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A good news agenda: sustainable industry is on the rise and continues to drive the economic recovery

A good news agenda or, an “anti-catastrophist” agenda, to borrow the brilliantly critical label adopted by newspaper Il Foglio, which has grown a little tired of the Italian tendency to complain at the drop of a hat. Here’s the first piece of good news: the Master in Business Administration offered by the SDA Bocconi of Milan is one amongst six in the world, according to the ranking of The Financial Times, surpassing big names such as Yale, the Boston MIT and Berkeley, as well as the London Business School and the HEC in Paris. And here’s the second piece of good news: four large Italian companies – Brembo, Intesa Sanpaolo, Italgas and Pirelli – have been included in the global ranking produced by non-profit organisation CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project), a ranking that counts 294 companies that have been awarded an ‘A rating’ for their efforts against climate change: evidence that turning environmental and social sustainability into a drive for development has proven to be a wise strategy (as also shown by the top positions reached in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and in S&P Global’s 2023 Sustainability Yearbook).

And finally the third piece of good news: according to the EU Commission, in 2023 Italy’s growth will be of 0.8%, more than that of France and Germany, and in any case better than the 0.6% recently forecasted by the International Monetary Fund.

Hence, the dreaded recession is no longer a threat, as also confirmed by the assessments undertaken by the Bank of Italy and territorial entrepreneurial association Confindustria. After a record growth of 11% in the 2021-2022 period – the two years following the pandemic – the Italian economy continues to advance, driven forward by its enterprises. By manufacturing enterprises in particular, which during those tough times made investments, withstood the challenges of global markets and the rearrangement of value chains, innovated their products and processes by implementing Artificial Intelligence systems and applying data-driven management criteria, took great advantage of fiscal policy levers aimed at stimulating the Industry 4.0, and created employment and value (profits for shareholders, stock exchange performance for investors) – all this owing to a wise strategy focused on social values and, indeed, sustainability (as Symbola’s reports on the green economy testify).

To recap these good news – Italy can boast of, and rely on, an excellent education system (even if it still shows limitations, with a poorly qualified workforce and only 20% of Italian graduates aged between 25 and 64 years, as compared to the EU average of 32.8%), outstanding companies have skilfully mastered the environmental and digital twin transition thus reinforcing their competitive assets, and, in spite of everything, industrial vigour continues to boost development.

Let’s have a better look at the actual economy, then, taking another representative figure about growth: in 2022, according to the Prometeia-Intesa San Paolo report, the manufacturing industry achieved revenues totalling €1,200 billion, with an increase of €164 billion as compared to last year, also thanks to exports counting for over €600 billion (IlSole24Ore, 10 February), followed by the electronic, fashion and pharmaceutical industries. Tool machinery and robotics are also pulling their weight, as noted by Marco Taisch, professor at the Milan Polytechnic and an authority on Industry 4.0: the industrial automation sector, according to data gathered by trade association UCIMU, saw production increasing to over €7.2 billion at the end of 2022, with a rise of 14.6% as compared to 2021, and 2023 is already looking good, with a rather fine performance on the internal market (+27% – meaning that innovation processes continue to flourish within the Italian industry sector) as well as on the international one.

Here’s more data to consider: in 2022, despite the energy scare, manufacturing increased by 0.8% (after a peak of 12.8% in 2021), while Germany and France suffered much more, with production levels that at the end of 2022 were lower than before Covid. “The most robust Italian trend is confirmed by data relating to the export of goods, a growth larger than in the other two economies as well as global demand“, notes economist Sergio De Nardis in periodical InPiù (13 February).

The boom in energy prices, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, has been tempered by the sector’s ability to adapt, with a reduction in energy consumption: “Structural rearrangements (a reduction of energy-intensive sectors), austerity measures and, presumably, a higher flexibility in replacing energy sources than what was previously thought, have all allowed for adaptation”, explains De Nardis.

There’s more: a growth in quality and productive efficiency. “Between 2007 and 2020,” continues De Nardis, “our manufacturing sector lost about 112,000 enterprises, almost a quarter of its initial bulk. A continuous and painful erosion process of Italy’s production baseline, which did not happen within other economies.” But there was also “a change for the better”: the decreased number of manufacturers “was accompanied by an increase in the sector’s productivity as resources from the weakest units shifted to the most efficient ones.” Where’s the proof? In the higher number of export companies – featuring increased productivity – out of the total number of manufacturing companies. A figure that in Italy has gone from 20% to 23% in a decade, while remaining stable in France and shrinking in Germany.

As De Nardis reiterates, “As such, in Italy, manufacturing resilience takes on a specific shape. It’s the result of a long-term structural adjustment that is still ongoing. This is why claiming that these good results are due to the usual small group of “super” enterprises, with the majority lagging behind, is incorrect – this never was an apt image, even less so now: the whole sector is on the move.”

An analysis of current data related to industry more in general, to some specific sectors (robotics and tool machinery) and to sustainable choices considered as productive and competitive assets reveals another constant trend: a widespread notion of innovation not merely perceived as high-tech automation, but rather as a concept that enhances products and production processes, materials, services, languages, governance criteria and industrial relationships – a concept that finds expression in the “polytechnic culture” featured by Italian enterprises, as well as their natural inclination towards “industrial humanism”.

In such a difficult period full of crises and opportunities, and without wishing to be overly optimistic, Italian industry is nonetheless showing excellent prospects in terms of development. And the responsibility of not wasting this opportunity by implementing a forward-looking economic and industrial policy inspired by European values – which would benefit the competitiveness of the whole country – lies in the hands of political powers and social actors.

What we glimpse on the horizon is an active, productive country able to look to the future – a country to be nurtured.

(photo Getty Images)

A good news agenda or, an “anti-catastrophist” agenda, to borrow the brilliantly critical label adopted by newspaper Il Foglio, which has grown a little tired of the Italian tendency to complain at the drop of a hat. Here’s the first piece of good news: the Master in Business Administration offered by the SDA Bocconi of Milan is one amongst six in the world, according to the ranking of The Financial Times, surpassing big names such as Yale, the Boston MIT and Berkeley, as well as the London Business School and the HEC in Paris. And here’s the second piece of good news: four large Italian companies – Brembo, Intesa Sanpaolo, Italgas and Pirelli – have been included in the global ranking produced by non-profit organisation CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project), a ranking that counts 294 companies that have been awarded an ‘A rating’ for their efforts against climate change: evidence that turning environmental and social sustainability into a drive for development has proven to be a wise strategy (as also shown by the top positions reached in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and in S&P Global’s 2023 Sustainability Yearbook).

And finally the third piece of good news: according to the EU Commission, in 2023 Italy’s growth will be of 0.8%, more than that of France and Germany, and in any case better than the 0.6% recently forecasted by the International Monetary Fund.

Hence, the dreaded recession is no longer a threat, as also confirmed by the assessments undertaken by the Bank of Italy and territorial entrepreneurial association Confindustria. After a record growth of 11% in the 2021-2022 period – the two years following the pandemic – the Italian economy continues to advance, driven forward by its enterprises. By manufacturing enterprises in particular, which during those tough times made investments, withstood the challenges of global markets and the rearrangement of value chains, innovated their products and processes by implementing Artificial Intelligence systems and applying data-driven management criteria, took great advantage of fiscal policy levers aimed at stimulating the Industry 4.0, and created employment and value (profits for shareholders, stock exchange performance for investors) – all this owing to a wise strategy focused on social values and, indeed, sustainability (as Symbola’s reports on the green economy testify).

To recap these good news – Italy can boast of, and rely on, an excellent education system (even if it still shows limitations, with a poorly qualified workforce and only 20% of Italian graduates aged between 25 and 64 years, as compared to the EU average of 32.8%), outstanding companies have skilfully mastered the environmental and digital twin transition thus reinforcing their competitive assets, and, in spite of everything, industrial vigour continues to boost development.

Let’s have a better look at the actual economy, then, taking another representative figure about growth: in 2022, according to the Prometeia-Intesa San Paolo report, the manufacturing industry achieved revenues totalling €1,200 billion, with an increase of €164 billion as compared to last year, also thanks to exports counting for over €600 billion (IlSole24Ore, 10 February), followed by the electronic, fashion and pharmaceutical industries. Tool machinery and robotics are also pulling their weight, as noted by Marco Taisch, professor at the Milan Polytechnic and an authority on Industry 4.0: the industrial automation sector, according to data gathered by trade association UCIMU, saw production increasing to over €7.2 billion at the end of 2022, with a rise of 14.6% as compared to 2021, and 2023 is already looking good, with a rather fine performance on the internal market (+27% – meaning that innovation processes continue to flourish within the Italian industry sector) as well as on the international one.

Here’s more data to consider: in 2022, despite the energy scare, manufacturing increased by 0.8% (after a peak of 12.8% in 2021), while Germany and France suffered much more, with production levels that at the end of 2022 were lower than before Covid. “The most robust Italian trend is confirmed by data relating to the export of goods, a growth larger than in the other two economies as well as global demand“, notes economist Sergio De Nardis in periodical InPiù (13 February).

The boom in energy prices, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, has been tempered by the sector’s ability to adapt, with a reduction in energy consumption: “Structural rearrangements (a reduction of energy-intensive sectors), austerity measures and, presumably, a higher flexibility in replacing energy sources than what was previously thought, have all allowed for adaptation”, explains De Nardis.

There’s more: a growth in quality and productive efficiency. “Between 2007 and 2020,” continues De Nardis, “our manufacturing sector lost about 112,000 enterprises, almost a quarter of its initial bulk. A continuous and painful erosion process of Italy’s production baseline, which did not happen within other economies.” But there was also “a change for the better”: the decreased number of manufacturers “was accompanied by an increase in the sector’s productivity as resources from the weakest units shifted to the most efficient ones.” Where’s the proof? In the higher number of export companies – featuring increased productivity – out of the total number of manufacturing companies. A figure that in Italy has gone from 20% to 23% in a decade, while remaining stable in France and shrinking in Germany.

As De Nardis reiterates, “As such, in Italy, manufacturing resilience takes on a specific shape. It’s the result of a long-term structural adjustment that is still ongoing. This is why claiming that these good results are due to the usual small group of “super” enterprises, with the majority lagging behind, is incorrect – this never was an apt image, even less so now: the whole sector is on the move.”

An analysis of current data related to industry more in general, to some specific sectors (robotics and tool machinery) and to sustainable choices considered as productive and competitive assets reveals another constant trend: a widespread notion of innovation not merely perceived as high-tech automation, but rather as a concept that enhances products and production processes, materials, services, languages, governance criteria and industrial relationships – a concept that finds expression in the “polytechnic culture” featured by Italian enterprises, as well as their natural inclination towards “industrial humanism”.

In such a difficult period full of crises and opportunities, and without wishing to be overly optimistic, Italian industry is nonetheless showing excellent prospects in terms of development. And the responsibility of not wasting this opportunity by implementing a forward-looking economic and industrial policy inspired by European values – which would benefit the competitiveness of the whole country – lies in the hands of political powers and social actors.

What we glimpse on the horizon is an active, productive country able to look to the future – a country to be nurtured.

(photo Getty Images)