Milan, 13 June – Three Benefit Corporations teamed up with AssoBenefit, the Italian Association of Benefit Corporations at the conference “Benefit Corporations: the Italian approach to sustainable business” to explain all about sustainable business models on 13 June, as part of events taking place around the Festival of Sustainable Development.
Laura Gori of Way2Global, Anna Cogo of Nativa, Martina Fondi of Treedom and Roberto Cociancich from AssoBenefit came together in Room 102 of the Copernico-Isola complex for the conference.
In an era when we often lose sight of values such as quality, ethics, sustainability, emotion and sentiment and tend to associate business purely with profit, there is a clear need for a new business approach that responds to higher, more noble needs than the mere pursuit of financial gain.
As part the “Around the Festival” initiative, which follows the three-week Festival of Sustainable Development, four representatives of the Benefit Corporation world came together to tell their stories and use their experiences to illustrate what's involved in adopting a new, sustainable business model and explain why it’s necessary to do so.
Benefit Corporations are companies that have decided to look beyond the goal of profit and focus on having a positive impact on the environment and on society, as well as showing that profit and sustainability are fully compatible.
Nativa, one of the pioneers of the Benefit model, helps companies as they buy into the Benefit Corporation ethos. “Nativa builds bridges which help to increase our positive impact,” explains Nativa Benefit Unit Officer Anna Cogo.
It’s essential that companies like Nativa, who have believed in this model from the very beginning and worked tirelessly to change legislation around this type of company, share their experiences and values. According to Cogo, one of the core principles at Nativa is the idea of sharing the business model and collaborating with other companies — which was very same objective as Thursday’s event.
Treedom is an online platform that enables users to plant trees anywhere in the world. “Sustainability is our daily bread,” explains Martina Fondi. “It’s one of the founding values of what we are and it's the reason our evolution into a Benefit Corporation happened naturally, almost by chance.”
In addition to enabling users to plant trees in distant places, the Treedom services keep “owners” of trees up to date with news on their growth, which is overseen by local people. Treedom is striving for ten of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in the 2030 Agenda, and in doing so, is making a significant contribution towards saving the planet. The company promotes reforestation of the planet, with over 500,000 trees planted so far, as well as helping CO2 in the atmosphere to be absorbed by the trees and supporting rural families in countries all over the world.
But what about companies for whom the Benefit Corporation model is anything but a given? How is it possible to be a Benefit Corporation when you're a translation service provider? Laura Gori, the proud founder & CEO of Way2Global, a company that uses translation to bring the world together, admits that it is no mean feat. But, like all challenges, Gori explains that the sense of fulfilment gained from becoming a Benefit Corporation makes it worth every second.
Integrating sustainability principles into the business model while managing a service of this kind requires significant investment both in economic terms and in organisation and development. That said, what you get in return is an injection of healthy, virtuous growth and a competitive edge that enables you to outperform other companies in the market — as well as feeling like a better person and a more gratified entrepreneur. “Turning your back on the pursuit of wealth and instead embracing a common cause is extremely gratifying,” explains Gori. “In this historic moment of economic, civil and climatic crisis, the sense of responsibility and the pressing need to use business as a way of saving the planet are more acute than ever before for any enlightened, forward-thinking entrepreneur.”
Roberto Cociancich drew the round-table discussion to an end on behalf of AssoBenefit on Thursday, summarising the many interesting points made with some thought-provoking comments. “You can’t just live off air,” he began. “Profit has always been fundamental for human beings and it will continue to be so. But what capitalism hasn’t considered is that this self-sufficiency isn’t enough on its own — humans need to strive for a more noble goal. That’s what the Benefit Corporation model offers — the chance to do more.” Cociancich also pointed out that another of the movement’s strengths is that anyone can be a part of it, with no exceptions, because “it’s not what we do, but how we do it, that makes the difference. We can all take care of our planet by continuing to do what we do, just changing how we do it.”.
It is hoped that the speakers’ comments will provide inspiration and encouragement in the face of an ailing economic system that requires drastic change for the benefit of all. It’s not an easy or short process, but it is a necessary one if we want to save the planet — after all, it's the only one we have.
“We know where we want to go. Now we just need to work hard on getting there.” Anna Cogo.