If not for the sake of virtue, then at least for that of expediency

Editorial by Stefano Lavorini.

“All around us we see resignation, obsession and feigned transgression, but very little real passion. This now seems to be the only way to cope with life: with disillusionment, cynicism and sarcasm, the ugly brother of irony. We define ourselves in opposition to those we hate and call our prejudices passions.”

These eloquent, scathing words were written by Massimo Gramellini in Corriere della Sera on 7 March! They seem particularly relevant to the relationship between packaging and sustainability, a theme that is now pervasive in today’s world.

Fortunately, there are also people who display determination and good intentions through their actions. More generally, there has long been debate about whether capitalism is undergoing a transformation and beginning to focus not just on profit but also on responsible actions for the environment, for future generations and for stakeholders in general, including suppliers and workers.

The tyranny of shareholder value continues to dominate (as evidenced by the thousands of jobs axed by Internet oligopolists in pursuit of their financial targets), but in the real world – the analogue world populated by human beings - things often seem to be moving in a different direction to that of planetary-scale capitalism, now unfettered by political or legal constraints.

Looking closely, we find more and more companies that:

  • adopt a Code of Ethics that applies both to company owners and to employees;
  • regularly draw up a Sustainability Report;
  • change their legal status to that of a Benefit Company and declare a social purpose as an integral part of their articles of association, thus voluntarily choosing to generate social and environmental benefits while pursuing their profit-making activities;
  • gain B-Corp certification, engaging an independent external body to measure their environmental, social and economic impacts.

Perhaps we are beginning to realise that certain behaviours, which depend entirely on our own volition, are useful and beneficial to us. Albeit with many restrictions, we are ultimately still free to react to things that happen to us through our choices.

Todo cambia” sang the popular Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa, and so in the face of the growing inequalities that are threatening the resilience of liberal democracies, we are beginning to hear echoes of an “ethical capitalism”, an economic model that seeks to reconcile the creation of economic value with a focus on ethical and moral principles such as social responsibility, environmental sustainability and respect for workers’ rights.

I say “echoes”, because in Italy entrepreneurs like Adriano Olivetti, with his project of community-based social reform centred around the synergy between material progress, technical efficiency and the ethics of responsibility, had in many ways foreshadowed a vision of the world that still today we struggle to think about and are perhaps even ashamed to discuss.

The need for this transition towards a sustainable economy that is mindful of the collective interest is still generally accepted, but should not be taken for granted. Because there are very good reasons to embrace this change, if not for the sake of virtue then for that of expediency.

René Magritte, La Reconnaissance infinie, 1963.

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