Sustainability reports, benefit companies, B Corp, inclusive economic models: the words of the ecological transition in which design companies are engaged. Explained

The need for sustainability, which has increased both in corporate statutes and business strategies and in the awareness of entrepreneurs and consumers, has seen an escalation especially in the last three years. An acceleration that is not linked to a trend but to the unsustainability of consumption and production models, given the obvious impact on the planet.

The market and civil society are demanding not only more ethical products, but also for companies to operate in a more sustainable way.

At the same time, regulatory pressure from the European Union is increasing on decarbonisation, on the circularity of materials and processes and on the social impact of products and services.

In this process, more and more furniture and construction companies draw up sustainability reports that attest to 'compliance' with regulations and ESG criteria - those indicators that analyze the company's activity under the environmental, social and good governance profile.

There are also more frequent companies in the sector that choose to change their statute to Benefit Corporation, pursuing, in addition to profits, a more responsible, sustainable and transparent operation towards people, communities and the territory. Some decide to go further and become BCorp, obtaining a very stringent certification that evaluates, in numerical parameters, the entire social and environmental performance of a company.

“B Corp and Benefit Corporations are tools at the service of a change in the economic model”, specifies Eric Ezechieli, co-founder in 2012 of the strategic consultancy company Nativa, Benefit Company and first B Corp in Italy.

Nativa is also a partner of the B Lab Italia Foundation, aimed at the growth and coordination of the Italian B Corp community, which took place on 18 and 19 October in Milan the first summit.

“Being a Benefit Company means changing the mandate of its management. These companies are called upon to communicate their environmental and social impact in a transparent way, mostly through an assessment tool, the BIA (B Impact Assessment) which, if it indicates certain values, also allows B Corp certification.

From a legal point of view, Benefit Companies are committed to creating value for stakeholders and their territory.

The BIA, in fact, measures the degree of involvement in the supply chain, because growing together as a sustainable and prosperous ecosystem is an implicit objective in this business model.

Furthermore, no one can work alone on such complex and interrelated issues. Benefit companies are not required to certify, but to estimate their performance.

Today, less than 3% of companies that measure themselves according to B Corp standards satisfy the requirements and, in Italy, out of three thousand Benefit Companies only 250 are B Corp.

Being a B Corp is not so much an immediate marketing advantage, but a sort of training that prepares you to win the most challenging companies and a substantial difference of the company compared to others, which denotes a more innovative and evolved business model".

The first design factory in Italy to achieve B Corp certification was Alessi in 2017.

Florim has been preparing the Sustainability Report for 15 years and has become Benefit companies and B Corp in 2020. “These steps”, explains president Claudio Lucchese, “are the formalization of an approach undertaken when the concept of sustainability was not so widespread .

Today, profit is a goal that can be achieved over time only if companies operate in a responsible, sustainable and transparent way; otherwise the market will tend to expel them".

A sustainable and ethical future also in the vision of Italgraniti Group which marks 2022 as a record year: the company becomes a Benefit Company and B Corp, obtains the Certification on gender equality from the Ministry for Equal Opportunities and invests 8 million euros in Industry 4.0 technologies.

TerratintaGroup, already a Benefit Company in 2020, will also become a B Corp in 2022, which through a program of concrete actions in the production process, such as the elimination of plastic and, progressively, the volume of paper and the use of renewable energy sources, aims to eliminate its impact.

B Corp with a characterization in the circular economy is the Vicenza-based Alisea, formerly a Benefit Company in 2019, which it transforms waste from agri-food production and has patented a graphite powder finish, now applied to the wooden panels of Arclinea kitchens, to the floors of Listone Giordano and to the handles of Pamar .

Plastic materials from post-consumer and biobased waste, combined with new and less impactful transformation processes, are the basis of the performance of Fratelli Guzzini, B Corp from 2022.

The B Corp certification of Kerakoll is very recent, after its transformation into a Benefit Company in 2021. The company has been operating for years as a supply chain leader in the 11 countries in which it is present, pushing research and innovation on sustainability and training customers and suppliers on sustainable materials and processes.

Other Benefit Companies in the furniture sector are: Pieces of Venice (since 2017), company Venetian company which recycles product waste from the Lagoon, processed in the Cooperativa Sociale Futura laboratories; Visionnaire (from 2021), which focuses on the responsible use of materials and enhancement of the network of artisans in Italy; Bolzan (from 2022), with particular attention to the short supply chain and zero waste; the Caserta-based Piila (from 2022) which produces Keep Life, a composite eco-material of a wooden nature.

“I foresee a very strong acceleration on these issues,” concludes Ezechieli, “dictated not so much by regulation but by unexpected 'disruptive' elements, because innovation happens when what is being done no longer works.

We will see more changes in the next five years than in the past thirty.

The main 'drives' will be the emergency and the external pressures: see the acceleration in the energy sector brought about by the costs of the war in Ukraine. The example of these pioneering companies will be fundamental because, in times of emergency, it will constitute the model that will show the way."

Silvia Dallai, partner of Deloitte - Sustainability Services has been involved in the advisory and assurance of sustainability reports since 2009. “The topic is entering its most mature phase, leaving behind its more communicative character and moving towards full integration into company processes and strategies”, comments Dallai.

“The European Union has decided to take a leadership position on sustainability issues and is introducing a series of laws and regulations aimed at creating a unique and robust framework, pushing on the one hand investors and banks to converge financial capital towards activities sustainable, on the other by requiring companies to provide increasingly transparent information on their sustainability performance and their medium-long term strategies.

Evidence of this is the EU Taxonomy Regulation, which is coming into force with the aim of providing a common basis for identifying activities that contribute to sustainable development objectives, as well as the new Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which will radically transform corporate governance and reporting processes in the coming years.

The challenge will be sharing common rules and standards, to help companies produce transparent, comparable and reliable information.

Furthermore, assurance on ESG information is playing a fundamental role, i.e. its verification by the independent auditor to overcome the logic of self-referentiality.

Attention to ESG criteria by companies can open up new business opportunities, more easily attracting capital and accessing financing, lower capital costs and greater opportunities for collaboration with investors and business partners.

No less relevant, sustainability policies can help companies attract and retain talent".

The furniture and ceramics sectors are an active part in the process of transformation of the industrial world.

The adoption of sustainability standards and certifications, as well as sustainability reports, is increasingly widespread. Many companies regularly write them as Panariagroup, proactively committed to carbon neutrality, achieved by its own low thickness ceramic slabs and the strategic plan Think Zero, or Saib – part of the Egger group since 2022 – which recycles 490 thousand tons of wood waste per year.

Systemic research into sustainability as an entrepreneurial vision pushes local furniture companies, despite the small size that characterizes the sector, to equip themselves with an internal sustainability department.

This is the case of Arper: “the company is committed to the topic with its own department since 2005", explains Andrea Mulloni, Head of sustainability, "but, thanks to the new CEO Roberto Monti, it has decided to make sustainability one of the strategic pillars of its development , freeing it from existing processes.

We have moved from a 'compliance' mode to a proactive function: the department carries out research on materials and processes and carries out management activities over the other departments, within of a common development plan, with medium and long-term projects that are 'cross-function' with respect to the company's resources.

We have drawn up a 'Corporate carbon footprint' understanding that 73% of our emissions come from our supply chain and transport. We have therefore decided to invest in the 32 strategic suppliers within 100km, to whom we have trained and to whom we provide consultancy.

Our sustainability office is common to the 'Arper district'. And, as a supply chain leader, it helps our partners create an ESG rating, allowing them, on the one hand, to understand which aspects to improve on, and on the other, to be more competitive.

As for the Sustainability Report, which we will publish by the autumn, we have decided to draw it up internally to implement our data learning and control process. The transformation of Arper into a Benefit Company is also imminent.

I believe we are at the beginning of this movement, but the market shows that it is shifting attention from the mere product to corporate processes and carbon footprint. Similarly, GenZ, who is entering the world of work with a different sensitivity, is shifting attention to services, 'facilities' and the ethical dimension of work".