Renewable Matter # I-2 / Packaging in Circular Economy

Sustainable development: a collective effort

by Enrico Giovannini

People have associated the idea of sustainable development to the “environmental problem” for a long time, i.e. the necessity to conjugate economic development to the respect for our planet and its limits. But with Agenda 2030, signed by all UN countries in 2015, sustainable development has become a vision of the world and human activities that embraces economy, society and the environment in an integrated manner, recognising the central governance of companies and public decision making processes in order to achieve a fair and sustainable level of wellbeing. 

The 17 sustainable development Objectives and the 169 Targets they include must be achieved by 2030; these are the result of almost three years of negotiations between the governments from around the world, with the contribution of companies, science and civil society, an unprecedented effort in humanity’s history. 

The magnitude of this challenge for the future of the world justifies the mobilisation that caused the approval of Agenda 2030 and the effort that has been characterising the international community since 2015, even though some countries took a few steps back on specific issues, like the fight against climate change, or the distance between the commitment and the behaviours that can be observed in the private sector and the policies of many governments. These difficulties should not come as a surprise. The transformation of economic processes, consumption and manufacturing behaviours, the reorganisation of the structures that preside political and other decisions, the adoption of an integrated vision of the world’s functioning are not simple matters. 

As was made evident by the many analyses available on this issue, the development of adequate technologies, the definition of a governance for economic and social processes in line with the principle of intergenerational justice and a profound mind-set shift are the three vital ingredients to bring the planet on the path of sustainable development. They cannot be achieved in one day. Nevertheless, this must not be used to justify the delay of change: on the contrary, the knowledge of the difficulties connected to change should push us to use our maximum effort to accelerate the transformation process, because, as highlighted by the 2030 agenda text, there is little time available to avoid the collapse of our world. This awareness should guide our behaviours, on all decision making levels, pushing us to an unprecedented commitment that goes well beyond business as usual.

A significant number of innovative and large companies, seem to have understood the opportunities represented by sustainable development for their future. The shift to circular economy, integrated financial and non financial accountability, aimed at providing an overall vision of the company’s impact on the environment and society, the change of criteria used to find companies to supply funds to, investments with social impact are conquering a growing role on a global scale. The European Union has recently undertaken important initiatives, and Italy has shown interesting signs in this field, even though media and politics struggle to understand and effectively represent this transformation.

A recent KPMG report has shown how large Italian companies have faced their non financial accounting obligations set by the recent legislation added to the European directive on this issue. Some excellent practices were found, but the road is still long, especially for what concerns social and governance aspects, whilst the accounting on environmental impacts of companies appears to be larger and more consolidated. Furthermore, the theme of sustainability is too often seen as secondary compared to the company’s activity, instead of being a core value for current management and the definition of its strategic placement. 

The efforts of Consortiums like CONAI must be aimed at the achievement of a radical change of the productive system, these consortiums can carry out a crucial role in the divulgation of best practices, as well as an “all round” sustainable development culture. In fact, those who carry out leadership roles in the economic, political and cultural fields have the moral obligation to clearly show the way, especially to those who are still struggling to understand the need for a change. I’m specifically referring to the many small and medium sized companies and many public administrations that are struggling to undergo innovation processes in the direction of sustainable development. Those who are more advanced should aid these subjects, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the entrepreneurial associations and universities to modify the corporate culture.

The experience of Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development (ASviS), that reunites more than 220 subject from the Italian civil society, from the main entrepreneurial associations to unions, from universities to regional and municipal associations, from foundations to members of the Third sector, shows how sustainable development and Agenda 2030 can represent the space for innovative cooperation, also in Italy. Furthermore, the recent Report on Italy’s condition compared to agenda 2030 (refer to www.asvis.it) shows our country’s many weaknesses as well as the many positive innovations that characterise it; a starting point to build a new model of economy and society, respecting the constraints of the environment.

There is no alternative to sustainable development, but it will not be possible unless a collective effort is made, here and now.  

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