Italy, a Circular Economy Champion

Published on Wednesday, 22 December 2021

“The application of circular economy principles connects different sectors in a process of industrial symbiosis. One company or segment’s waste material becomes the raw material for another. This is a decisive method for tackling the climate crisis while simultaneously improving competitivity. Most of all, however, it creates commercial and economic opportunities in addition to environmental and social benefits.”

– Francesco Starace, Enel CEO and General Manager

The human factor and beauty

Figures, however, tell only one side of Italy’s story as the circular economy’s top player. As our Chief Innovability® Officer Ernesto Ciorra pointed out during the presentation, people lie at the very center of the process: “Circularity of skills is no less important than raw materials. As a Group, we feel a sense of responsibility to constantly update the skills of the people working for us so that they too can become actors of change.” In addition to its people, our country enjoys a competitive advantage because of our passion for beauty, because “this attitude to beauty can be turned into an industrial process that extracts new lymph for the future from waste.” A good example of this is the conversion of the former Porto Tolle thermoelectric power plant on the Po Delta into the Delta Farm eco tourist village. 

“Thought is an arrow, feeling is a circle. You can only put people at the center from a circular perspective with feeling, bringing institutions, companies and researchers on board in order to keep this circle cohesive.”

– Ernesto Ciorra, Enel’s Chief Innovability® Officer

The Circular Economy: so many Italian stories

Another reason why Italy is so virtuous is the many small and large circular economy stories that are adding richness to the fabric of the national production scene. Working with the Fondazione Symbola, we have found no less than 241 such stories, scattered the entire length of the Peninsula, 100 of which have been included in the study. This shows that Made in Italy is focusing on both quality and innovation from a circular perspective. The study investigated a wide array of different sectors from the agri-food to fashion, packaging, mechanical engineering, wood-furniture, building, electronics and chemical industries: they were selected because they are of their relevance on the Italian economic scene. Most of the cases detailed touch on more than one of the Five Pillars of the circular economy:

  1. Circular input: production begins with renewable materials or goods or those coming from previous life cycles.
  2. Extension of the useful life of the product: this is achieved in various ways from modular design to making products easier to repair.
  3. Product as service: a business model in which the client purchases a service for a limited time, while the product remains the property of the company which then reuses it efficiently.  
  4. Shared platform: shared management systems for multiple product, goods or skills users.  
  5. New life cycles: a strategy that ensures products retain their value throughout their life cycle through reuse, regeneration, upcycling or recycling.  

So, sifting through the pages of the report, we find, for instance, furniture made from post-consumer or recyclable materials and designed to be easily disassembled at the end of their life (Arper), e-commerce sites specializing in hiring out clothes, shoes and accessories (DressYouCan), online platforms for sharing construction materials, machinery and equipment (Edilmag), and innovative technologies for mechanically and chemically recycling waste (NextChem).

The 100 stories contained in this study should also stimulate increasing awareness of our Country’s potential, Fondazione Symbola’s President Ermete Realacci was keen to stress: “Italy can make an important contribution to the climate crisis challenge, starting with the circular economy. Tackling the climate crisis with courage is a huge opportunity both for the economy and society.”

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