Circular, sustainable new beginnings

Circular, sustainable new beginnings


Sustainability is doing the Giro d’Italia. Having started from Turin on January 21, the ninth edition of the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Giro d’Italia is helping to spread the culture of sustainability all over the country through live streaming. As happens each year, the initiative was launched by the CSR and Social Innovation Show, Italy’s leading Corporate Social Responsibility event. It is sponsored by Milan’s Bocconi University, CSR Manager Network, Fondazione Global Compact Network Italia, ASviS, and some of the Italian Group’s leading organizations, including the Enel Foundation, Sodalitas, Unioncamere and Koinètica.

The title of the 2021 edition is “Sustainable Rebirth”, in order to respond to the challenge of change that all social stakeholders are being asked to implement and which touches not only on how things are produced and business is done but also our way of working and consuming. It is not just about hope but also a commitment to look to the future in a different way with courage and the capacity for innovation and vision.

Sustainability – Enel’s record

“Enel has been following the Show for a great many years now and shares its challenges and goals,” declared Marco Gazzino, Chief Innovability® Officer at Enel X, speaking on February 4 at the Milan stage, which was dedicated to cities of the future. The Group has been promoting these themes in all its businesses for some time but “the big news this year is that Enel has reached the top spot on the international Dow Jones Sustainability World Index. We have in fact been on it for the last 17 years, confirming our huge commitment to sustainability and the circular economy,” explained Gazzino.

Cities are pivotal hubs when it comes to creating sustainable development. Today, we are being confronted with three critically important issues: dwindling resources, population growth and the limits of the linear ‘take, make, waste’ economic model. “Remember that although they cover just 2-3% of the Earth’s surface, cities pollute and are responsible for 60-80% of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. So clearly, solving their problems by leveraging decarbonization and electrification will have a huge environment and social impact.”

Our commitment to the cities of the future targets a model that bears the stamp of circular economy principles: the Circular Economy Report, created by Enel X for public administrative bodies, measures the level of circularity of services in a practical manner and analyses the areas in which action needs to be taken to improve it and to make our cities more efficient, liveable and sustainable. 

Circularity along the entire value chain

The theme of circularity was at the center of the Messina stage on March 10. Awareness is growing of the fact that, in order to generate innovative and sustainable business models, we need to be thinking of products and services in a circular manner and managing supply chains in different ways. Fernanda Panvini, Head of Circular Economy Italy, spoke about how our Group’s journey to circularity began a decade ago with a medium-long term vision that led to the strategic decision to invest in renewable energies and decarbonization. Our commitment to implementing the circular economy on a practical level is a key competitivity strategy and can also integrate sustainability and innovation. 

This kind of innovation is not just about technology but also about business models, processes, relationships with the supply chain and with customers. Such as, for instance, a focus on choosing materials and design solutions aimed at increasing the usage factor of products and extend their useful lifespans. It is therefore also a cultural as well as technological journey.  

The circular approach can also contribute to decarbonization not just in terms of energy savings and efficiency but also the preservation of natural capital by involving the entire value chain: from the extraction of raw materials to production processes, transport and logistics. If the product ends up as waste, then we have wasted the energy content of the process which might be even greater than that of the material used. This is why we need an eco-design approach, which takes into account the dismantling of the components and their maintenance to facilitate their reuse within the production cycle. 

“We realized that we can’t implement the circular economy alone,” stressed Panvini. “In 2018, we launched the ‘Circular Procurement’ project in which we rethought our overall procurement strategy, taking into account strategic deliveries, analyzing and approving suppliers, incoming and outgoing materials. This means that our partners commit with us to comply with certain improvement standards as part of a shared journey of co-innovation, of ‘circular by design.’”

Innovative models for businesses and local areas 

The Bari stage, on March 18, provided an opportunity to bring together some of Puglia’s most innovative sustainability experiences. The region is home to a growing number of entrepreneurs who are investing in the future of the new generations, as we heard from Donato Notarangelo, President of Young Entrepreneurs Confindustria Bari and BAT (Barletta - Andria - Trani). 

Antonino Biondi, our Head of Innovation HUB Italy, spoke at the event. He shared the Innovability® model that has been adopted by the Group, “in which sustainability is the end but innovation is the means of delivering it.” Having introduced our business’s strategic lines – renewable energies, electrification of consumption and infrastructure digitalization,” Biondi explained that “we don’t do innovation on our own: we stimulate and collect ideas, projects and technological solutions in the main innovation ecosystems, thanks to our Innovation Hub&Lab network in Milan, Pisa and Catania.”

The ASviS Report provides a specific focus on the various Italian regions and the success with which they are applying the UN’s SDGs as pointed out by Gianni Bottalico, Head of Territorial Relations of the Alleanza, who also also described the CSR Giro d’Italia as a “noble and virtuous road show that helps improve the quality of democracy in Italy.”

Impactful planning: for-profit and not-for-profit partnerships 

The subject of the relationship between businesses and the voluntary sector was the central focus of the March 25 stage at Ivrea, the “home” of Adriano Olivetti (1901-1960), the enlightened entrepreneur who was often quoted during the debate. The entrepreneurial world’s growing commitment to sustainability is ensuring that for-profit and not-for-profit businesses will increasingly converge. Mario Calderini, President of Il Quinto Ampliamento, said that he hoped the Open Innovation paradigm would soon extend to the voluntary sector, also stressing that innovation cannot exist without a relationship with communities and a social aspect. This concept was reiterated by singer and music producer Cosmo who, referring to his own experience in Ivrea, spoke about the link between social sustainability and the local cultural offering which sprang up spontaneously as a result. 

“Deep down culture is really like having an 18th Sustainable Development Goal (the UN has 17 SDGs – ed) because it cuts right across the board of all the others and represents the language of sustainable development,” added Patricia Navarra of the ASviS Secretariat, who reminded those present that the UN’s 2030 Agenda is “so complex that no-one can implement it alone and that it demands collaboration from everyone.”

The synergy between for-profit and not-for-profit business is also at the heart of the Enel Cuore Onlus experience and also central to our Group which “presented its first Sustainability Report 20 years ago and now defines more than 90% of its Industrial Plan on the basis of the UN’s SDGs.” This was explained by Filippo Nicolò Rodriguez, Head of Sustainability Italy at Enel and Managing Director of our not-for profit, who also emphasized how important creating shared value is to us, particularly during the Covid-19 crisis. He also referenced the in-house crowdfunding campaign to support five not-for-profit bodies. “We are already thinking ahead to the next phase, focusing on three concepts – Rebirth, Regeneration and Restart – with an emphasis on the nation’s suburban areas and to provide support for small third sector entities.”

Universities and businesses – driving sustainable development

With 11 universities, Rome was the ideal choice to discuss the relationship between universities and businesses from a sustainability perspective, on May 20. The academic world is working harder than ever to deliver on what has been dubbed its “third mission” after teaching and research: the transfer of the scientific and technological expertise it has built up to the very fabric of entrepreneurial world in order to promote economic and social growth in the country. This will, of course, be achieved through a growing commitment to environmental protection, urban regeneration and social inclusion projects. Nonetheless, in his opening address, the Chancellor of the University of Roma Tor Vergata, Orazio Schillaci stressed to the world of industry that “not enough use is yet being made of the discoveries by the universities to innovate and improve the sustainability of industrial processes.”

Our Group saw synergy between the academic and entrepreneurial worlds as an opportunity to create a specific role within the Enel Foundation to enhance the fruit of our collaborations with our university partners from an Open Innovation perspective. “The Enel Foundation is essentially the Enel Group’s research center: our job is to drive research and education programs. We do that by instigating knowledge partnerships – exchanges of expertise – with the leading universities in Italy and abroad, including Harvard, MIT, Columbia and UC Berkeley,” explained Head of Relations with Universities and Research Centers Christian Zulberti at the Rome event. While on the one hand, the corporate world can offer its vision of the points of merits of scientific research, on the other, the academic world can be a source of inspiration by showcasing what its research is trying to do. “This creates a process of cross-fertilization that benefits both parties.”

The Enel Foundation is particularly interested in all aspects of the energy transition and sustainable development. “So there is a huge focus on climate change, decentralization, digitalization and decarbonization, and this is also reflected in our training programs,” declared Zulberti.

Sharing value with the community

Sustainable development has to involve a culture of community, which in its turn is based on collaboration, as was highlighted during the Naples stage on May 28. The homo economicus model that focused solely on satisfying the personal needs of the individual has long been superseded: the modern paradigm recognizes that cooperation is not just an ethical choice but often the most logical one. This is demonstrated by the issue of climate change, which can only be tackled if everyone does their bit.

The communities of Southern Italy’s large coastal cities and the rural inland areas have huge potential but they are not always able to fulfil it. In such cases, sustainability brings with it great richness but also demands coordination, and so support from a Group such as ours can make all the difference. This fact was highlighted by Filippo Rodriguez, Head of Sustainability Italy and Managing Director of Enel Cuore Onlus, at the event: “We are a global entity with a presence in nearly 40 countries but we are also a company that is deeply rooted in local areas and close to local communities.”

Rodriguez then recalled our commitment to creating shared value because “a company can only be considered to be genuinely producing value if that value is shared with the local area.” From this perspective, our Group is contributing to social and economic development in communities not just by creating jobs but also through collaborative initiatives in local areas, which are partly also organized by Enel Cuore Onlus. The Naples stage provided an opportunity to introduce some initiatives, including those that promote school – the place where we all have our first experience of community – and also those aimed at the South and the islands in particular, which range from agriculture to tourism. In the course of the event, a slew of the other successful community experiences of which there are numerous examples in the South were also presented. These included digital training for excellence, participatory research in agriculture which combines tradition with innovation, synergies between agriculture and the food industry, and reusing waste in panels to improve energy efficiency, from a circular economy perspective. Not forgetting either tourism enhancement projects in rundown quarters, tree-planting initiatives, the promotion of beach-cleaning, and responsible water usage by small associations or large industrial groups.

Our sustainability will once again be at the heart of the Naples stage of the CSR’s Giro d’Italia in the build-up to the national event on October 12 and 13.