“Italy is far advanced on the sustainability front: it just needs to become fully aware of this.” Francesco Starace, Enel CEO and General Manager, had said this several days earlier at the presentation of the Enel-Symbola publication “100 Italian Circular Economy stories.” He repeated it on 16 March in Trento in his presentation at the opening of the Festival of Green Economy, the second part of Green Week (13-18 March) which featured conferences, talks and debates and followed a tour of the “Factories of Sustainability.”
The air of optimism was bolstered by the lively nature of the setting. The Trentino region is one of the most advanced in Italy in terms of innovation and environmental sustainability. This was confirmed by the many regional partners of the event, (Trento University, Bruno Kessler Foundation, Edmund Mach Foundation, MUSE – Museum of Science, Trentino Sviluppo), and the results of the Green Italy 2017 report, published by Symbola and Unioncamere. The research noted that the production system in Trentino-Aldo Adige, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Friuli is not only the most advanced in the country when it comes to sustainability, but is also one of the leaders in Europe. Since 2011, 145,000 businesses have green invested in these five regions (41% of the total), making an important contribution to employment: 160,000 green jobs were created last year alone, half of all those generated in Italy. The report recorded that 2017 saw a real acceleration of green investment across the nation, with 209,000 businesses choosing sustainability and efficiency, and reached a percentage (15.9%) 1.6 points above the levels of 2011.
The speakers at the Trento event also included Ermete Realacci, President of Symbola, the think tank that, for years, has promoted the soft economy. This is a model of development that focuses on quality, where tradition and local communities join forces with innovation, research culture and design. Realacci explained that “Today, taking care of the environment doesn’t mean being good but being intelligent.”
The country’s good results were not produced by chance. The limited availability of raw materials sparked deep-rooted Italian creativity, pushing industries to discover a vocation for innovation. Realacci noted as an example that the ban on the use of microplastics in the cosmetic industry will come into force in 2020: in this sector where Italy “has a role as world leader,” the country’s businesses should guide the way forward. Francesco Starace cited the example of the establishment of geothermal baths at Larderello, in the province of Pisa: when production use caused significant deforestation, the area needed to adapt and, in so doing, discovered how to harness the energy from the earth’s heat. “Today, investment in renewable energy is the preeminent strategy because it costs less year on year and is simpler to install and maintain, thanks to digitalisation: we look at the long term,” said Enel’s CEO. He also illustrated the group’s approach to the Green Economy: “It begins with the duo of sustainability and innovation, which leads to energy, including efficiency and the circular economy along the way.”
So can we be optimistic about the future? Of course we can. After all, the entrepreneurial framework of Made in Italy has always demonstrated the ability to overcome challenges, buoyed by a vision that is intrinsically sustainable.