The business world as a sustainability laboratory

Published on Friday, 5 April 2019

The “Giro d’Italia,” is the name of a famous cycle race across Italy. But it’s also the title of a series of conferences on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) which are taking place in various Italian cities. As is the case with the race, these individual events are known as “stages.” The CSR and social innovation Giro d’Italia began in Turin in late January and since then it has visited Udine, Benevento, Pisa and Catania. The sixth stage took place on 28 March in Rome, at the economics faculty at the “Tor Vergata” University: the theme was “local sustainability.” The idea in all stages of the tour is that the key word for companies seeking to invest in socio-environmental objectives is change, and this change is acting as a springboard for larger companies which are embracing new sustainable business models.

Doing the honours as host in Rome was Marco Meneguzzo, a professor at the university, with greetings offered by the city’s Deputy Mayor (with the culture portfolio) Luca Bergamo. Also on the panel were Sabrina Florio, President of Anima per il sociale nei valori d’impresa, and Giovanni Battista Costa, President of Next, who explained the role of a “cultural laboratory” of the business world, where environmental sustainability meets corporate social responsibility to create a new paradigm based on creating shared value. “Action” has been one of the key words, together with “change,” that have shaped the debate around social responsibility and innovation.  

The second part of the conference was dedicated to experiential storytelling. It was coordinated by Filippo Giordano, a lecturer at the LUMSA University. Large companies like Enel, Ferrovie dello Stato, CSR/ENAV and GSE described the environmental sustainability policies they have implemented, sharing an “open” approach that emphasises common heritage, pro-action and the civil economy.

“Large corporations must learn to use shared value, demonstrating the importance of sustainable activities,” said Massimo Lombardi, head of Enel Italia’s Sustainability Project, who added: “We must find new business opportunities that can solve social problems.” He believes it is time to act. Innovation is the disruptive, enabling factor in sustainability, and Enel is daily committed to achieving this transformation. “We need to demonstrate that it’s possible to obtain better results by introducing new elements, but we can’t do it alone – we have to listen and take local circumstances into account in a healthy, constructive way so that we can all work in the same direction without wasting any effort, maximising the value generated. That’s why we have adopted an extremely well-structured approach with our stakeholders, with around 800 sustainability projects that have either been launched or are underway in Italy alone.”  

The final work session focused on the hands-on experience of “active citizens” who have launched social inclusion and environmental sustainability projects, creating new opportunities for encounters. One example is Lorenzo Artibani, a former economy student at Tor Vergata and founder of the Orto 2.0 startup, who has developed a social agriculture project currently being trialled by several non-profit organisations working in the field of psychiatry and mental health. Patients are offered a “farming therapy” to stimulate participation, limit food waste and construct a shared value community.

These stories of sustainability continue their journey across Italy with the CSR Italian Tour, with further stages in Bari, Bologna, Padova, Rimini and Verona, before finishing in Genoa on 24 May, prior to the Salone nazionale (national conference), which will be held in Milan in October. 

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