The first Italian edition of .future (developed on the basis of seven editions of the CSR Online Awards) examined 100 companies to analyse their performance in sustainability communication.
The research is conducted in two steps: a “core” evaluation checks if companies meet a minimum requirement of environment, social and governance (ESG) information; those that reach the average score (42.5% in the case of Italian companies) receive a full assessment organised in two pillars:
- “Substance”: looking for information that stakeholders say is critical to evaluating how a company manages material impacts and projects its agenda for change
- “Distinctiveness”: showing how the business is meeting its societal responsibilities and engages audiences in a wider conversation about a better future.
As sustainability becomes more integrated with innovation and business transformation, communication needs to evolve too and become more dynamic, interconnected and strategic.”
Italy dominated by ‘Traditionalists’ and ‘Sleepers’
Italian companies struggle to excel in either of our pillars meaning that 8 out of 10 companies fall in the “Traditionalists” category or fail to comply with a minimum level of ESG information and are stuck among the “Sleepers”.
However, Italy has its best practices with eight narrators with two “Gold class” companies: Eni and Snam. There are also many companies that improved their performance considerably from the last edition of the CSR Online Awards: a2a, Terna, Prysmian, Mondadori, STMicroelectronics, Generali, Piaggio and IGD.
Climate change and innovation: shared challenges?
Stakeholder expectations on climate change are growing rapidly and in .future we wanted to understand how Italian companies are responding.
We found that 64% of companies don’t present a strategic response to the topic. Of the virtuous examples, almost all came from energy and industrial companies and utilities. Among companies with the challenge of explaining more indirect impacts on emissions, banks and insurers are among the few to provide a concrete response.
Better news on the innovation front: this topic is receiving greater attention since it’s considered one of the main engines for reaching sustainability targets, even on climate change (e.g. among energy companies). In fact, 53% of the Italian companies in .future present information about their approach on innovation and how it influences their sustainability approach.
Sustainability in a story
Looking at the best examples, storytelling shows how sustainability is looking to break out of its traditional confines and become integrated into a wider corporate narrative: a quarter of companies have sustainability stories in a magazine, house organ or blog (e.g. Enel, Eni, Salini-Impregilo and Terna). This trend is reflected also in the choice of topics: aside from the standard social and environmental topics, more space is being dedicated to sustainability in relation to innovation and business transformation.
How are italian companies coping with storytelling?
HOW DO THE COMPANIES STACK UP?
Eight companies reach this quadrant but none stand out significantly from the others and reach a high level of transparency and disclosure (over 70% of Substance score).
The eight Italian companies in this quadrant stand out in particular for their performance in the Substance pillar thanks to well organised and detailed sustainability content. On the other hand, their distinctiveness still fails to reach the same levels of excellence, mainly because the shortcomings in storytelling.
In the most “crowded” profile of our Italian research, one third of the companies included in .future Italy don’t perform well enough in their sustainability “what” and “how” to rise beyond the “Traditionalist” category. A further 46 companies were eliminated for weakness in ESG content (“Sleepers”).
Only three companies pass the threshold and reach this profile, and only by a small margin. This should be a warning sign for many Italian companies because it could be indicative of a low digital culture (at least as far as sustainability is concerned).