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A2A at the Ambrosetti Forum. CEO Renato Mazzoncini introduces position paper on the circular economy

The A2A CEO, Renato Mazzoncini, has recently presented the Position PaperFrom NIMBY to PIMBY: the circular economy as the flywheel for the ecological and sustainable transition of the country and its regions” realized with The European House Ambrosetti
Discover his comment below.


For us Italians, the summer of 2021 will be difficult to forget. On the one hand successes in sport (from the Euro 2020 football championship to the Tokyo Olympics), in combating Covid, and in economic terms, with the country showing encouraging signs of recovery. On the other hand, the summer months were the hottest of the past 200 years, with Syracuse (in Sicily) registering the most scorching temperatures ever recorded in Europe. In the meantime, countries like Germany and China faced once-in-centuries flooding while hurricanes like Henri and Ida wrought devastation in the Caribbean and the United States. The economic costs are extremely high; the human costs higher still. 

At this point nobody doubts anymore that humans are changing our planet’s climate. Contrasting such changes requires actions at the global level and each country has to do its part. Italy has fallen behind in reaching the objectives enshrined in the Paris Accords of 2015 (COP 21) aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, the principal drivers of global warming. In this context a recent position paper, produced by A2A together with The European House - Ambrosetti, highlights how necessary it is to take a courageous approach, one guided by the conviction that the re-use of resources is the only path to sustainable development. The study, “Da NIMBY a PIMBY: economia circolare come volano della transizione ecologica e sostenibile del Paese e dei suoi territori” (“From NIMBY to PIMBY: the circular economy as the flywheel for the ecological and sustainable transition of the country and its regions”), identifies important gaps in Italy’s regions with respect to waste management and analyses the infrastructure needs and investments required to overcome current weaknesses, highlighting the relative economical and environmental benefits.

Time is not on our side: the study underlines that the space left in the country’s landfills, which every year receive a quantity of waste equivalent to 26 times the size of Milan’s Duomo cathedral, will be exhausted within the next three years. It is a problem that originates, in good part, from the fact that 21% of urban waste produced is literally “thrown away” - a value 30 times that achieved by Europe’s ‘best performers’ (Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Belgium and Denmark), who on average send only 0.7% of their waste to landfills. We are still far, therefore, from the European goal, set by the Circular Economy Action Plan, that established an upper limit of 10% for urban waste sent to landfills by 2035.
The study also focuses on the need to continue to increase waste separation and make great strides in terms of organic waste collection with the aim of collecting and treating all of this material so as to be able to “convert” it into compost and energy (think biogas). Furthermore, with the development of infrastructure dedicated to treating the organic component of solid urban waste, it is possible to create biomethane, a key energy source for decarbonisation for which Italy has great production potential: up to 768 million cubic metres obtained from the purification of biogas. 

Another area where we have to apply ourselves more is in generating energy from urban waste and sewage sludge - a process called waste-to-energy, which in Italian we call termovalorizzazione. This process - which leads to the elimination of residual waste that would otherwise be sent to landfill - is key to closing the so-called “environmental cycle”. Today, Italy recuperates as energy about 20% of such waste, a value less than half that realised by Europe’s 10 ‘best performers’. This gap can be closed. It’s just a matter of will and investments. 

Resolving the waste management problem requires reaching three key objectives: protecting the environment and improving people’s quality of life, contributing to the energy transition, and enhancing local resources, which benefits local residents and regional development. Building out the necessary infrastructure for waste treatment would have several advantages: it would lead to a reduction in the garbage taxes paid by residents, thus generating economic benefits to families; it would lead to a reduction of CO2 emissions of some 3.7 million tons (the equivalent to the total emissions generated by Italy’s metal, iron and steel production); and it would add about 0.7% renewable energy to Italy’s total renewables stockpile, thus contributing to the energy transition. 

The challenges are not, in fact, financial. The funds necessary to build infrastructure are not lacking and there are entrepreneurs and private companies ready to invest. That said, surely more can be done to encourage their participation: the creation of rules and mechanisms - for example, a type of “guarantee fund” that can protect investors from unexpected events or payment problems on the part of customers - would surely help. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge is overcoming the “NIMBY Syndrome”, the “Not In My Back Yard” hostility local residents feel towards infrastructure projects built near where they live. This needs to be transformed into a PIMBY (“Please, In My Backyard”) attitude. To help achieve this goal, local administrations could seek to appoint “public debate mediators” to encourage discussion on, and explain the benefits of, infrastructure projects. 

Lastly it is necessary to face the problem of bureaucracy: our research found that for the few waste treatment plants approved in recent years, over 60% of the time to completion (some 4.7 years, on average) was spent on development and the obtaining of permits.

A2A, in the implementation of its 10-year strategic plan, is making available the resources and skills to meet these challenges. Now we all have to get to work.

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Venture capital and support for innovation

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Venture capital and support for innovation

The A2A Group has always attached great importance to innovation issues. For this reason, it sees corporate venture capital (CVC) as a new opportunity to promote innovation in strategic spheres by supporting start-ups with high potential for growth. In order to better understand a new and relatively unknown sector in Italy, who better to speak to than the experts of VC Hub Italia, the Italian venture capital association. Through its investors, it has put its faith in the high growth potential of a total of more than 250 Italian tech start-ups.

With Francesco Cerruti, Chief Executive of VC Hub Italia, we can delve into the interesting world of venture capital and corporate venture capital to get a better understanding of the opportunities it holds.


What is venture capital?

Venture capital is a form of investment whereby risk and hopes of good fortune become the main strategy, with the aim of attaining a future economic return.

“Venture capital is a type of high-risk alternative finance, aimed at innovative start-ups: young companies set themselves up on an idea that has to be transformed firstly into a project and then into an operational business” explains Francesco Cerruti.

Companies with neither resources nor guarantees of success but which, thanks to venture capital, can perhaps see a concrete opportunity for success by taking one small step – in terms of both funding and project development – at a time.

How is a capital venture fund born?

“Venture capital derives from a dual process: on the one hand, from the raising of funds by looking for investors interested in this kind of business and, on the other, the identification of start-ups and the assignment of the funds raised” continues Cerruti.

There can be three types of investor: public and semi-public (like Italy’s Cassa Depositi e Prestiti – Deposits and Loans Fund), the most numerous type; private individuals, less common because considerable assets are needed (five million euros or more); companies, the last to arrive on the venture capital scene.

Once the investors have been found, the second phase gets under way with a team tasked with putting together the fund and deciding which type of start-up to look at (Italian, European, green, etc.). Thus begins thestart-up scouting process, seeking the business in which to invest, and the initiation of the investment for a total of five years
During this phase, some start-ups may just not manage to make it (the start-up mortality rate is three out of four in the first few years). From the sixth to the tenth year, comes the selling off of shares in those start-ups that have succeeded in taking off, with the aim of earning on the investment. If, in fact, the company has taken off, investors can assure themselves an exit which richly also repays any losses in start-ups that failed to make it.

Why invest in venture capital?

The earnings: it is an investment with substantial losses but, if the right investment is made, the economic returns are considerable.
The passion: investing in innovation means believing in the future of the country.
 

From venture capital to corporate venture capital

One of the youngest forms of venture capital is corporate venture capital, a new and, at least in Italy, not very widespread way for companies to invest in innovation.

“Through corporate venture capital, – continues VC Hub Italia’s chief executive - the company acquires shares of the capital of an innovative start-up not solely to ensure a financial return, as is the case with venture capital, but in order to outsource company innovation by gambling on a new young project.”

Fundamentally, this involves tasking the out-of-house start-up with a research and development project in the hope that it may become useful in-house in the development and innovation of a specific sphere of production. The type of start-up chosen generally reflects the activity of the funding company and, once it has grown, can be brought in-house to help enhance and develop the corporate system.

The young face of the company

Corporate venture capital is a typical practice of more enlightened businesses because, as well as bringing innovations into the company, it also enables investment in young enterprises. It is still not very common in Italy, however, and the most developed sectors are currently e-commerce, life science and smart money exchange systems.

CVC at A2A

Few but good, then, are the experiences of corporate venture capital in Italy. And these include the A2A Group project whose aim is to promote Group innovation by means of investment in start-ups with great innovation and growth potential.

The project is a concrete one which involves the investment of significant resources over the next few years. The scheme focuses on seed and early-stage start-ups operating in Italy or southern Europe in spheres of business that are strategic for the Group, such as the circular economy, the energy transition, mobility and new technologies for the cities of the future.

The various partners involved in the project include 360 Capital, Europe’s leading venture capital operation, and the Politecnico di Milano with its Poli360 fund, which leverages the polytechnic university’s research potential, its Technology Transfer Office (TTO) and the PoliHub incubator.

For the Group, the project represents a new form of internal strengthening, of promotion of innovation and, most of all, a gamble on young new enterprises able certainly to bring economic value and growth but also 
to have a positive effect in those areas where A2A operates and for the whole ecosystem of innovation.

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A2A at the Ambrosetti Forum

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A2A at the Ambrosetti Forum. Comment of the CEO, Renato Mazzoncini, on the role of multiutilities

A2A's CEO Renato Mazzoncini spoke at the Ambrosetti Forum about the role of Multiutilities as an example of widespread and organised corporate social responsibility. 
Below is his speech.

 

The historical period we are currently going through, recently also characterised by the serious Covid-19 health emergency, will surely be remembered for the incredible effort of the community towards a more sustainable economy aimed at safeguarding our planet. 
In this context, multiutilities, by the very nature of their business, play a central role, overseeing the key dimensions of the sustainable transition process (e.g. renewable energy production and circular economy). These activities make a significant contribution to the achievement of 9 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) introduced by the United Nations' 2030 Agenda. 

Indeed, Multiutilities represent an example of widespread and organised corporate social responsibility: the provision of essential services, such as energy, water and waste management, makes them a strategic player in meeting the needs of citizens and local areas. Moreover, their governance, which in the case of the main Italian listed companies, in addition to a public majority, also has a private shareholding, generates a high level of accountability at all levels of their operations. This translates into a synergistic and constant relationship with citizens, policy makers and economic and financial operators. 

In order to asses the role of multiutilities in the sustainable revival of Italy, The European House – Ambrosetti, in collaboration with A2A, has mapped the state of the art of the Italian regions, the existing gaps and how to bridge them in the three key areas of their work: energy, environment and water cycle. To achieve the decarbonisation targets, it is first and foremost necessary to increase the use of renewable energy sources. 

The analyses of the study show that Italy, with the trend of the last 5 years, will not reach the final energy consumption targets set by the Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) by 2030, with a gap of more than 7 percentage points. Increasing renewable installed power in electricity generation is essential to reach the target, but Italy is still proceeding too slowly: at current rates, the installed power gap will be approx. 2,200 MW by 2025 and approx. 2,400 MW by 2030 for wind power and as much as 3,700 MW by 2025 and over 23,000 MW by 2030 for photovoltaic systems. This delay is due to long and complex authorisation procedures. Utility scale installations have to request the single authorisation which, in certain practical cases, has taken up to 8 years: it is necessary to speed up the process as much as possible.  

Important developments for the sustainable transition of Italy are coming from the Circular Economy Package of the European Commission, which requires preference to be given to forms of waste management aimed at the recovery of material and use of residual waste as energy, while minimising the use of landfills. However, while the most virtuous European countries have almost eliminated the use of landfills (e.g. Sweden and Finland 0.7%, Germany 0.8%, Belgium 1%), Italy is still far from the binding 10% target set by the Circular Economy Package for 2035, with 21.5% of municipal waste going to landfills. Also in this case, Italy is suffering from a significant gap in installations: the landfill capacity of many regions is running out and 13 out of 20 regions will already saturate disposal capacity by 2020: 2.2 million tonnes of waste will exceed current capacity at the end of the year, at great cost to the regions.  


Installation gaps and significant regional variations also characterise the third pillar of the study, the water cycle. Italy has obsolete water infrastructures (60% of the infrastructures are more than 30 years old and 25% more than 50 years old) and half of the water distributed is lost (47.9%, compared to a European average of 23%), with a very heterogeneous situation among the different regions. The country also has a variegated situation with regard to the capacity to purify and treat wastewater, with an average Italian coverage of 85%, which is further reduced if the treated load is analysed, reaching 78.5% at the Italian level, with negative peaks of 68.9%. For this reason, Italy is subject to 4 infringement proceedings, with 2 confirmed rulings. Moreover, these infringements are the result of violations for different types of installations and therefore each of them is linked to several hundred non-compliant installations. Urgent action is needed to resolve this situation.  

Overall, the study estimates that Italy will have to pay a total of no less than €500 million for the entire period of non-compliance since the ruling was issued (between 2018 and 2024). Although there has been an improvement in recent years, with 40 Euros per inhabitant per year (compared to an annual European average of 100 Euros per inhabitant), Italy is at the bottom of the European ranking for investments in the water sector, ahead only of Malta and Romania. Moreover, the current level of the tariff (1.87 Euros/m3, half that of France and 40% of Germany) makes it impossible to bridge the infrastructure gap and promote virtuous behaviour. To give a sense of the real cost of mains water, suffice it to say that a tariff of 1.87 Euros/m3 is equivalent to paying 1.87 Euros for a total of 2,000 half-litre bottles of water (which, on average, would cost approx. 1 Euro each, for a total of 2,000 Euros). Analyzing the ratio between tariff, household expenditure and investments, the consultants of The European House - Ambrosetti have estimated that a tariff increase of 0.10 Euros/m3 would be associated an increase in investments of 20 million Euros and approx. 1,200 new jobs.  

In all areas covered by the study, Italy has a significant gap with European countries that needs to be urgently bridged, combined with a heterogeneous picture at the regional level. The country has a lot of energy and has always given its best in times of difficulty: it's now time for Italy, and it's now time to unleash the energy of the Italian regions in order to make its sustainable revival possible. 

Multiutilities, with their regional dimension, are ready to play a leading role and act as a catalyst for European investment. In order for this to be possible, however, it is necessary to overcome the well-known "NIMBY" ("Not In My Backyard") syndrome by playing, we too at A2A, a proactive role with the Institutions, Associations, social and trade union forces and politics, in listening to the requests of the regions and building transparent pacts for the construction of safe and efficient infrastructures which are necessary for the country and for the quality of life of our communities. A2A will play its part, contributing its share of the funds and acting as a booster of other people's investments
Covid-19 has shown us the importance of caring for the environment around us and this renewed sensitivity must not be lost. Suffice it to say that today we have 0.1 gigawatts of photovoltaic systems, in 2030 we will have 1.5. But we are still using coal. We must speed up the farewell to fossil fuels and create a real environmental breakthrough. To to this, A2A intends to be the promoter of new innovative and essential projects for the country to be proposed to all stakeholders in question, also to facilitate the transposition of funds made available, for example, by Green Deal Europeo and by the Next Generation EU mechanism

At the same time, it is important that citizens also take an active part and learn to use the regulatory and fiscal effort that has been made, also recently, to support sustainable development, which will increasingly require us to pay attention to the environment and the local area.  The road to take is clear, now we just need to go down it, as companies and as citizens. 

The road to take is clear, now we just need to go down it, as companies and as citizens.

I believe that in a national and European context characterized by major differences in the management of services with a high impact on people’s quality of life, multi-utility is becoming increasingly crucial. Our Group can therefore play a very important role at national level: we will present the new Industrial Plan in a few months. It will be our first ten-year Plan and our ambition is to promote sustainable transition with major investments in strategic infrastructure for the country’s growth.

 

Renato Mazzoncini
Chief Executive Officer and General Manager, A2A

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The Circular Economy for A2A

The circular economy is the first pillar of our Sustainability Policy.
To build it, we took our cue from SDG’s 6, 12 and 15 from the UN’s 2020 Agenda on responsible consumption, water management, and biodiversity protection.
For us, having a “circular economy” means reducing and sustainably managing waste across its life cycle, as well as the responsible use of water resources.

 

NOTE: Only italian version Video

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La decarbonizzazione per A2A

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Decarbonisation for A2A

Decarbonisation is the second pillar of A2A’s 2030 Sustainability Policy.
For us, reducing our carbon footprint means reducing greenhouse-gas emissions all along the chain of production, where value is generated, as well as in every service we offer to the community.

 

NOTE: Only italian version Video

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Circular Economy: one of the four founding pillars of A2A’s 2030 sustainability policy

What does this involve? Perhaps it goes without saying, but the “circular economy” is the exact opposite of the “linear economy”, which contemplates the following steps:

raw material > design > manufacturing > distribution > use > disposal

Well then, the circular economy re-imagines a product by taking three characteristics into account: design, solidity, material, for the purpose of salvaging its components. Thus, a continuous cycle is created, which we can summarise as follows:

raw materials > design > manufacturing > distribution > use and repair > collection > recycling > new material

According to the OECD, if the trend in manufacturing output from recent years continues, by 2060 the volume of raw materials used to produce objects will have doubled. The European Commission asserts that if companies move towards a circular economy, we could save approximately 24% of the raw materials utilised each year, thereby avoiding anywhere from 425 to 617 million tonnes of greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere.

Our company has now incorporated the principles of the circular economy into its way of doing business. We have made three of the UN 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable-Development Goals our own. The UN has identified these goals as of paramount importance for reaching a sustainable economy:

  • SDG 6, Clean water; health and hygiene services
  • SDG 12, Responsible consumption and production
  • SDG 15, Life on Earth

These points are the guiding force for our industrial operations. The result? We place a focus on reducing and managing waste in a sustainable manner throughout its life cycle: The rubbish we collect does not go off to die in a landfill, it is used for other things: it is sent off for recycling, or used as fuel in an energy-production plant. In 2018 alone, 99.7% of collected waste was kept out of landfills. Given the important of water as a source of life and biodiversity, we take steps to manage our water resources in a responsible manner as well. This approach applies from capture all the way through the wastewater purification process. In so doing, we ensure a low loss-percentage rate from the networks, and we increase the capacity and performance of our purifiers.

To summarise, we are amongst the first Italian companies to invest in sustainable development. We have tackled an issue (i.e. the Circular Economy) that is quite challenging to put into practice in our line of work. Yet we have set ambitious goals for ourselves which, in collaboration with the local citizenry, we are confident that we will achieve

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