Economy, the value of circularity


“You cannot make good economics out of bad ethics,” wrote the poet Ezra Pound, and the circular economy is certainly based on an ethic that promises excellent results. The model offers huge potential, and to set it in motion we need to change the traditional approach to business, promoting initiatives for responsible use of natural resources, harmonising the economic, social and environmental aspects and taking a circular rather than linear view.

This was the subject for discussion on 5 June, at the World Environment Day, in Milan. The event was held in the Lombardy Region building during the conference on “How the circular economy can add value to Italian companies” organised by Credit Suisse.

Without the circular economy it’s impossible to achieve genuinely sustainable development – that is the conclusion that has been reached in recent years by institutions, organisations, companies and many private citizens. Sustainable development is the path we must take, the only way forward that enables innovation to ensure competitiveness while safeguarding our planet’s future.  

The round table was opened by Stefano Vecchi, CEO of Credit Suisse Italia, who presented a thought-provoking piece of data – the annual use of the Earth’s resources is 1.7 times greater than the ability of its ecosystems to regenerate them. In other words, that’s almost double the amount of available assets. According to Vecchi, “if we make a projection of the current state of affairs to the year 2050, we’ll need three planet Earths to satisfy the demand for resources.” Furthermore, because “eight of the 10 most serious threats to the world economy derive from problems involving the environment, it’s vital that companies adopt the principles of the circular economy as quickly as possible.”

From this point of view Italy is a virtuous nation – over two million jobs, 13 % of the total, can be classed as green jobs, with a positive environmental impact. Domenico Sturabotti, Director of the Fondazione Symbola, pointed out that this is not the only accolade our country can claim, as Italy also heads the European rankings for the total amount of recycled waste (79%) and the percentage of renewable energy as a proportion of total consumption. However, Sturabotti also insisted that there is more to do, as many Italian companies have not yet taken on board a genuine culture of sustainability.

Enel is one of the companies that have made the circular economy a driver for their corporate strategy, and which were invited to present their experiences in this respect. Ernesto Ciorra, our Group’s Chief Innovability® Officer, took the stage at the round table in Milan to say that “constant change – in other words, technological innovation – is crucial to a company’s survival and sustainability. That’s why we invented the concept of innovability®: innovation and sustainability are interwoven themes and all our strategic decisions are shaped by these two key principles.”

Ciorra went on to say that another key principle in our Group’s strategy is the central role played by people: “When we decided to decommission 23 thermal power plants in Italy, our main concern was to relocate the workforce. From this point of view, the circular economy concept can also be applied to skills in a ‘circularity of people.’”