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A new role for business: environmental and territorial challenges

Rome, 30/10/2019, Conference

The second conference of the Aspen Corporate Initiative for the directors of external and institutional relations and communications of Aspen’s corporate members opened with a session on the future of transatlantic relations. The crisis in relations between Europe and the United States is not owed solely to Donald Trump’s recent policy decisions, but has much older roots and, most importantly, has had a considerable impact on the entire international geopolitical scenario. First of all, over the years the United States has been voluntarily relinquishing its lead role in international relations, which includes all the mistakes the West has made in terms of common defense and foreign policy since the fall of the Berlin wall. One glaring error was not to have normalized relations with Russia and not to have brought that country into NATO.

Complicating the international and transatlantic relations picture has been the growing – and essentially economic – clash between the U.S. and China over trade tariffs and 5G technology. Cybersecurity risks notwithstanding, this is something much different to what, in the opinion of some, could pose the dangerous threat of reviving the Cold War. The conversation brought out how it is still in Europe’s strategic interests to maintain a transatlantic relationship that, while once driven by the United States, must in the future rely on the increasing impetus of Europe.

The two sessions that followed dealt with the issue of environmental sustainability in both macro and micro economic terms. It is not always true that ambitious climate change measures necessarily mean cost hikes. Emissions reductions themselves can bring macroeconomic benefits. Going green has its advantages, but the policy decisions needed to strike a balance between society and environment and increase the economic sustainability of the green economy are still hard fought. As is often the case, this is a problem not only of leadership, but also of political culture. The absence, for example, of a green party on the Italian political stage signals the difference with other contexts such as France and Germany. This precisely while citizens are rapidly changing their assessment of and respect for environmental values and as the level of satisfaction with some political leaders’ environmental efforts is rising, thus confirming how concern over the issue extends across the political spectrum.   

Italian companies are aware of and sensitive to the issue of the environment and sustainable development, with data showing that in some cases our country has even taken the lead. Corporate social responsibility awareness has been rising, which has helped to strengthen the image of corporations as having an important social role. Technologies are central to the future of the green economy and, in particular, have a strategic role to play in the delicate question of energy storage and efficiency, a sector in which Italian firms are in the avant-garde. On the same topic of sustainability, the evolution of corporate welfare was pointed out, especially in the context of SMEs and in light of Confindustria’s recent manifesto on sustainable development 4.0.  

The session ended with an institutional reflection in which it was observed that regional administrative legislation has become a pathology. The Council seems to have been coopted into a sort of TAR, with more than 200 laws awaiting judgement. The government intends to propose a framework law at the end of 2019 to be incorporated into the DEF and binding on all multi-year government investment funds.  An index of eco-sustainable wellbeing (BES) was already appended to the 2016 budget law; the next step is to ensure that this is capable of influencing government policies. The hope is that 2020 starts off with an institutional efficacy and rationalization that helps improve the management by Italian regions and municipalities of delicate issues such as environmental sustainability, energy and waste removal.