We The Italians | Italian report: GreenItaly 2021

Italian report: GreenItaly 2021

Italian report: GreenItaly 2021

  • WTI Magazine #145 Nov 13, 2021
  • 654

On the eve of COP26 in Glasgow, crucial for climate policies, the twelfth edition of the GreenItaly report, produced by the Symbola Foundation and Unioncamere with the collaboration of Centro Studi Tagliacarne, allows us to take stock, with data and stories, of the situation of the green economy in Italy and its strengths. Conai, Novamont, Ecopneus, many organizations and over 40 experts collaborated on the report.

The report confirms the strengthening of the trends that have emerged in recent years in an important part of the Italian production system regarding the possibility of making environmental sustainability the driving force behind a new and innovative economy. Because, in the words of the Assisi Manifesto, promoted by Symbola and the Sacro Convento, "courageously tackling the climate crisis is not only necessary, but represents a great opportunity to make our economy and our society more people-friendly and therefore more capable of seeing the future.

Europe seems to have taken this road decisively since the first steps of the Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen and has made it even stronger by basing the response to the crisis produced by the pandemic with the Next Generation EU on three pillars: cohesion, green transition and digital.

We are facing a new generation of policies in all fields, destined to profoundly change the international scenario, from transatlantic relations to those with China and Russia, to relations with developing countries. Just think of the possible effects of the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism that the EU has announced in order to protect its own production from "dirty" products coming from outside the Union.

With the Green Deal, and more recently the "Fit for 55" package, the entire continent is being called upon to meet the challenging goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, with an intermediate target of -55% emissions by 2030. Member States have a great opportunity to do well, supported by the substantial economic resources made available by the EU to make the targets a reality, including the supply of Critical Raw Materials, key inputs in the transition and the development of renewables, whose trend is constantly rising (Chapter 1.2).

Italy, which is the main recipient of Recovery Plan resources, is also for this reason called upon to play a leading role. In the conviction that sustainability, as well as being necessary for the planet, reduces risk profiles for companies and society as a whole, stimulates innovation and entrepreneurship, and makes production chains more competitive.


The year 2020 showed new records of renewable electrical power installed in the world, equal to 83% of the growth of the entire electricity sector. In the same year, in Italy 37.6% of electricity consumption (41.7% of net national production) was met by renewable sources, compared to 35% in 2019. However, installed power is still far from the targets of climate neutrality set for 2030. At the end of 2020, there were about 950,000 renewable power plants operating in Italy, with a total capacity of more than 56 GW (Chapter 2.1.2). Of these plants, almost 936,000 are photovoltaic, about 5,700 wind, while the remainder are powered by other sources (hydraulic, geothermal, bioenergy). But there is still a long way to go. And the recent increases in electricity bills due essentially to the rise in gas prices show how important it is to accelerate on renewables also to safeguard the independence and competitiveness of our economy.

To reach the 2030 goals we will have to install about 70 GW of renewables in the next 10 years, which means to install 7 GW per year, but last year we remained at 0.9 GW. And the six auctions of the GSE defined by the Ministerial Decree of July 4, 2019, just to increase the production of electricity from renewable sources went semi-deserted totaling offers for just 3,127 MW compared to the 5,660 MW planned, just over 50%. A failure that highlights once again the ancient evils of our country such as excessive bureaucracy, largely unjustified opposition and very long times for the release of permits for the construction of plants that discourage investment and raise costs. A very serious risk that affects many of the actions of the National Recovery Plan.

In other sectors, the economy has long been able to seize the opportunity of sustainability to make efficiency and enrich the quality of products and services made in Italy. We are, for example, leaders in the circular economy with a recycling of all waste - urban and special - of 79.4% (2018): a result well above the European average (49%) and that of other major countries such as Germany (69%), France (66%) and the United Kingdom (57%) with an annual saving of 23 million tons of oil equivalent and 63 million tons of CO2 equivalent in emissions (2018) thanks to the substitution of second matter in the economy. We confirm our leadership in raw material reduction per unit of product (- 44.1% material per unit of product between 2008 and 2019). However, for some sectors - steel and aluminum - the waste produced is not enough to sustain production, so our country still has to rely on the import of second matter from abroad. Underlining Italy's potential in the valorization of material at the end of life, also the fourth place in the world as a producer of biogas - from organic fraction, sewage sludge and agricultural sector - after Germany, China and the United States.

These results can also be explained by the growing number of companies investing resources to improve the environmental profile of processes, products and services (Chapter 2.2). In the five-year period 2016-2020, 31.9% of companies in industry and services (441,415 companies) invested in green technologies and products, a figure that rises to 36.3% in manufacturing (84,810 companies).

It is not difficult to understand the reasons for these choices. These companies have a higher dynamism on foreign markets than the rest of the Italian production system: with specific reference to manufacturing companies (5-499 employees), in the eco-investors the share of exporters is 31% in 2021, against a more reduced 20% of those who have not dressed. Also on the turnover front, 14% of investing companies expect an increase in turnover for 2021, against 9% of the others.

In terms of employment, 2020 is also confirmed as a year of consolidation despite the difficulties generated by the pandemic (Chapter 2.3). At the end of last year, the number of people employed in activities requiring green skills was 3,141,400, while contracts for this type of professional accounted for 35.7% of the new contracts planned for the year, a demand that came above all from high added-value business areas such as design, R&D, logistics, etc. Sustainability is now present in the industrial strategies of all sectors of the Italian economy, with the circular economy advancing within Made in Italy companies. In the wood furniture supply chain (Chapter 3.2), already today 95% of wood is recycled to produce furniture panels, with a saving in CO2 consumption of almost 2 million tons/year. The complex world of construction (Chapter 3.5) is also moving in this direction, favored by government incentives for the efficiency of buildings. A path that is also having beneficial effects on employment in the sector, which has grown by more than 132,000 between 2019 and 2021, of which more than 90,000 are on permanent contracts.

In the strategies of the textile and fashion sector (Chapter 3.4), the solutions that are being focused on are linked to the elimination of toxic and/or polluting substances from fabrics (Italy is the first country in the world to use detox certification (source: Greenpeace.org), to the use of materials of natural origin or regenerated from pre- and post-consumer fabrics. Interesting is the involvement of designers to update products from past collections, thus extending their life, and the role of digital technology in enabling large-scale sales of second-hand or upcycled garments and accessories. Italian mechanics (Chapter 3.3.2), thanks to digitalization, has long supported the efficiency of production chains and the reduction of environmental impacts. Industry 4.0 accompanies the green digital transition, rethinking the design and production processes of mechanical products and components, and studying the best solutions for extending the life cycle of plants. The Italian automotive sector (Chapter 3.3.1) is one of the most advanced for emissions. But it is in the production of vehicles and in the production chain that the game of reorganization of one of the most important automotive systems in the world is played, with a turnover of over 106 billion, equal to 6.2% of GDP. In Italy, the production of electric and hybrid cars, which in 2019 accounted for only 0.1%, in 2020 rose to 17.2% , while in the first quarter of 2021 it reached 39.5%. In the supply chain, about one in three companies has positioned itself in the electrified vehicle market by developing components. An important role in this reorganization can be played by policies to support the supply chain, as has already happened in other countries and territories, where manufacturing skills will have to be increasingly integrated with research and design and create synergies to achieve critical mass, in the name of innovation and efficiency, transforming themselves from production centers into innovation poles for the electric car. Our agricultural sector, where much can be done, with a record cut of 32% on the use of plant protection products between 2011 and 2019 and a share of emissions per unit of product well below that of the main European economies (Chapter 3.1) is confirmed as the greenest in Europe. We are also first in organic farming, with the highest number of companies involved - over 80 thousand - and an area cultivated with organic farming increased by 79% in the last ten years. In green chemistry, then, our country has much to say. Italy is one of the world leaders in bio-based chemistry (Chapter 3.6), active in the production of a wide range of biodegradable and compostable products increasingly used in supply chains ranging from agriculture to cosmetics, products that increasingly integrate secondary raw materials derived from waste and by-products into production processes.

The more than 200 stories and experiences recounted in GreenItaly represent a production system that is already focusing on sustainability, innovation, and beauty: an embryo of a concrete response to the questions of the "Greta Generation" and a hope capable of mobilizing the best energies towards a future on a more human scale. An Italy that holds together environment, territory and community, and contributes to the recovery of the country, without leaving anyone behind, without leaving anyone alone. An Italy that can play to win even in the storms we face, if, as President of the Republic Mattarella and Prime Minister Draghi remind us, it does not underestimate its own capabilities and has the courage to make bold choices.

Andrea Prete President Unioncamere

Ermete Realacci President Symbola Foundation