and generate sustainable habits and behaviour but also, and above all, to not leave room for non-sustainable behaviour. The same applies to the new technologies, which are the other tool available to us towards sustainability. Our cities must be rethought to welcome avant-garde technological answers able to make our daily life more respectful of the environment and the planet.
Pierluigi Sassi – is chairman of Earth Day Italia, the organisation that celebrates the United Nations World Earth Day and works to raise environmental consciousness through information and communication campaigns. He works with many multi-national companies and public bodies at all institutional levels. He was National Secretary of Young
Christian Businesspeople, a consultant to ABI and the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, and a director of the regional public opinion observatory at the presidency of Lazio Region. He has founded editorial series and newspaper columns and has worked with RAI/Sky/La7/TV2000 on the production of various radio and television programmes.
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