Sustainable Development: Environment, Economy and People

Sustainable Development: Environment, Economy and People


How sustainable development will improve our future: understanding its importance

Sustainable development is a multidisciplinary approach through which economic growth and environmental protection are combined, generating transversal benefits for current and future generations.

With the help of scientific and technological innovation, sustainable development aims to theorize and apply strategies capable, on the one hand, of contributing to the decarbonization of society, the spread of renewable energy sources and the success of circular economy principles, and on the other hand of bringing tangible benefits regarding a country’s industrial production, employment, wellbeing and security.

From this perspective, sustainable development is seen as a primary tool for transforming our responsibilities toward the environment, until recently viewed as a hindrance to economic growth, into a driver for opportunity, progress and innovation.


Defining sustainable development

Sustainable development is a concept introduced in the 1980s to indicate a model of economic growth that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” as defined in the report “Our Common Future” published in 1987 by the United Nations (UN).


The history of sustainable development

“Our Common Future,” also known as the Brundtland Report, clearly described the aim of sustainable development in an attempt to make the concept of sustainability more concrete, expanding on an idea that had been previously introduced in 1972 during the first UN conference on the environment. It would take another two decades before sustainable development officially became a new, internationally recognized model of reference during the 1992 UN Conference.

Meanwhile, as the issue of climate change was worsening, the sustainable development movement began to gain increasing relevance. An illustrative example of this trend was the 1987 Montreal Protocol, marking the first instance when strict limits on sulfur dioxide emissions for industrial sites were imposed. A decade later, the Kyoto Protocol further strengthened this momentum, outlining clear international collaboration among government, industry and civil society to substantially reduce CO2 emissions.

Other fundamental steps in the transition towards sustainable development are evident in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in which the commitment toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions is reaffirmed, and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in which biodiversity conservation is identified as an essential requirement for sustainable development. 

These are significant milestones in the evolution of thought. They were further solidified by the progress of technological innovation and the growing adoption of renewable energy sources as alternatives to fossil fuels. These milestones culminated in the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. The agenda outlines precise tools and goals for the realization of a new model of development characterized by sustainability, opportunity, equity and inclusion.


The three pillars

Sustainable development is a model that is supported by three pillars: environment, economy and society. It aims to improve people’s material wellbeing without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Therefore, all sustainable development strategies aim to increase: 

1. Environmental sustainability (the responsible use of natural resources).

2. Economic sustainability (the increase of people’s material wellbeing).

3. Social sustainability (the realization of a model of civic co-habitation based on safety, health and justice).

Over the course of time, these three dimensions have been integrated with the principles of intergenerational equity (guaranteeing future generations the same opportunities as the current one) and corporate social responsibility.

These pillars rest on five guiding principles, the so-called 5Ps, which are the five values that encapsulate the mission of any sustainable development strategy: People, Prosperity, Peace, Partnership and Planet.


Global challenges

The Sustainable Development Goals require the collaboration of all countries and all parts of society to address and overcome global challenges that hinder their achievement:

Inequality. The inequality of income, wealth and opportunity, between or within countries, is a serious obstacle to sustainable development and the fight against poverty.

Environmental pollution. Currently much of the environmental impact of human activities is caused by systems of production, distribution and consumption that cause depletion of natural resources, loss of biodiversity and rising temperatures.

Food insecurity. Millions of people around the world do not have access to a sufficient quantity of food to meet their nutritional needs or they have difficulty finding quality foods that ensure a healthy, balanced diet.

Unsustainable urbanization. The unchecked expansion of large cities poses a threat to sustainable development because, especially in emerging countries, this growth has tended to follow the evolution of cities after World War II, a pattern that has proven to be unsustainable.


Strategies, tools and solutions for sustainable development 

The success of sustainable development cannot be separated from the adoption of various strategies intended to revolutionize the ways in which we produce and consume energy, thanks to the contribution of technological innovation, together with the work of our industrial and agri-food supply chains, and to orient our governments toward supporting and promoting new green policies that incentivize the adoption of virtuous models of business and civil coexistence.

For this reason, there is a need for comprehensive and transversal projects whose goal is to foster an increasingly harmonious integration of economic, social and environmental factors, for example:

Renewable sources: the gradual abandonment of fossil fuels in favor of energy from renewable sources (i.e. sun, wind, water, heat from the earth) contributes in a crucial way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change as well as fostering the economic and social development of local communities by stimulating the emergence of new job opportunities and increasing employment.

Energy efficiency: through technological and digital innovation new tools can be found through which it is possible to drastically reduce the amount of energy required to sustain consumption and services.

Circular economy: an economic model that aims to minimize or even eliminate the production of waste and, at the same time, to maximize the reuse, recycling and reclamation of materials and resources.

Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions: the greenhouse effect and global warming are largely caused by the emission of gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). In order to combat climate change it is necessary to reduce their emissions into the atmosphere.

Protection of biodiversity: safeguarding the variety of living things is crucial to the health and wellbeing of humans and the planet. Which is why it is necessary to support the creation of protected areas, combat desertification and deforestation, and promote efficient and sustainable agricultural practices.

Models of responsible consumption: consumers should be encouraged to choose products and services that ensure the least environmental and social impact and that are directed towards the informed and intelligent use of material and energy resources.


The role of policies and institutions

Sustainable development needs to be addressed at every level of society in order to initiate transversal, concrete and shared benefits. The role of policy is therefore essential in encouraging, facilitating and supporting this change.

This goal was clearly cited in numerous European regulations in the 1900s and 2000s. The European Union identified sustainable development as a fundamental and all-encompassing value as early as the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam. The treaty laid the conceptual foundation for a growth strategy in which environmental, economic and social factors are all closely interrelated.

The correlation was further reiterated in 1999 in the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS), which clearly states the desire to make Europe into the ideal terrain to welcome a dynamic and competitive economy based on respect for the environment and the wellbeing of people.

Sustainable development continued to become an even more central theme in the European debate, so much so that the Treaty of Lisbon, which came into effect on December 1st, 2009, increased the power of the European Parliament precisely in the areas of safeguarding, protecting and improving the quality of the environment.

With EU 2020, the subsequent strategy which nevertheless predates the current Sustainable Development 2030 Agenda, the potential of sustainable development as a means of economic revitalization was reaffirmed through a new 10-year plan.

The same guidelines were adopted in Italy in 2021 with a series of measures supported by the PNRR as well. These were openly aimed at accelerating the energy transition, promoting the spread of renewable energy sources, creating the infrastructure needed to accommodate electric and sustainable mobility and supporting new models of social cohesion and inclusion.

On January 1st, 2021, Italy took the next step in the attempt to combine economic growth, environmental protection and social progress by officially transforming the Inter-ministerial Committee for Economic Planning (CIPE) into the Inter-ministerial Committee for Economic Planning and Sustainable Development (CIPESS), with the express desire to establish a governing body capable of developing new strategies based on sustainability, digitalization and the energy transition and place sustainable development at the head of our national economy.


The importance of education and raising awareness

Given that sustainable development also inevitably concerns the habits of citizens, education and orientation regarding sustainability in all spheres, from businesses to schools, is an indispensable element for establishing a new awareness and spreading best practices for responsible consumption at both the individual and collective level. 


Our commitment to sustainable development

As a Group we have adopted an integrated business model through which we want to contribute to reaching all of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals from the 2030 Agenda. There are four goals in particular that drive our value creation: SDG #13 “Climate action”; SDG #7 “Affordable and clean energy”; SDG #9 “Industry, innovation and infrastructure”; SDG #11 “Sustainable cities and communities.”

This strategy is embodied in our 2023-2025 Strategic Plan, a list of short, medium and long-term goals that make our commitment to sustainable growth and the energy transition of the Italian economy both transparent and verifiable. The list is updated on an annual basis, thanks to a continuous process of aligning strategic policies that are adjusted based on results achieved and the implementation of best practices and new technologies in order to increasingly integrate sustainability principles along the entire value chain.

Through the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources, the circular economy and electrification of consumption, our Group is striving to eliminate its own emissions by 2040, ten years ahead of the European provision, in order to actively contribute to reducing global warming and staying below the critical threshold of 1.5 °C.

This is a strategy in which technological innovation, digitalization, social inclusion, and sustainable and responsible finance all work in synergy to create shared value by placing people at the center to create a fair and just energy transition that leaves no one behind.



Sustainable development aims to integrate the principles of environmental, economic and social sustainability in a single unified model capable of initiating tangible, transversal and shared benefits across every level of society.

Signed on September 15th, 2015, by the governments of the 193 member countries of the United Nations, the 2030 Agenda serves as a global reference point for coordinating the national and international efforts of governments, businesses and citizens to overcome some of the biggest challenges of our time, including the energy crisis, climate change, inequality and social exclusion.

The strategic plan of the United Nations includes short-, medium- and long-term milestones through which all UN member countries are committed to achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by the year 2030.

It is possible to participate firsthand in the sustainable development movement by adopting socially responsible behaviors such as sorting and recycling waste, consuming energy from renewable sources, choosing electric and sustainable mobility, and rewarding companies that integrate sustainability into their business models.

While economic growth is a principle based exclusively on financial metrics, in sustainable development the economic reasons cannot be at odds with protecting the environment and the wellbeing of people, because it is the very interconnectedness of these areas which allows for the initiation of transversal benefits at every level of society.

The Sustainable Development Festival, promoted by the Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development (ASviS), offers citizens, businesses, young people, institutions and associations a detailed and comprehensive framework for sustainability issues and aims to raise awareness and mobilize public opinion to embrace renewable energy sources, the energy transition and social inclusion.