Morning Future Enrico Giovannini. Foto: Cirone-Musi, Festival della Scienza
Interview 10 December Dec 2018 1147 10 December 2018

Public Administration: Learning to be Sustainable

The very first public-sector sustainability manager course is under way. Leading the course is ex-minister and president of Istat Enrico Giovannini, current spokesperson for the Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development: “The way that the public system works needs to change”.

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It’s been settled: On the 5 November, the first edition of the ‘Sustainability Manager’ diploma offered by the National School for Administration of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers will begin, with classes ending in mid-April next year. Central government officials and managers will be in attendance, while Enrico Giovannini, the ex-minister of Labour, former president of Istat and chief statistician of Ocse will helm the course. Today, Giovannini is the spokesperson of the Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development, which recently published its 2018 a report detailing Italy’s progress towards objectives set out in the 2030 Agenda.

Let’s begin with the course, where the very first public-sector sustainability managers will be trained. Why do we need this initiative?
Essentially, there are two ways to interpret this role. In the most innovative private companies, sustainability managers now work closely with CEOs to incorporate the principles of sustainability into every single corporate process. In this way, we overcome the notion that corporate social responsibility is a separate business area. With this initiative, we want to affect the way in which the public sector is governed, starting with central areas.

Can you provide a concrete example?
When I was the president of Istat, I had water bottles replaced with refillable containers to reduce our use of plastic. Admittedly, this was more expensive than using water bottles. At the time, given the lack of specific guidelines for public-sector entities, I risked complaints about denting public finances. Why? Because I made us spend more.

With this initiative, we want to affect the way in which the public sector is governed, starting with central areas

Enrico Giovannini, Asvis spokesperson

Today, however, people feel differently…
Yes, perceptions are evolving. But in the public sector, we still lack clear direction in this area. The aim of the course is to bridge this gap by developing awareness of environmental sustainability and social responsibility (think of gender equality) in Public-Sector workplaces. In the meantime, we are working to try and include sustainability criteria in performance plans and, as a result, in the evaluations of executives.

Expanding a little on this, you recently presented the 2018 Asvis report. Where is Italy at the moment?
Let me first say that the 2030 Agenda is not just about ecological or environmental issues. It’s important to make this distinction because it recognises that sustainability and non-sustainability depend on four key factors: economic, environmental, social and institutional. It just takes one of these four aspects to crumble for the whole development process to fail. That being said and getting back to your question, we’ve already lost three years establishing policies aimed at sustainable development. 2030 is right around the corner and many targets must be reached by 2020. We need to adopt specific measures right away to make up for lost time in economic, social and environmental policies. Italy is losing the battle when it comes to sustainable development. And even in areas where we've seen improvement, it will be impossible to satisfy the commitments made when signing the 2030 Agenda on the 25 September 2015 at the UN General Assembly unless immediate concrete and coordinated actions are taken. So we really need to step up now. It would be a tremendous opportunity for our country, though. Unfortunately, we’re behind in three areas.

In the collective imagination, the idea that sustainability is a much more effective competitive factor than cutting labour costs hasn’t got through yet

Enrico Giovannini, Asvis spokesperson

What are those?
The first one is cultural: in the collective imagination, the idea that sustainability is a much more effective competitive factor than cutting labour costs—which account for 20% of production costs—hasn’t got through yet, while with the circular economy system, significantly reducing the cost of raw materials affects the remaining 80%. This hasn’t registered yet, so much so that economists’ competitiveness indicators are essentially based on unit labour costs. The second area is the creation of common eco-design platforms. And the third is to do with economic policy: industry 4.0 incentives are all well and good. But I ask myself: in addition to digitalisation, couldn’t they be linked to sustainability as well?

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