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Guiding Best Practice 14 January Jan 2020 0818 14 January 2020

The sustainability test: the corporations’ green measures

At the Linkiesta Festival, representatives of the corporate world, already involved on the field, discussed the frontiers of sustainability

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After Greta Thunberg and the student marches, the matter of environmental sustainability and the climate emergency have become, finally, a priority. Not only for all the people who care about the environment, but also for companies. After all, as Federico Brocchieri, youth councilor at the UN Youth Climate Summitoutlined at the Linkiesta Festival, there’s not much of a choice: the trend is continuing, the last five years have been the hottest ever, at least since global temperature measurements have been available, and the opinion of experts is unanimous. Climate is changing. We need to act now, to avoid being overwhelmed. A global action falls on the Countries, of course, but also on other entities, that could be cities and companies.

This is why, together with Brocchieri, corporate representatives, who have already taken actions, discussed the frontiers of sustainability at the Linkiesta Festival.

“Anyone can define ambitious goals”, Manuela Kron, director of Corporate Affairs & Marketing Consumer Communication of the Nestlé Group in Italy explains, but”the important thing is that they have to be realistic and especially, they must be sustainable also from a financial point of view.” This is the balance in which, she explains, everything is at stake. “The boundaries of actions of companies” Kron states, “is the dilemma: companies thrive on dilemmas”. It is therefore right to choose strategies that can guarantee a sustainable future, but we need to do it the best way. “In 2006, not many will remember, there was the problem of the biofuel idea, that, on paper, was beautiful and very valid. Food could become fuel. Fascinating, but dangerous, she warns: “If you tie the price of food to that of energy, the consequences can be disastrous”. And they have been: two years later “the bubble has burst, the cost of the raw materials were starting to become unsustainable”. This is why you need to be careful: “Never fall in love with fascinating ideas”. The risk is that to accommodate environmental sustainability, financial sustainability is ignored, hijacking everything. We need to do something, even if it is nothing revolutionary. “New Zealanders projected they will become carbon neutral within 2050, and there’s three million of them”. An appropriate objective that might prove unrealistic in other situations (and therefore dangerous).

Anyone can define ambitious goals, the important thing is that they are realistic, and especially, that they are financially sustainable as well.

Manuela Kron, Corporate Affairs & Marketing Consumer Communication director for the Nestlé Group in Italy

The important thing, in other words, is to find a suitable business plan. To find the necessary resources to define transition plans. And to do this, the contribution of the financial world is essential, as confirmed bySimone Bemporad, Communications director for Assicurazioni Generali. “Finance and sustainability are apparently far removed,” but he adds “their relationship is ever more alive”. One example: agrochemicals. “They’re one of the ways farmers ensure their harvest at the end of a season. The problem is that they are polluting”. Finance can intervene with targeted insurance policies, reassuring the people who grow them and encouraging them to use less polluting agricultural methods. “And then if epidemics, molds, or flooding happen, the damage is covered” and the risks are reduced. But not only. The same goes for small and medium companies, that can use specific insurance policies - and especially prevention programmes. But nowadays being environmentally friendly is a good deal , “and the financial markets are catching on”. Finance especially is the tool that allows everyone to take action, through investments in environmentally friendly financial products. At the moment, ”green finance” amounts to 30.000 billion dollars. With a +30% trend. “There is capital looking at sustainability”. And it does so “very carefully”.

Anna Villari, in charge of sustainability and editorial products for the Italian multi-utility A2A, was given the topic of social corporate responsibility. Her company, in this sense, is taking the lead. “We have put down two documents that concern this”, one of which “establishes the 72 fundamental steps to respect the environment”. And jokingly, it’s their “Cop21” At the end of the day, it is a sustainability plan that “is integrated on an industrial level, but which defines its direction every year”. It has not been hard to do this, she explains, “because from a cultural point of view this spirit has already been grafted, as on the topic of waste disposal, A2A was already achieving some excellent results». But the future lies on carbonisation, solar power and district heating.

Finance and sustainability are apparently very distant, but their ties are growing ever stronger

Simone Bemporad, Director of Communications at Assicurazioni Generali

Of course, being sustainable is not easy. As Federico Brocchieri reminds us, ”The health of the planet depends on stakeholders”. One example: life in cities is destined to change. Everyone must adapt, but not in the same way. Depending on the context, “we can and must deploy plans of actions developed for every type of situation”. Will the cities be ready? Are there any strategic plans in place? Do the Mayors know that cities, in the future, will have to face unprecedented atmospheric events that they are not prepared for? Preparing for global change means, in other words, “deploying mitigation and resilience operations”. Awareness is necessary, but so are rules. And then, “we need someone that can take on the job of monitoring”, a “very robust” aspect of the Paris Agreements but which is often lacking in bottom up activities.

So what can be done? Everyone pitches in. Manuela Kron from Nestlé explains that her company, compatibly with economic sustainability, is making an effort to “not buy products from areas suffering from deforestation”, while Anna Villari from A2A reminds us of how, from an environmental perspective, “it’s important to open up to the community.” Climate action needs to be collective, it must be involving, it needs to be effective. “We have established territorial budgets that have been successful and people have shown interest so far”. How do they work? These are strategies that go through the “territories” and the “details”, it’s a matter, in other words, of approving new projects and involving the best and most representative stakeholders. Some activities are both social and environmental at the same time. “We have created a food recovery program in Milan”. Furthermore, “on the topic of community, which means also schools, with whom we have a very close relationship, in order to educate children to a healthier lifestyle, we have decided to hand out reusable water bottles to school children.” A small success, a small step towards saving the planet.

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