PEOPLE | Apr 24, 2019

Sustainable innovation is not utopia

Interview with Pierluigi Sassi, president of Earth Day Italia on the relationship between technology and sustainability.

“There is innovation when, even without forsaking profit, sustainability, respect for cultures and people are sought for and when it is as close as possible to equity, i.e. the possibility that everyone may have equal opportunities”. This is the definition of innovation given by Pierluigi Sassi, president of Earth Day Italia, an association which supports the theme of sustainability through the organization of Earth Day, established by the United Nations 49 years ago and now in its tenth edition in Italy.

“Thanks to our movement, we now involve 50,000 partners worldwide and a billion people, all sensitive to the theme of ecology which, thanks also to Pope Francis’ encyclical, has become integral ecology, i.e. no longer closely linked with the environment, but also inclusive of social, economic and human dimensions”. A day, that of the Earth, which is celebrated in 193 countries throughout the world and one which sees the opening of the Village for the Earth at Villa Borghese, from 25 to 29 April, a five-day event encompassing conferences, workshops, laboratories dedicated to protecting the planet, with a focus on the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Can technologies be seen as allies or enemies in the search for sustainability?

“Technologies will be allies if used with the necessary awareness and as a support in achieving the goals set by the 2030 agenda. Think for example of Social Networks: it is thanks to these that Greta Thunberg has managed to build a movement of young people who are finally taking a stand, fighting and making their voices heard on environmental issues. Through social media we will be able to get important messages over to many people on the topic of sustainability, but we can only do so if users employ these with knowledge of their dynamics and potential. After all, one of the big issues discussed in Paris when the climate agreement was signed was that of literacy, of awareness, which can only exist if there is an investment in educating people both on environmental issues and on digital citizenship”. 

What if you were to mention one technology in particular as an ally of sustainability?

“One of the most worrying issues, which undermines people’s ability to contribute with their own ideas to the improvement of the planet, is that of the digital divide, which could be solved, at least in part, by the spread of 5G. I think that the connection between people is fundamental to allow an ever-increasing number of people to be able to share their idea of sustainability. This year we bring to the attention of public opinion the theme of natives, for example the natives who live in the Amazon, where the balance between man and nature is preserved and where there are 390 cultures and 240 languages, with 100 cultures which have never had any contact with advanced civilization. These cultures are leagues apart from us, they have no possibility of accessing technology and new forms of communication, but thanks to them we could rediscover a balance between man and nature which we have forgotten, due to unbridled consumerism and a technocracy which we no longer know how to react to”. 

When we talk about environmental issues, we talk about data which, if analyzed, could help us understand some phenomena at a global level. Data that are often little known and widespread. What is the solution?

“As an association, we have always pursued the idea that open data, their publication by those who own and are able to certify them, would help to allow access to information for all, at a global level, and therefore the growth of a collective conscience on sustainability issues. The World Health Organization reports that today’s mortality is of about 250,000 people due to climate change and that 50% of infant mortality is related to this. We are not talking about unreliable figures, we are talking about data that should sound like a warning: “the very survival of the human species is at risk”. Unfortunately, despite having to think in global terms, we are not able to do so correctly if we think that the decisions of a single head of state like Trump, ready not to accede to the climate agreement, for example, can put the whole of humanity at risk. We need to learn to think in terms of the planet, and doing this will necessarily require breaking down barriers and accessible resources for everyone in order to become citizens of the planet. Innovation and sustainability are only achieved through openness and not through short-sighted conservatism. Opening up to others while respecting their differences is the only possible way forward”.

Sonia Montegiove