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As it Happened: Responsible Success

July 24, 2018

Today is a radically different time for companies. With more globally minded and socially aware customers, no longer is it enough for a company to provide the best products, but now it must also leverage its business structure as a platform for social good to achieve goals bigger than itself. This shift proves interesting for Italian companies who have had purpose drive the development of their resilient organizations.

There are many examples of Italian manufacturers who have operated responsibly for decades producing long-lasting products in an efficient and intelligent way, as well as paying exceptional attention to the workers and surrounding communities. However, Italy is not a hotbed of trailblazing socially responsible companies. From June 25 to July 13, Italia Innovation brought 14 international students to investigate how Italian companies can go beyond their traditional ways in order to be innovative leaders of responsible success.

As academic director, Robert Strand, Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Business and member of faculty at the University of California-Berkeley Haas School of Business, started the program noting the shifting idea of success. Whereas before most followed Milton Friedman’s definition of increased profits, today more consider business success as earning economic value that creates social value. So, responsible success is one that creates economic and social value that regards all. To help figure out what kind of value to create, Strand directed the students’ attention to the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With these frameworks in place, the students could begin their explorations into the company case studies, which included Davines, Acqua Sant’Anna, Caffè Vergnano and Brazzale.

Central to the investigation was also the comparison between international best practices and Italian claimed sustainable companies. It started with a look at Patagonia, the company that ranked number six on Fast Company’s 2018 list of the “World’s Most Innovative Companies” for growing its business every time it amplifies its social mission. Vincent Stanley, Head of Philosophy at Patagonia, shared his experience at the company trailblazing corporate social responsibility. Stanley explained how Patagonia adopted its mission to "build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Then, he described how the company effectively integrated communication to amplify its responsibility. The importance of communication was reinforced by Nora Gallagher, environmental strategist and writer for Patagonia. She shared Patagonia’s approach, which aims at selling ideas as well as products. Then, she led a writing workshop that had the students exercise authenticity.

During the second week, Debra Dunn arrived to teach the students how to design a better future for companies. Dunn is a faculty member at Stanford University's d.school where she co-founded the FEED (Food Entrepreneurship, Education and Design) Collaborative, which cultivates radical innovation in the food system through human-centered design. Her activities and lectures gave the students tools to think of the future then translate their ideas into actions in order to create a better world.

Then, in the third week to further push the students to exercise designing the future of Responsible Success, Jake Knapp, former Design Partner at Google Ventures, led the students through the Sprint. This is a five-day process for answering big business questions through prototyping. This structured program that he developed at Google Ventures includes deciding on a long-term goal then mapping, sketching, storyboarding, and prototyping to get answers needed to solve a problem.

The Davines team’s goal was to go beyond the beauty company’s commitment to environmental sustainability, so they prototyped a new brand focusing on inclusivity of different hair textures. Team Sant’Anna wanted to build awareness of the water company’s compostable Bio Bottle made of PLA, a special polymer obtained from the fermentation of sugars contained in plants. To achieve this they prototyped a new label, as well as an app to share more information with Sant’Anna Bio Bottle customers. The Caffè Vergnano team wanted to better communicate its compostable coffee capsule and explored gamification during the Sprint. For the coffee roasting company, the team prototyped a vending machine game that teached users about the compostable pods. Then, the Brazzale team’s Sprint goals was to share more effectively the nutrition and environmentally friendliness of the dairy products. The prototype was an ad with a QR code linked to a web page explaining the the nutrition of the products and the wellbeing of the cows.

The students presented these prototypes to the companies before testing them with potential customers to gain insights. For the most part the projects focused on communications, a necessary element to strongly embed sustainability in a company’s mission. The students only spent a week on the prototypes, so there still is a lot of work for the companies to take on as they amplify their social responsibility. However, after the three weeks they have gained from the students fresh vision and insight to expand their work, while the students leave more informed to build companies as forces of social good.