Interpretative key: Sustainability is the adaptive challenge par excellence. It cannot be solved simply by applying technical solutions, even if they are innovative. It calls for in-depth change that has to do with the minds and hearts of people. A true leader is he/she who can bring a collectivity to address the deepest of fears, namely the loss of a balanced situation, in order to make it evolve towards a new scenario. With vision, but also with action, the aim is to create a new and great alliance that can move towards a new kind of economic, social and environmental prosperity.
Interpretative key: As of last year, the world and its political agenda have changed. The addition of ESG factors to corporate processes is a one-way path but with a great future, a path that banks worldwide are preparing to facilitate and support. It isn’t just a question of changing organisation models and production methods, because the challenge implies the changing of peoples’ minds. What is changing is not only the way in which the value chain is organised but also the chain’s gears. The new engines of change for inspiration, both in Italy and across the world, are found in cross-media marketing and in the ability to set up economic system strategies.
Interpretative key: Today the young generations are more aware than their counterparts of the past of the need to reduce the environmental and social impacts of human activities. But it is not always possible to live green, because sustainability is often a question of price and time. Paradoxically, consuming more costs less in this contemporary world.
Interpretative key: Sustainability equals innovation, but small and medium sized enterprises run the risk of being excluded from the monopoly game of green products and processes. To avoid the risk of ‘patented sustainability’, it is necessary to overcome the barriers of individual intellectual property and work towards making sustainability increasingly more democratic. Without prejudice, on the one hand, to the importance of the different resources of investors and, on the other, the development of forms of licensing or of pooling intended to avoid abusive monopoly or anti-competitive practices, the intent is to find a good balance that does not undermine the investment in innovation but rather that at the same time guarantees cooperation where possible and as necessary.
Interpretative key: Sustainability is a multi-dimensional objective that has at least three focal points: an economic one, a social one and an environmental one. A CEO today is expected to pursue a holistic, economic and at the same time social objective. He or she must integrate the value with the value and answer to all five of his/her stakeholders, namely the shareholders, the clients, the employees, the suppliers and the community as a whole. Based on this assumption, the companies that will prove to be successful in the future will be those guided by directors with a solid moral compass and who in addition to aiming at making a profit have a larger objective that involves social well-being and environmental sustainability. Obviously, as with any type of change, the goal must be reached in steps in order to prove to be truly well-structured and long-lasting.
Interpretative key: Sustainability does not mean looking back at the past but allows us to life the future thanks to innovation, especially in processes, namely the ways in which we cultivate and produce. Curiosity applied to research, as well as the ability to pose the right questions and study the issues further in depth by analysing them also with the use of data, is the right path towards progress. If this path is taken, the result is a clear view of how sustainability benefits everyone: businesses, workers, suppliers, investors, buyers and the environment
Interpretative key: For a company, sustainability no longer is an added value but rather an obligation. Anyone who does not want to evolve to start promoting products and services in compliance with the concrete requirements of economic, social and environmental responsibility will soon become incapable of competing. In the same way, anyone who, once these objectives have been reached, proves incapable of communicating them to their clients will be equally penalised. Every company’s responsibility in pursuing a new form of profit that takes into account the common good and that of the environment, as well as the ability to showcase its choices, are the elements of a new form of competitiveness. The existence of certifications, even if they are internationally acknowledged to be transparent and reliable, can be of support only if they do not prove to be dead-weights and add to the bureaucracy. Much more preferable is an open system in which the entrepreneur is held liable for his own decisions, where the market and the supply chain act as elements for boosting and controlling better quality, where there are sanctions and they are applied (and not just threatened) to those who commit fraud.
Interpretative key: Sustainability is essential. The absence of clear and complete rules that help companies address the transition that they are facing, however, risks making the issue quite slippery. Most of the laws that will regulate this path are still to be defined. We need clear and efficient regulations that, if they also intend to achieve ‘public’ results, must not forget about profit that is the ultimate goal of any company. To this end, the challenge of integrating ESG factors into companies so as to fulfill the sustainability goals, must be taken with proportionality and common sense.
Interpretative key: Business and the common good are not necessarily opposites. Production companies are also a common good and it is in this light that one should plan their management. A company is not an expenditure for the territory in which it is located. On the contrary, it should be an added value that contributes to the local community. Using standards to exchange information means not only to use a tool to evolve but also to learn how to make one’s values known and to communicate them.
Interpretative key: Sustainability is a concept that must be endorsed to the full if one truly wants it to become a reality. The goal is not so much to reduce the waste of energy as rather to abstain from leaving a footprint on the environment or on society with our activities. The obstacles along the way are many, starting with the reduced economic power of those who promote truly natural products. Signals are appearing at the horizon, however. The market is slowly changing. Consumers, even if by small niches, are learning to assess the real cost of the products and services by considering their effects on the entire life cycle and not only on the price when buying or selling. Most importantly, the application of digital and industrial processes to the transformation of green-building materials is increasing the competitiveness of those who build according to quality and in a healthy and environmentally friendly way.
Interpretative key: Sustainability is innovation. It must not be confused with a simple low environmental, economic or social impact product or with a virtuous manufacturing process capable of optimising costs and time and of reducing waste. These are indeed only useful for building a new, desirable and possible life scenario for man. The focal point of every sustainability action is not, therefore, the safeguarding of the planet but the protection of persons, because climate change on the one side and social imbalance on the other all come from the same source: human choices. This is why it is necessary to follow the path traced by the 17 Sustainable development objectives of the UN’s 2030 Agenda so as to avoid the risk that in the next few years people become only costs and, if unsustainable, useless, thereby causing a return to the ‘Facts and Statistics’ alone of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times. In order to design an alternative scenario one needs a leap of the imagination capable of envisaging an inhabitable future, starting from three key assumptions: 1) sustainability is a complex asset, not a complicated one; 2) it is a universal theme and, therefore, each one of us is expected to give his/her contribution; 3) the only road possible for reaching the goal is to reason in systemic terms.
Interpretative key: Today, companies are called to demonstrate they are aware of their social role and of the impact their strategies may have on the environment surrounding them. Recently, international investors have started snubbing those undertakings that operate in a business that is not deemed sustainable. The next step will be to measure also the impact that these investment choices have on the environment. This is the only way in which we can create a truly virtuous system that allows us also to better direct the direction we are taking.
Interpretative key: The consultants must be ready to work alongside the companies in new challenges via a holistic approach, i.e. by taking into account the entire life process of an asset or service, from its design to its disposal and reutilisation. It is not enough to adapt to the lower standard if one wishes to innovate and compete in all sectors and, even more so, in an environmentally responsible way. Let’s take the packaging industry, for example. In the supply chain in Italy, recycling is already reaching excellent levels and it is a real possibility for everyone. And yet, today, those who do not find this sufficient are aiming at circularity with Closed Loop Recycling. What does this mean? It means that it is not enough that a bottle can be recycled and transformed into products that are different from those originally sold. This bottle can actually go back to being a new bottle. It will also be the companies’ turn to develop projects based on a logic of responsibility extended to the producer (EPR – Extended Producer Responsibility). Furthermore, the individual initiative will be even more effective and will circulate more quickly if it is supported and finds help in trade associations, in supply chain sharing and in economic aid mechanisms specifically designed for the purpose.
Interpretative key: Not acting is an action. So, the non-governing of a region is tantamount to governing it badly. The planet is asking us to account for our actions, however. Public opinion is guiding a cultural movement that has an effect on market choices and will peak with the action of banks and insurance companies when they stop financing projects, buildings or territories that are not sustainable and therefore too fragile to be protected. The task of architects and urban planners is to design a new dress for the current reality of our landscape. Beware however: not all models fit! Each context requires its own tailored suit.
Interpretative key: Sustainability stands for investing in the consumer so that he/she may understand the value of a product or service that truly respects society and the environment and that sustains the community and the region with actions that help reduce the ecological footprint. Innovation must be shared for the greater good that goes beyond profit as an end to itself. Information must be transparent because the buyer must be taken into account and not under-estimated. To play with unawareness or with greenwashing is a risk that over the long term can turn into a boomerang.
Interpretative key: Communication as regards sustainability has wide and elevated purposes. Quite often it is a tool used not only for information but also for educating the public as well as the enterprises. It spurs companies to analyse the objectives they have actually achieved and to sort out what their weaknesses and their opportunities are. Finally, it becomes a tool for control in the hands of consumers who punish those companies that declare objectives that they do not achieve. For this reason, it is important to work in depth in defining one’s identity and the messages that one can share.
Interpretative key: The companies that follow the ESG factors are multiplying in number and are becoming attractive to capitals and talents. There are still various challenges to be won, however. Sustainability is not a project but an all-round directing process. To be successful it must become a pervasive factor in a company and manage to engage all of the company’s departments as well as the entire workforce. Such a goal requires training and great skills on the part of the management that must apply its leadership in order to acquire consensus and engagement that can even be gradual but targeted towards entirety.
Interpretative key: Today, consumers are willing to spend more for a sustainable product, but not under any conditions. Indeed, they must clearly perceive its added value. Increase is within reasonable limits when ranging between 10% and 30%, otherwise the market cannot credibly sustain it. Companies must work towards finding in product and process innovation, in scale economies and in resource savings the delta necessary to respond to a public of increasingly more aware consumers.
Interpretative key: The integration of ESG factors in the organisation of a company implies the introduction of new management tools used to assess the impacts of every activity or product on society and on the environment. A social or sustainability report is not enough. What is needed is veritable non-financial reporting accompanied by certifications capable of allowing actual comparisons. This is a real, urgent and non-deferrable requirement. The bank and international funds systems are changing the way in which they assess a company’s performance. They no longer reason in terms of profit alone but in terms of the social and environmental impact of products and processes.
Interpretative key: The young generations believe in sustainability. Less faithful to fashions and to brands, they pay great attention in purchasing only those services and products of which they know the origin or that are offered by companies that they believe respect the environment. This applies to clothing, food and even mobility. Environmental sustainability and responsibility are two factors that identify a brand and the culture in which it operates every day. The possibility of always choosing in an ethical manner, however, still clashes with reality. Decisions based on local and fair-trade consumption, the reduction in waste or the attention to how one’s activities impacts the planet are not for everyone, or at least they aren’t in every situation. Education and social class make the difference in an individual’s profile. The availability of time or limited spending power are often enough unsurmountable limits when dealing with green actions or purchases. Finally, leisure time is still an ambit in which the wish to experience prevails over total commitment to a low environmental impact lifestyle.
Interpretative key: For Rubner Haus, the compilation of this book has been a pivotal opportunity for education. We have understood that in order to sell a sustainable, healthy and fully circular product what we must do is to invest in a new strategic and organisational vision of the company. It is only by changing the hearts and minds of our society that we can be certain that we are proposing much more than an environmentally compatible house to our clients. We now intend to enlighten them with the awareness that the company is acting in an all-round sustainable manner.
Deborah Zani, the CEO of Rubner Haus, together with the journalist Maria Chiara Voci and the illustrator Niccolò Canova, are the authors of a survey on the relationship between growth, development and the current attention to protecting the environment and human health. The results have been collected (and portrayed according to different levels of language) in a book published by Mondadori in the Nuove Frontiere collection with the title ‘Sostenibilità e Profitto’ (Sustainability and Profit). The book, now available in book stores and in digital format, contains 21 interviews and provides basic information for those seeking insight in such an important and yet still undefined global issue. This is the link to purchase it: Sostenibilità e profitto