Good Economy, Beyond the Corporate Social Responsibility

10 October 2017

On September 25, 2015, the United Nations approved the Global Sustainable Development Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs in English Acronym), which are detailed in 169 Targets to be reached by 2030. An historical document which expresses a clear opinion on the inefficiency of the current model of environmental development, but also on economic and social development.

The Agenda calls all countries, without distinction between developed, emerging and developing, to contribute to the common effort on five areas of interest: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. Only a strong involvement of all the components of society, from businesses to public sector, from civil society to philanthropic institutions, universities and research centers, information and cultural practitioners, can lead to the realization of the vision expressed in the Agenda.

According to Ban Ki-moon, the General Secretary of the United Nations, “the new agenda is a promise from leaders to all people everywhere. It’s a program for people to put an end to poverty in all its forms – a program for the planet, our common home “.

Sustainability is also a central theme in the action plan of the European Commission’s Capital Markets Union. Until now, the ultimate goal of European initiatives has been to stabilize the financial system, while today the intention is to improve its functioning through the stimulus of growth and employment by promoting the contribution to a sustainable development model.

During the 2016 G20 Chinese presidency, the finance ministers and central banks’ governors highlighted the need to make a further step towards the green economy and, for this purpose, launched a study group with the aim of identifying the obstacles that institutions and markets place on the development of green finance. Public decision-makers are acting in an increasingly co-ordinated and coherent way in order to develop initiatives aimed at increasing the financial system’s ability to mobilize private capital for green investment.

EUROBAROMETER, a European Commission project, analyzed more than 15,000 companies, revealing that 87% of these, in particular SMEs, implemented waste reduction, savings, reuse and other virtuous practices. Sustainability and the circular economy are becoming the cornerstones of modern economic systems and represent a development alternative to respond to the global challenge of depletion of physical and natural resources. The real protagonists of the implementation are companies: Italian ones are below the European average on many areas of investigation, but, however, if we analyze the rate of growth of enterprises implementing sustainability practices, Italy is at the top with increases of 25% between 2013 and 2015, together with Portugal and Ireland.

Alternative growth is summarized in three rules: regenerate, last, and share. In fact, the circular economy is realized when a fundamental principle, that the waste does not exist, is integrated with the lengthening of the life cycles of the goods produced and the sharing practices. In addition to the strong commitment and awareness of all players in the system, in order to implement the circular economy, also investments in technology innovations, information tools and incentives are needed, in order to help spreading the culture of sustainable development.

The implementation of sustainable economics also goes hand in hand with the legal obligations that push for the compulsory integration of sustainability into the policies of large companies. Recent regulatory developments at EU level imposes to 300 large companies, according to the legislative decree 245/2016, to redact a statement on strategies, policies and results on ecological protection.

In addition to the public and the private good, the third element on which depends the well-being of the society, is the common good. The latter, though often confused with the public good, has distinct characteristics. The Nobel Prize for Economics Elenor Ostrom theorized the existence of alternative solutions to “privatization” already in the 1990s, based on the possibility of maintaining rules and forms of self-government over time and on a different concept of utility, capable of translating itself in actions intended to pursue a general interest. An example of communal space management is the communal-type regulation introduced for the first time by Labsus and the City of Bologna in 2014. Since then more than 120 Italian municipalities have adopted this regulation, where contractors are engaged in the care of squares, roads , public green, schools, cultural heritage. In addition, they are the guardians of legality, collective memory, security and health.

Sustainability, as well as Corporate Social Responsibility, has now come to the fore in the talks on the development of states, cities, businesses and communities. However, it is not always easy to calculate the social impact of the various activities undertaken. To date, the most appreciated among the existing methodologies is the Social Return on Investment. Just as Roi quantifies the return on capital invested in a company, the Sroi allows to quantify the monetary value generated by a particular asset, that is, the value generated for each invested euro.

Although the numerical measurement of the social impact can be a useful tool for evaluating the actions taken, a whole set of ‘side effects‘ that are ethereal and difficult to quantify must be considered. The qualitative measurement of the results, besides the quantitative one, is perhaps the most appropriate reading key for a change of mentality and a thoughtful managment of the limited resources of our planet, which has the task of driving us towards a fairer future and economy, for everyone.


The article is related to the Dossier “Economia giusta, oltre la Csr” (The Good Economy, Beyond the Csr), an initiative of Repubblica- Affari & Finanza, in collaboration with Bologna Business School.

Coordinated by Max Bergami, Dean of Bologna Business School and curated by Luigi Gia, Editor-in-Chief at La Repubblica, Paola Jadeluca, Senior Editor at Repubblica- Affari & Finanza, Matteo Mura, Associate Professor of Economic-Management Engineering at the University of Bologna and Marisa Parmigiani, Sustainability Manager at Unipol Gruppo Finanziario.


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