Rewarding sustainability

Published on Thursday, 30 November 2017

The sixteenth-century dome of the Ambrosianeum Foundation in Milan hosted the fourth edition of the BBS (Social Reporting Library) award on 27 November. It was also the occasion for a conference on sustainability. In the Foundation’s own words, this value is “the winning formula that combines long-term profitability, social justice and environmental protection.”

Mirta Barbeschi, founder of the BBS, recalled in opening the conference that the effects of this formula were already clear almost seven centuries ago, as proven by The Allegory of Good and Bad Government, the cycle of frescoes that Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena in 1338: strong, telling images that provide evidence that good governance was already considered a socio-environmental mission.

Hosted in the premises of what used to be bishop’s stables, Barbeschi explained that “BBS was created to draw attention to the contents of the sustainability reports of companies to disseminate them among the general public and to spread the issue of sustainability as a precious value. Because being sustainable is not a battle to win, but one that still needs to begin, and ideally markets should be put in a position to understand this commitment to good governance by those companies that have undertaken it and to reward it accordingly.”

As Enea Roveda, CEO of LifeGate, pointed out in presenting the results of a study commissioned by his company, the markets seem to be ready. The data tell us that sustainability is an issue considered important by 29.7 million Italians, i.e., 59 per cent of the population, while 30% of the respondents claim to be “interested” and another 29% “passionate.” “As regards the latter, we know that the sustainability of a service or product comes before its economic convenience,” said Roveda. “This shows that for a company today, aiming to be sustainable does not mean following a trend, but attracting the interest of a huge pool of potential consumers.”

The difference between development and progress

Enel was present in the hall, among the companies that have been engaged in this effort for some time now. Both because - as Roveda said - “energy is the fundamental issue of our times, directly linked to environmental issues” and because - as Barbeschi added - “it is the company that has won the most sustainability awards by far: the list is ten pages long.”

Our Group was represented by Ernesto Ciorra, Chief Innovability Officer at Enel, who immediately explained the meaning of the neologism from which his division takes its name: “We no longer work separately on innovation and sustainability, but on innovability, a term that combines the two concepts, and not only in words, because we think it is impossible to separate them: we cannot think of innovation without being sustainable, and vice versa.”

He continued, “At our Group, the difference between development and progress, as understood by Pier Paolo Pasolini, is very clear in our minds: development concerns only economic factors, but progress is measured by how much a community or a country is able to produce more freedom, more sociality, more economy and more culture. And we at Enel are aiming at progress in precisely that sense. Because if you do not create long-term, i.e., sustainable, value in the community where you operate, your company is bound to shut down: in other words, this concept of doing business is the best way to serve shareholders.”

During his speech, Ciorra spoke about a particularly significant project: “If we bring energy to the slums of an emerging country and more than 80% of it is stolen, the operation is not sustainable. So, what is the solution to make it sustainable? Creating social development and economic growth that allows people to pay their bills. That is what we are doing in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, where we have engaged the inhabitants in a waste collection and recycling programme that improves environmental quality and gives them an income, and where we finance their children’s education. In fact, energy theft has fallen dramatically, as have related accidents, at times even fatal, and degradation. For us, this means being sustainable: it is not a show of philanthropy, but the desire to be part of a world that innovates and creates widespread value.”

After all, Ciorra said, companies that do not innovate shut down: “And we too would be bound to shut down if we did not pursue an innovation programme on all fronts. To do so, however, it is important to involve the best minds, people who are hungry to change the world, especially those who do not know our industry and therefore can produce truly innovative ideas that we need to make progress as a company. We want to attract those minds, to make them our allies.” That’s why in recent years we have collaborated proactively with research centres, academic and industrial partners and evaluated more than 2000 startups, implementing more than 30 projects, already in the commercial phase, with them: Ciorra continued, “Our doors are always open to new ideas: through the Open Innovability platform, any startup or NGO that wants to join us, can do so, also to address social challenges together with us.”

Indeed, social challenges, in particular the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, are also a cornerstone of our corporate strategy. As Ciorra explained, “Number 7, for instance, the one that aims to give access to energy to the billion and a half people around the world who do not yet have it. For us, that challenge has become a mantra: in 2015, we committed ourselves to bringing energy to three million people by 2020, and we are already at 1.7 million. Because the world, as Pope Francis defined it in his encyclical Laudato si', is our common home. It is up to all of us to make it a better place.”

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