Ercole de Vito, Atty., Head of Business Development and External Relations at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Main liaison for ICC Italian Committee, Agri-Food Lead for the UN Rome-based Agencies ICC Global, Coordinator of the Luiss LL.M. in Food Law and LL.M. in Business Company Law, graduated in Law in 2011.
The number of companies focusing on sustainability and choosing to include it among their business strategies objectives is growing. Why is sustainability strategic for modern businesses?
It is a hot topic. We now talk of sustainability in all sectors.
The pandemic has accelerated this process, heightening its perception. Beforehand, issues related to climate change and environmental impact were perceived as distant topics. Whereas, today we regard these are closer and more urgent.
The production of goods and services, and economic growth are no longer the main objective, rather ensuring this is pursued following sustainability standards.
The pandemic has highlighted the need to accelerate policy reforms and business reorientation.
Today when we talk about sustainability, we do not solely refer to the environment but also corporate welfare, digitalization, smart working, etc.
Another theme connected to sustainability is that of consumers’ role who increasingly act as judge and jury, determining a company’s brand reputational value.
Lastly, today sustainability is also an opportunity for growth for companies.
During the pandemic, food security and food access issues became central, and the impact of Covid-19 on local, national and global food systems has diverted global attention from achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In September 2021, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres will convene an international summit on food systems. Therefore, there is a need to accelerate global efforts towards transforming global agri-food systems, to render these healthier, more sustainable, resilient, efficient, and inclusive. What challenges must we face for sustainable agriculture and food?
Agriculture is a topic that is closely linked to sustainability. Italians, and Europeans in general, are very sensitive to the topic of food.
We are increasingly conscious and aware of the foods we eat, how foods are produced, where it comes from and how it arrives on our plates. We are all the more mindful that our foods are healthy and of good quality.
We often think global food is scarce. In reality, inefficient resource distribution creates food and economic wastes. Approximately one third of edible food, equivalent to 1.3 billion tons, is wasted every year, costing the global economy around $ 750 billion a year.
International organizations are committed to the fight against this waste and the upcoming world summits are the occasion in which the international community will discuss the route to follow.
The role of private actors in sustainable development is fundamental: international organizations need the know-how of private actors to achieve the notorious SDGs. Partnership between public and private actors become fundamental to achieve this mission.
The dialogue between international organizations and businesses is somewhat challenging yet crucial. ICC, the organization I work for, represents 45 million companies worldwide. It engages in efforts aimed at facilitating international trade by breaking down regulatory obstacles and barriers via soft law tools and alternative dispute resolution methods. In 2016 ICC was granted the status of Observer by the United Nations and since then, ICC has also begun to play an important role as Facilitator in the dialogue between the private sector and UN. From 2021, we have decided to further strengthen this commitment, acting as a “matchmaker” also in the agri-food sector by supporting the Rome-based UN agencies (FAO, IFAD, WFP). I am honored to be the project manager, which allows me to work in a privileged observatory in the global agri-food field.
An increasing number of companies are deciding to make a contribution to the advancement of social wellbeing by becoming a Benefit Corporation. With regards to an integral sustainability model, what impact will Benefit Corporations have on the employer-employee relationship?
The social wellbeing pursuit is gaining ground in multiple sectors. Many companies are endorsing this new model. We are only in the early stages of this new business model which represent an evolution of a company’s mission by integrating in its corporate social purpose with its profit objectives, and the company goal of positively impacting society and the biosphere.
Now, we must ensure that companies adopting this model truly pursue these goals of ‘common benefit’ in a responsible, sustainable, and transparent way. The existing certification systems supports this regulatory process. We hope these are increasingly harmonized at a global level and issued by independent third-party entities.
What is certain is that culture ensuring that the production of goods and/or services accounts for sustainability in all levels is becoming widespread. The business world is seeking sustainable alternatives and solutions, by shifting its focus towards people and the environment.
The employer-employee relationship is transforming. We talk more about corporate welfare and many solutions are emerging to ensure and improve employees’ wellbeing. From this point of view, perhaps the pandemic has accelerated many digitization processes and new forms of smart working that we would not have reached so quickly.
We hope this trend will consolidate even when the pandemic will finally be history and above all we are hopeful this sustainability model, also linked to the work environment and human capital, is espoused not only by companies but rather by all professional realms.
What advice would you give to a young professional of the future?
A piece of advice I would give to young people entering work is to be farsighted, grasp current trends and interpret failures as opportunities for improvement.
Covid has destroyed the global economy. However, if we choose to look at the glass as half full and adopt a healthy optimistic mindset, Covid has shaken the job market, by creating unexpected opportunities, new skills and novel careers.
To the students wishing to apply to a Luiss Master’s, I highly recommend to specialize in new and emerging sectors. We must not be afraid to invest in emerging sectors: innovation and sustainability have shaken consolidated professions, but in some ways, these have opened the doors to new, hybrid, cross-cutting professions that who are not easily found on the job market. In this phase, it costs much more to “reconvert” a senior resource rather than train a new professional. If we think of the digital sector, sustainability, and new forms of smart working, young professionals have inherent skills, and are more flexible and open to change.
This is why I advise young professionals to be hungry, to be aware of their limits, but to enhance their strengths and pursue their passions.
It takes determination and enthusiasm to reach your goals. You must be a risk-taker, believe in your potential and be open to international work environments without ever feeling discouraged.
Another piece of advice is to broaden your network of contacts and develop many interests. Networking is fundamental, making yourself available, participating in meetings that can support your professional development, expanding your skills and grasping opportunities of the current trends.
I was selected by the Luiss career service for an internship position at a renowned law firm, and there, I became passionate about international issues. After various work experiences, working at a bank and various agencies such as WFP, IFAD, UNIDROIT, I arrived at the International Chamber of Commerce. I continue to maintain my connections with Luiss and I am enthusiastic about my commitments as coordinator of two Master’s programs and as Assistant Professor for Prof. Barbara De Donno’s Comparative Private Law Course.
Chiara Rinaldi, Journalist