At the end of May, ten major business associations including Confindustria, Confcommercio, the co-operative federations, Agriculture and Artisan Associations, FEBAF (finance companies) and Unioncamere, signed a document with a challenging title: “Accelerating the transition to sustainability”. This document was submitted to the government with an appeal to remove the regulatory, bureaucratic and cultural obstacles hindering the widespread dissemination of values linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is unlikely that the current government will be able to devote its full attention to the issue given its involvement in other conflicting matters. Nevertheless, a lot of meaning and value can be attributed to this initiative which confirms the front-line role that Italian industry is playing with regard to the green economy.

The appeal was presented a few days ago at Assolombarda during the ASVIS Sustainable Development Festival held in Milan (ASVIS is the sustainability association headed by Enrico Giovannini). A debate was held among business owners, economists and opinion leaders on “Businesses and finance for sustainable development: opportunities to exploit and obstacles to remove”. Around one issue there was unanimity: environmental and social sustainability must be regarded as one of the key selling points of the most active Italian businesses on the international markets.

Assolombarda made its position clear some time ago, reiterating it during the ASVIS conference: “If sustainability is a short-term communication choice then it won’t have a great future”. Rather, it must be a “strategic” and long-term choice, “a civil economy choice, a circular economy choice, an assumption of social responsibility versus the areas that are home to our businesses and all stakeholders”. At the same time, it must also be an indication of competitiveness. To survive on the luxury products and services markets requires having great respect for the environment, people, rights, social inclusion, quality and safety. All these elements legitimise businesses, helping them to grow and compete. Assolombarda said: “Sustainability resides within the way we do business”.

Some sectors are particularly advanced in their ability to merge green economy with social values, sectors that have a more direct relationship with the community and with people and that are more committed to the concepts of quality and global competition: the automotive industry, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, rubber, mechanics and mechatronics, as well as traditional areas of Italian excellence like interior design, agroindustry and fashion. In short, the sectors in which research, innovation and the quality of products and services are more advanced handle this well.

At a time of great technological transformations, the digital economy also aids economic processes in the area of quality, even if tricky new sustainability problems are arising in the job market. Some trades and professions are undergoing major changes, others are disappearing, and others are being created. Economic and social equilibriums are coming under extreme stress. Discomfort increases. New hopes develop. The whole world is in flux.

On the topic of sustainability and the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals), Assolombarda believes that businesses have a responsibility to invest more in innovation and to champion public spending on training, research and new social shock absorbers connected with professional retraining. The necessary skills need to be developed so that they evolve gradually as the digital economy changes production relationships and creates new ones.

The keywords are innovation, sustainability and competitiveness: “Conducting our businesses with an eye on the environment is not about doing good, it is a necessary choice that creates value and is fundamental for our future. It is an economic and social goal we must continue to pursue”, emphasised Sergio Dompè, chairman of the Dompè pharmaceuticals company and vice chairman of Assolombarda, during a recent Sodalitas conference.

Good examples of all these aspects are given by the most innovative companies. The case studies presented at the Milan ASVIS conference by Pirelli, Enel, Unipol, Lega delle Cooperative, Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, Invitalia, etc. are proof of this.

“For us, sustainability means focusing on both people and the community”, commented Marco Tronchetti Provera, CEO of Pirelli. “It is a commitment which, in addition to ecological factors, also involves helping communities to develop in a more balanced way”. These communities are inside the plant, working on the issues of the safety and quality in the workplace, and outside the plants, jointly investing in hospitals and shelters, schools and sports centres. As Tronchetti asserts: “There can’t be sustainable growth over time if the society around the business doesn’t grow”.

There are of course various obstacles to overcome: “The many different regulations should all be harmonised” at both national and EU level, giving rise to a new and better system of rules that allows the business system time to get up-to-date and to meet the challenges of competition and innovation”. Tronchetti goes on: “Sustainability is fundamental for the future of businesses. And we are the industry leaders in all of the international indexes”.