Stefano Venier, Chief Executive Officer of the Hera Group, has been the fourth guest of the Fall Edition of the Innovation Talks. His speech Regeneration and Innovation for a new Shared Value has been an opportunity for an in-depth analysis on the issues of recycling and the circular economy, as well as on the role of innovation, digitalization and data analysis in the development of the Circular Smart City, a new model of growth for companies, cities and the territory.
“My aim, this evening, is to tell you how some today’s challenges can be faced and overcome,” started Stefano Venier, bringing to the attention of the BBS Community some examples from the Hera Group, a multi-service utility that manages three fundamental elements in terms of sustainability: water, energy and matter in the form of waste. “We are a family of 9,000 people serving 4 million inhabitants in 8,847 municipalities. By managing the overall cycle of these three elements, we are able to have a broader vision of their value and addressing the issue of sustainability is a natural evolution of our activities,” continues Venier.
Innovation and sustainability are in fact the elements that will transform socio-economic systems more from here to 15 years, with a very important distinction between the two: if innovation is the means, sustainability is the goal. A goal, that of sustainability, only reachable through the sharing of problems and the creation of a common advantage, for the benefit of all.
In the past, the financialization of economic systems has led not so much to create value, but to extract it at unsustainable pace from the planet. Meanwhile, the commitments made with the Paris Agreement to combat climate change are completely failing, considering that we have already used ¾ of the emissions allowed in 1/3 of the time. Moreover, the Earth Overshoot Day, the day on which humanity completely consumes the resources produced by the planet in a year, has passed from coinciding with December 21st in 1971, to mark the 1st of August in 2018. Citing Larry Fink, co-founder and president of the financial giant BlackRock, facing the inability of those responsible for designing the development path that all countries should follow, it becomes the task of companies to fall into a role that goes beyond the shareholder value creation.
The issue of awareness is becoming a fairly common asset both among individuals and among companies, but between awareness and action there is still a gap to be filled. Talking about sustainability and shared value, means talking about the mission of a company, of the reason for its very existence. “We at the Hera Group have been living with CSR for more than 10 years, we were one of the first companies to include this function in our activities. However, CSR still belongs to the logic of awareness, ie ex post measurement of the mitigation approaches that the company has implemented to reduce the environmental impact generated by its activities,” explains Stefano Venier. The CSR must in fact evolve and move towards the concept of shared value, that conception of the activity of a company oriented on the one hand to create value for itself, but at the same time also for the community in which it operates. “When this kind of path is triggered, the example becomes a fundamental element. Lead by example does not only work for individuals, but also for businesses,” adds Venier.
To pursue its example, the Hera Group has drawn up a roadmap of 10 objectives based on the intelligent use of energy, an efficient use of resources and the commitment to innovate and contribute to the sustainable development of the community. According to Stefano Venier, the ideal environment where to start this kind of process are surely the cities: “you will have certainly heard a thousand times about the Smart City. It is an inflated term but also very limited, because it represents only a greater technological complexity that, if it does not provide for regenerative processes within it, will not have a future. Cities need to reinvent themselves, becoming not only smart but also regenerative and resilient.”
One of the main problems that cities are facing is certainly the disposal of waste and, in particular, the management of plastics. As much as 50% of the plastic produced lives less than 12 months, while 20% of it is released into the environment and 40% ends up in landfills. The average life of the trillion bags produced each year is less than 30 minutes and plastic production consumes as much as 14% of the planet’s oil resources. At the same time, however, a recent study by the University of Chicago shows that if we replace all the plastic with traditional materials, the environmental impact would be even higher. “The demonization of plastic is a senseless attitude, we can not do without it. What we can do is change our behavior and the way we produce it, to keep it in use and recycle it as much as possible,” says Venier. While steel, glass, and 94% of paper can be perfectly regenerated, plastic degrades and loses its properties at each cycle. “The goal is to study, through innovation, chemical processes that can rebuild the initial building blocks and make the material usable again,” explains Hera’s Chief Executive Officer.
In addition to energy and material resources, the Hera Group also directs a large part of its efforts to the issue of water, both in terms of saving and regeneration. To produce a T-shirt, 1,700 liters of water are needed, while for a pair of jeans they are even 7,000 liters. At the same time, the equivalent of a truck of textile is thrown away every second in the world. In civil use, on the other hand, which employs 30% of water resources, an inhabitant of northern Italy consumes an average of 250 liters a day, while a resident of Berlin only 180. “It is clear that these are not sustainable models,” comments Venier. “And it is precisely on the topic of behavior that data analytics become more useful, since consumption can be reduced by 3-4% simply by informing people about the margins of waste, thus putting them in a position to consume less. Innovation is the determining element that helps us to give concrete solutions to the topics that are still open.”
Technology offers more than just support for the traditional activities of the Hera Group, instead proposing innovative solutions with a direct impact on the quality of life of the citizens. In addition to the customer experience, which can be managed in a targeted and integrated with digital tools, new technologies are also able, for example, to report gas leaks or optimize the efficiency of a waste-to-energy plant, thus allowing the Group and the community to annual savings of energy and resources equal to 5-10%.
“It is a revolution that benefits everyone, but there is a challenge in the challenge, and is cultural. To quote Peter Drucker, culture eats the strategy for breakfast. We can have the best strategy in the world, but it will not be effective if it is dropped in a context that is unprepared to seize the opportunities,” concludes Stefano Venier. “But I remain deeply optimistic. Because if we can not afford to think of a better future and try to understand how to achieve it, it is useless to talk about sustainability, innovation or shared value. Change comes from us. “