In a moment of great fragility of the world’s economies, work is being conducted on multiple fronts to create models capable of combining personal and environmental protection. The objectives are shared and applied on various scales and in apparently very distant sectors, from politics to design.
Talking about sustainability is obsolete. On a planetary level, political organizations, governments and industrial associations are at work to produce growth models that are compatible with environmental and personal protection. Progress is being made in the search for solutions and technologies that can help to heal the deep wounds that have been inflicted on our planet. What is most amazing is the absolute coherence of the programs and projects, on the widest range of different scales and ambits: from politics to research, design to production. Aware of the fact that this is our last chance, we now have to understand which growth models can meet the needs of the future.
I Goals for 2030 of the 193 countries
of the United Nations
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a program of action for the prosperity of people and the planet signed in September 2015 by the governments of the 193 member states of the UN. It includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, inside a general plan of action covering a total of 169 targets. The official launch of the Sustainable Development Goals coincided with the start of 2016, to guide the world along the path to be taken over the next 15 years: the countries have made a commitment to reach these goals by 2030.
The 17 goals address a set of key questions that cover the three dimensions of sustainable growth – economic, social and ecological – and set out to put an end to poverty, to battle against inequality, to cope with climate change and to construct peaceful societies that respect human rights. In this context, the European Union has also made a commitment to implement the principles of the 2030 Agenda. The European Commission, during the Opening Statement in the European Parliament Plenary Session by Ursula von der Leyen in July 2019, presented a detailed program of action to be achieved in five years, reflecting the Union’s aim of reaching the sustainable development goals, also in relation to the Paris Agreement on climate change, laying the groundwork for a global strategy of the EU for the period of 2019-2024.
II The Sustainable Development
Report maps UN targets
The sustainable development goals of the world’s countries and the progress in their achievement are outlined in the annual Sustainable Development Report (SDR2020), prepared by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Bertelsmann Stiftung Network, established by the Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-moon in 2012.
The SDR2020 report confirmed that from 2015 to 2019 the global community has made considerable progress on the Sustainable Development Goals defined by the UN. Progress varies from one objective to another, one state or region and another. As in previous years, the three Nordic countries – Sweden, Denmark and Finland – lead the rankings, but no country is really on its way to achieving all the goals. The pandemic will probably have negative impact on most of the objectives over the short term – especially on SDG 1 (zero poverty), SDG 3 (health and wellbeing) and SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) – seriously amplifying income disparities and other forms of inequality. The positive aspects, on the other hand, include reduced environmental impact due to a slump in economic activity. One key goal for the future will be to revive economic activity without returning to obsolete economic models and the environmental damage they have caused
III Europe works on the Green Deal
for complete decarbonization
From the worldwide scale to that of Europe, the multiyear Green Deal represents an epochal initiative that goes well beyond environmental and energy strategies. The program calls for three lines of action: reduction of emissions, decreased consumption to boost energy efficiency, and increased use of renewable energy sources. The first step of the Green Deal has been to reset to 2030 the objectives on the three lines covered by the Energy and Climate Plan – a passage that is already a major challenge on its own. By 2050, the plan calls for a climate-neutral economy, in terms of emissions, and full decarbonization of production.
Another fundamental issue is that of investments, with the enactment of measures – already in discussion on a European level – relying on private players. All sectors are involved in this major program, with different interpretations and accents. One of the areas closely monitored by the Commission is the world of construction.
The EU will provide financial and technical support to help people, companies and regions in Europe in the move towards a green economy. This is the so-called “Just Transition Mechanism” that will contribute to mobilize at least 100 billion euros for the period 2021-2027 in nations most involved in wide-ranging projects.
IV Plastic free: a planetary battle
Though prior to the lockdown plastic and its by-products, especially disposable items, were the focus of imminent legislation in various countries to suspend or discourage their use, now the health emergency has caused postponement of many initiatives and many decisions made by large corporations.
The European manufacturing association PlasticsEurope, supports research on public policies of use limitation and production of plastic materials, while urging the sharing of best practices. Europe is the continent that recycles the most plastic: in 2018 it recycled 42%, as opposed to a worldwide average of 19.5% (25% in USA, on the other hand).
The European Union has set the objective of reaching a plastic recycling rate of 90% by 2029; plastic bottles will have to contain at least 25% recycled material by 2025, and at least 30% by 2030.
On a worldwide level, a consortium of about 40 leading companies has formed the Alliance to End Plastic Waste representing multibrand corporations, producers and processors of plastic materials, and companies specializing in waste management. The aim of the Alliance is to invest 1.5 billion dollars over the next five years to help eliminate plastic refuse in the environment.
V The circular economy in Italy
according to the GreenItaly Report 2020
GreenItaly is a research project carried out on an annual basis by Fondazione Symbola on the value of the Green Economy. The report examines Italy’s readiness to meet major environmental challenges, wagering on innovation and research, and developing the economic value of companies and the country.
According to the study conducted by Symbola and Unioncamere in the month of October 2020 on over 1000 manufacturers accounting for almost 5500 employees, green operations are more resilient, and better able to overcome the problems of the health crisis. Among companies that have invested in sustainability, 16% have managed to increase income, as opposed to only 9% of non-green companies. This period of time is problematic, then, but in a more limited way: the quota of manufacturers whose sales have dropped in 2020 by over 15% is 8.2%, while for non-ecological firms this level almost doubles (14.5%). The competitive advantage of companies that invest in ecology is also confirmed, in difficult times, in terms of employment (hiring of 9% in green companies, as opposed to 7% in others) and exports (growth of 16% in the former, rather than 12% in the latter). This is because eco-investing companies are more innovative (73% as opposed to 46%), invest more in R&D (33% vs. 12%) and use or plan to make greater use of technologies 4.0. In spite of the uncertainties of the future, companies are demonstrating that they believe in environmental sustainability: almost one fourth of the total (24%) confirm new eco-investments for 2021-2023.
The chain of supply and production of furniture will have to effectively respond to the demand for new solutions that combine design, sustainability and technology to update spaces to new multifunctional needs (from smart working to long-distance teaching). Companies are working on change, demonstrating a mature approach to sustainability and design: from the use of certified, recycled and recyclable materials to increasingly efficient and sustainable processes of logistics and manufacture that reduce waste, which is also more effectively recycled. For these reasons, Assarredo, lthe association of FederlegnoArredo representing furniture manufacturers, has kept the objectives for sustainability intact, with respect to the situation prior to the pandemic: the sustainable transition announced by the EU will be an opportunity for growth and competitive advantage across the industry. In the words of Claudio Feltrin, the newly elected president of FederlegnoArredo and president of Arper: "The Association of producers is in a good position with respect to the key issues of sustainability. Among the trade associations (Assarredo, Assopannelli, Assoluce, Assolegno, Assotende, Assoufficio, Assobagno, Asal, Assoimballaggi) there are many virtuous examples of initiatives already launched in this field, just as there exist, at the level of the chain of production, many innovative and successful projects among the member companies. In Europe, FLA is one of the widest-ranging associations in terms of horizontal and vertical structure, a true challenge due to the heterogeneous character of the segments represented, but also a great opportunity for sharing and application of initiatives that extend across the entire sector."
VI HOK creates a guidebook
for sustainable design
HOK is one of the largest firms active in the fields of architectural design, engineering and interior design based in the United States; it employs over 1800 professionals, scattered in 23 offices in the USA, Canada, China, UK, India and the United Arab Emirates, with affiliates in Holland, Belgium, Spain, France and Italy.
Anica Landreneau, Director of Sustainability of the design firm, has presented a list of good practices practices for architects, to design solutions that improve the environment, with a particular focus on people living in the most vulnerable communities. There are also unexpected indications: “Rather than reducing urban density, planners and architects must seek solutions – already in practice in cities like Hong Kong and Seoul – that mitigate the spread of infection while maintaining the symbiotic environmental and economic benefits of urban areas.” The guide continues: “We need to help clients choose to develop responsibly in dense, diverse, transit-oriented and walkable neighborhoods. And we need to give all people access to affordable housing, public green spaces, and access to comfortable microclimates and healthy air. […] Integrating holistic healthy-building strategies such as those in the WELL Building Standard.” According to HOK, designers can therefore help clients and communities to understand the enormous advantage of working on sustainability and protection of people and the planet, through new models of profit.
VII From efficiency to wellbeing:
a new objective for design
The complex system of sustainability has evolved in recent years to shift the focus from mere energy efficiency to the wellbeing of those who inhabit buildings with low environmental impact. It has become clear that it is no longer enough for a work of architecture or a space to be energy efficient – comfort, safety and security are also primary factors. The WELL protocol works on these themes, as a voluntary environmental certification coordinated by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), which puts the central accent on health and mental wellbeing of those who spend time in constructed spaces. As for the voluntary LEED LEED certification, seven aspects are evaluated and certified by WELL: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, mind. Many scientific studies in recent years have confirmed that air quality and breathing can boost cognitive performance; that correct use of lighting leads to behavioral and metabolic improvement; that control of temperatures has an influence on working effectiveness; that stress indicators react to give chromatic impulses; that the auditory system, if disturbed, leads to deterioration of professional performance, while lack of movement and exercise can be an important threat to wellbeing.
VIII In the States, green thinking
extends to furniture production
The Sustainable Furnishings Council is an association of manufacturers, dealers and designers whose aim is to raise awareness and promote the use of sustainable practices in the furniture sector. “Our mission,” says Susan Inglis, Executive Director, “is to help companies reduce their environmental impact, and at the same time to help consumers to find sustainable furnishings along their path of purchase. To achieve these goals, we offer the best opportunities of information and training, promotion and networking. We work on communication to increase interest among consumers in furnishings that are safe for the environment, and we promote the development of sustainable pathways.”
“We are aware,” Inglis continues, “that it will not be possible to reduce CO2 emissions without first reducing the quantity of new product we make with new materials, and modifying our habits as consumers. The Sustainable Furnishings Council is launching an initiative aimed at dealers - What’s it Made of? – to encourage their role as distributors of sustainable products.” This program sets out to make the ingredients of furniture distributed on the market explicitly and easily understandable, informing clients about the presence of harmful chemical substances, which are still very widespread, such as certain flame retardants, stain-proofing products or formaldehyde. With this initiative, the Association wants to support transparency in the supply chain and stimulate processes of innovation without substances that are harmful for the health of human beings and the environment.