With climate change and energy it's time to make radical choices. A talk with Annalisa Corrado

Pandemic first, then the war in Ukraine, imposed the issues of climate and dependence on fossil fuels. The reflections of one of the best known environmentalists and testimonials of these issues, among the top managers of the Kyoto Club association.

Sustainability, fight against climate change, environmental impact. These are themes that have become fundamental in recent years, but often shadowed by a veil of vagueness. Yet, as demonstrated by the work carried out by Terna, the fight against climate change needs concreteness, rigour and transparency. Quantifying the impact of the proposed actions, but also by trying to play the long game, with long-term investments. We talked to Annalisa Corrado, environmentalist, author of successful books such as "Le ragazze salveranno il mondo" (People Storie, 2020) and advisor to Alessandro Gassman in "Io e i Green Heroes" (Piemme, 2022). Corrado, a mechanical engineer, worked closely with the operator of the national electricity transmission grid in an initiative on NexTerna’s environmental KPIs, that AzzeroCO2 followed together with the group's sustainability team NexTerna is a project which aims to foster a new working culture and new leadership models.

Over the past two years, the fight against climate change has returned to the centre of world agendas, as if the pandemic had helped us to understand the importance of this issue. It is no coincidence that the energy and ecological transition are at the heart of the Next Generation EU and the "Green New Deal". So where are we with the fight against climate change?

«Since the start of the pandemic, correlations have been discovered between the spillover of the virus and the destruction of primary ecosystems, the aggressiveness of the prevailing economic model and pollution. This has attracted the attention of governments and public opinion to the environment. The "Friday For Future" movement and the fact that the Apec Climate Center has clearly stated that climate change is now almost irreversible also had an effect. A new sensibility was born that also involved politics. This can be seen in the European Union’s latest decisions, from the "Fit for 55" to the "Green New Deal", passing to the constraints imposed on individual states to obtain funds from the Next Generation EU. All tools that at least initially seemed to be able to bring about a turning point. But then came the reaction of those who benefit from maintaining the status quo, there have been attempts at greenwashing and at passing off some sources as useful for the transition when in reality they are not, so much so that even the European taxonomy has expanded greatly. Let's say that today there is still a lack of courage when it comes to translating goals into radical choices».

Holding a Mechanical Engineering decree and a PhD in Energy from “La Sapienza” University of Rome, Annalisa Corrado is responsible for the development of innovative projects at the ESCO AzzeroCO2 and responsible for the technical activities of the Kyoto Club association

With the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, from an economic point of view, the focus is on the shortage of raw materials and European (and especially Italian) dependence on Russia. Could conflict slow the path towards reducing emissions and fighting climate change?

«This is not a new problem, it has been around for years. Well before the war, when the cost of gas had skyrocketed and with it the cost of gas and electricity bills, in Italy and in Europe, instead of focusing on renewables, we began to blame the ecological transition. (European Commission Vice President) Frans Timmermans made it clear: "If we had done the Green New Deal five years ago, we wouldn't be in this situation today". By simply saving energy through investments in energy efficiency or by producing it through investments in renewable sources would have protected us from the economic consequences of the conflict and would have reduced our dependence on Russia. There is great reluctance to stop thinking of renewables as a cost. We continue to think that they cannot make a difference. But the truth is the exact opposite: if we had invested in renewables, we would have energy independence that would keep us safe from rising utility bills and political blackmail. The European Union, to date, gives Russia nearly one billion euros a day due to the peak cost of fossil fuels. What is the reaction to what has been happening over the last few weeks? Reopening of coal plants, differentiating gas».

What do you think is the solution to the current problems?

«To date it seems that there is no confidence in the fact that we need to change our perspective. Instead, it is essential to focus on electrification, renewables and energy efficiency, unlocking the 120 GW of blocked authorisations. This is the way to do it. Elettricità Futura, the Confindustria Elettrica, has made a very challenging proposal, saying that the release of the authorisations would allow the industry to produce 60 GW of renewables in three years, cut electricity bills by 40% and guarantee 80-100 thousand jobs. To move past this crisis, we need to stop thinking of renewables as a niche and start believing that they are the solution to the problem».

(Andreas Glucklhorn/Unsplash.com)

In this context, what can companies do to contribute to the battle against climate change?

«Companies can do a lot, as our current situation demonstrates. Those that have invested more in self-production of energy, in renewables, in energy efficiency have far fewer problems, just as companies that have focused on the circular economy and therefore have less need for raw materials because they also take advantage of the waste market. The data shows that these companies are now stronger, more resilient and are suffering less from the economic effects of the conflict. This was already clear from the 2008 economic crisis and the difficulties triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. It has become even more so today because the costs that are soaring are precisely those relating to energy and raw materials. Those who were far-sighted are now operating at an advantage. This is why companies must have the mindset that investing in energy efficiency means thinking in the long term. Money spent today cuts spending tomorrow. Those who invested in sustainability two years ago, given current costs, are now seeing the return on their investment. Fighting climate change also makes companies more competitive and brings enormous benefits in terms of reputation».

You provided scientific support together with the Kyoto Club to Alessandro Gassman for his book. Who are the "green heroes" he talks about?

«Green heroes are companies that put into practice what we have talked about so far on a daily basis, demonstrating that building your business around environmental sustainability is not only commendable, but it is also an economically winning choice. They are generative and not predatory businesses. They are so with respect to the country because they return value, but also with respect to the people who work in the company and to the communities who live in those places. We are talking about companies that have low impact, create jobs, create economies and generate turnover. Telling the story of green heroes means explaining to citizens the many ways in which it is possible to operate and earn while helping the environment».

«Companies that focus heavily on environmental sustainability make an economically winning choice. They are generative and not predatory businesses. They are so with respect to the country because they return value, but also with respect to the people who work in the company and to the communities who live in those places».

AzzeroCO2, together with Terna's Sustainability team, has carried out an important project that shows how even large companies can choose the path of sustainability and energy transition...

«The NexTerna project is very ambitious. Its goal is to achieve a more sustainable and virtuous "new normal" through a series of structural changes that will become part of the group's management practices. The thing that struck us, like AzzeroCO2, was to see Terna's great desire to immediately arm itself with tools that would allow them to monitor the results of the proposed actions. Many companies talk about reducing emissions and taking concrete actions to help the environment, but without a rigorous quantification there is the risk that it is just all talk. On the other hand, from the beginning, Terna was determined to do everything transparently, trying to quantify the expected benefit and to monitor that once the actions have been implemented, the benefits exist. What we at AzzeroCO2 did, as consultants together with the Fieschi studio, was construct impact indicators around the actions implemented by Terna, providing the company with algorithms that, with cold, hard data, are able to demonstrate and verify that the expected result has been achieved».

What actions are monitored?

«There are a lot of them. An example can be related to the impact of smart working. The fact that Terna has decided to focus on a hybrid work model that allows alternating between home and office or coworking spaces has a hugely positive impact on the environment in terms of CO2 emissions, better air quality, less urban traffic and more time saved. And this impact can be quantified. The same can be said for the dematerialisation of meetings, the plasticless protocol and the optimisation of canteens which aims to reduce waste. These are concrete actions that have a tangible impact on the environment and contribute to the fight against climate change».

And how can individual citizens contribute to making the world a more sustainable place?

«Even the contribution of individuals is fundamental. The economist Leonardo Becchetti speaks of "voting with your wallet", referring to the power that citizens have when they make purchases, making responsible and sustainable choices. We, with the way we spend our money, vote for the type of economy we want to see grow. Consumers are enormously powerful, but this power is yet untapped. What can be done in practice? Choose short supply chains, favour organic farming, reduce meat consumption, avoid subsidising fast fashion, abolish single-use plastic, purchase supplies from bulk stores. There are many examples and they also refer to our sociality: we can create purchasing groups and community gardens, we can build an energy community. There are many ways to be in the forefront in the fight against climate change».