Presenting Green SUIte: a sustainability challenge involving 60 corporate teams

Agos, Gruppo Enercom, Sparkasse, Gruppo Tea and the Politecnico di Milano School of Management, backed by the Startup Intelligence Observatory, are promoting and rewarding virtuous behaviour inside and outside the company, in collaboration with the Up2You startup. 


Green SUIte is an environmental challenge – organised in collaboration with Up2You, an innovative start-up and B Corp certified company that promotes sustainable development – involving the employees of Agos, Gruppo Enercom, Sparkasse, Gruppo Tea and the Politecnico di Milano School of Management with a view to raising awareness, educating participants, and triggering a virtuous, sustainable conduct.

The project springs from an idea developed by Agos and Up2You at one of the round tables of the seventh Startup Intelligence Observatory, one of the 46 Observatories of the Politecnico di Milano School of Management aimed at driving open innovation and contamination with start-ups.  Green SUIte is designed as a fun means of highlighting issues related to sustainability, in line with the goals of the United Nations Agenda 2030 and the ESG rating, through the active involvement of the employees of the participating companies. The event has been received positively, with about 600 of the companies’ 5,000 employees setting up 60 highly competitive teams.

For 12 weeks, the Green SUIte teams will take part in quizzes and missions aimed at developing a sustainability culture and an awareness of environmental issues, promoting the idea that being sustainable needn’t be tiring or boring. By engaging participants in small daily actions, such as creative cooking to reduce food waste, researching and bulk purchasing local, seasonal products, participating in shared mobility programmes, and making more virtuous use of technologies, greater awareness is raised on the environmental impact of each individual action, encouraging participants to be more environmentally friendly both inside and outside the company and to rethink their day-to-day lives from a new perspective. A case in point is the “Cross over to the dark side!” mission, in which participants will be encouraged to use their PCs and phones in dark mode. “Black is chic! But in addition to being cool (and making you feel cooler), the dark mode reduces energy consumption, and therefore CO2 emissions.” Difficult not to follow the Green SUite advice!

Green SUite is an innovative multi-company digital platform backed by a strong team spirit and concerned with involving business teams in sustainable actions. At the heart of the platform lies Play, a product by Up2You, the only company in Europe that, in addition to being authorised to manage Carbon Credits certified by VERRA and Gold Standard, does so using Blockchains.

This project has quickly become a virtuous example of Open Innovation, an approach that – partly aided by the pandemic – is increasingly proving to businesses the importance safeguarding our ecosystem while pursuing innovation and that collaboration is often key for developing solutions that can really change and have a lasting impact on a company and society as a whole.

The Startup Intelligence Observatory’s 2021 research data speaks volumes: more than one third of all major Italian companies already collaborate with start-ups, recording a positive trend compared to previous years. A truly comforting piece of information for Italy’s entire innovation ecosystem; one that reveals a paradigm shift, underscored by a growing number of success stories,” says Alessandra Luksch, Director of the Startup Intelligence Observatory. The Green SUite project has been made possible by the activities developed by the Startup Intelligence Observatory to promote open innovation in enterprises and by its lively community of partner companies. This initiative just goes to show that no one can innovate alone, and that collaboration can quickly generate concrete results and widespread benefits.”

A dyed-in-the-wool approach to sustainability

Today, we meet MIP alumni Donatella Carbone and Roberto Toro, founders of Luxalpaca (, a sustainable fashion company marrying luxurious Peruvian alpaca wool with Italian design.

Donatella is an IT professional with more than 10 years of experience working for leading consultancy companies (KPMG and Accenture). Born in the south of Italy, she first studied engineering in Rome and then moved to Milan in 2017, where she attended the International Part-Time MBA at MIP Politecnico di Milano.

Roberto is an industrial engineer specialised in Supply Chain with 8 years of work experience in several different industries. He moved from Peru to Milan in 2017 to attend the International Full-Time MBA at MIP.

A couple who could be called one of MIP’s “matchmaking” successes, in addition to setting up their own company, Donatella and Roberto are also parents of a young child.

Their company went live on October 2nd this year with a collection of men’s and women’s scarves made of 100% alpaca wool. In the next few months Luxalpaca will be launching some new products, also targeting the baby segment.


What were you doing before you came to MIP Politecnico di Milano and why did you choose those particular courses?

A project leader at an IT consultancy in Rome, at the time Donatella was looking to differentiate her background and gain a wider business perspective, so she decided to apply for an MBA. The part-time formula of the course at MIP was perfect, as it allowed her to continue working while studying. Other drivers were the international composition of the class, that was unlike those at other schools, plus the network of schools that enabled students to enjoy short experiences abroad, something from which Donatella benefited by attending a bootcamp in India.

Roberto already had some years of experience in Peru in supply chain management and he wanted to take on new challenges in an international and more dynamic environment. MIP had a perfect curricular program that matched his profile. A program integrating engineering and management was important for understanding how to manage a company.


Tell us how your business idea developed – how early on did it come about?

Luxalpaca was born after the MBA, and we believe that the timing was right, because it gave us the chance to think over and review many of the subjects we had learned and apply our different work expertise to our idea.

It all started in September 2019, when we visited Roberto’s family in Peru. We had a quick visit to Machu Picchu (Cusco), where it was pretty cold, so we bought a scarf made of alpaca wool. This led to Donatella’s first insight: why was this beautiful fabric not available in Italy? We learned that the Peruvian culture is not very well known here, and even less so are the unique qualities of alpaca wool.


How do you feel your MIP experience has set you up for what you are doing now?

We believe the MIP experience gave us the opportunity to understand and to deal with global dynamics. Markets evolve rapidly because of many factors, and we feel that the bootcamps were important for giving us interesting tools and strategies from business cases.

Luxalpaca is also part of this global dynamic, from its Peruvian origins to our Italian customers.

The pandemic has changed shopping behaviour and people are now placing more importance on the online channel: this is a  trend which is here to stay. That’s our challenge, to introduce the amazing benefits of an almost unknown alpaca wool and the millennial culture of the Inca Empire, combine these with Italian design, and reach customers through our e-commerce channel.


Sustainability is one of MIP’s core values and, we believe, this is also the case in your business. How do you see Luxalpaca’s role in this area?

One of the main reasons we were first attracted by the idea of Luxalpaca was that we recognised an opportunity to develop a sustainable supply chain in the fashion industry.

Our unique selling proposition is to offer a high-quality product while also creating value and impacting positively on all our stakeholders, right from the first moment.

Alpaca wool is one of the highly sustainable fabrics; the alpaca, too, is one of the most eco-friendly partners we could have! It lives extensively in the Andean area, eating what nature provides. The wool is shorn once a year in a specific period, after taking into account the animal’s survival needs, given the extreme weather conditions. Alpacas have been bred since ancient times and are now one of the main sources of business in the region. For us, that business means working in harmony with nature and respecting the local population.

Part of our first collection derives from a partnership with a community from Cusco called the Urpi, composed of women who come from different villages in the area. Scarves are handmade in different colours obtained from Andean flowers and plants.

Thanks to all of this, we have become partners in a phygital sustainability platform, one of the first platforms for sustainable fashion brands.


Living together with a young child, how easy do you find it to switch off from work, given that you are at the start-up stage of the business? Do you manage to get a balance between work and home life?

To be honest, we haven’t found much difficulty in switching off. We really love our slow-fashion proposal, and we care passionately about this lovely commitment. In the very early stages and due to the pandemic, on one hand, we were partially stopped in terms of production but on the other hand, being restricted to our home gave us the opportunity to better plan the future steps when Donatella was pregnant, and we were able to draw up the business plan.

Nowadays, we try to set up weekly objectives in both work and personal life, balancing our time and also being supported by a kindergarten.


Based on your experience so far, what would be the one piece of advice you would give to a student embarking on an MBA today?

Motivation is a must. It’s important to be conscious that motivation changes before, during and after the MBA. This will get you through to achieving your personal and professional objectives. The MBA is life-changing, and it will constantly challenge you, so you need to make the most of it.

Studying for an MBA means that you have chosen to get out of your comfort zone, and we believe that this fact will develop your inner strengths and will lead you to the path of success.

Donatella and Roberto’s story is a demonstration of how it is possible not only to build on previous experience but also, with the contribution made by MIP’s International MBAs and after imbibing the business school’s ethos, how minds can be opened, and our alumni can take a completely different direction, maybe one not previously envisaged.

All of us at MIP wish them the very best with their new venture and  ̶  who knows  ̶  maybe one day in the future they will be sending another young entrepreneur our way!

Neighbourhood Hubs against food waste win the Earthshot Prize

Dedicated to environmental protection actions, Milan’s anti-food waste project won £1 million and support from the Royal Foundation for the next few years.


Milan, 18 October 2021 – On the night of Sunday, 17 October 2021, Prince William announced that the City of Milan, with its Neighbourhood Hubs Food Policy project against food waste, is the winner of the first prestigious international Earthshot Prize for the best solutions to protect the environment.

A month ago it was announced that Milan was one of the 15 finalists in the “a world without waste” section, and yesterday, live on the BBC and Discovery Channel, Prince William unveiled the winners after an international panel of experts selected Milan from 750 candidate initiatives from around the world.

Along with Milan in the other four categories of the award were winners from the Republic of Costa Rica for the protection of forests, India for the reduction of smoke emissions into the air, Berlin for the development of hydrogen technologies for energy production, and the Bahamas for the protection of coral reefs.

In Milan, the BBC arranged a link to London from a terrace overlooking the Duomo, which was attended by Deputy Mayor Anna Scavuzzo, with representatives of all the partners who bring this project to life.

The £1 million prize will be used to further develop these hubs and open new ones, ensuring their long-term sustainability and replicating this excellent practice in the network of cities working with Milan on food policy, starting with the network of C40 cities and the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact.

Winning the Earthshot prize is the recognition of a great team effort that has involved the entire city: thanks to the City Council and many organisations from the third sector, universities, large-scale retail trade and philanthropy operating in the area, Milan now has 3 neighbourhood hubs at Isola (2019), Lambrate (2020) and Gallaratese (2021).

The project was born in 2017 as a result of an alliance between the City of Milan, Politecnico di Milano (with the research group of the Food Sustainability Lab, Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering) Assolombarda, Fondazione Cariplo and the QuBì Programme.
The creation of the first Hub then brought in Banco Alimentare della Lombardia and saved over 10 tonnes of food per month, ensuring a stream of 260,000 equivalent meals in one year, reaching 3,800 people, thanks to the contribution of 20 supermarkets, 4 business canteens and 24 Third Sector organisations.

In particular, the Food Sustainability Observatory conducted a network feasibility study and monitored the hubs’ operation and the impact generated by the project, thus making it possible to build an extensible logistic model replicable in other areas of the city.

Indeed, this was followed by the launch of the Hub in Lambrate, immediately after the first lockdown in spring 2020, also managed by Banco Alimentare della Lombardia in a space made available by AVIS Milano and with the support of BCC Milano. The third Hub, at Gallaratese, is managed by Terre des Hommes with the support of the Fondazione Milan.

Another one, currently in the planning stage, will be the neighbourhood Hub in Corvetto, managed by the Banco Alimentare della Lombardia and with the support of the Fondazione SNAM; while the City of Milan has recently started the co-design process for the Hub in the city centre with Associazione IBVA and the support of BCC Milano.


The team of the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering:
Alessandro Perego, Marco Melacini, Giulia Bartezzaghi, Annalaura Silvestro and Andrea Rizzuni from the Food Sustainability research group.

Partners involved:
The project involves major retailers including Lidl Italia, Esselunga, Carrefour, NaturaSi, Erbert, Coop Lombardia, Il Gigante, Bennet, Penny Market with the support of Number1 Logistics Group who provided the vans for the Isola and Lambrate hubs. Also involved were the canteens of Pirelli, Siemens, Deutsche Bank and Maire Tecnimont, coordinated by Gruppo Pellegrini for the Isola Hub.
With Fondazione Cariplo and SogeMi, the City of Milan has also launched the Foody zero waste initiative to replicate the hub model at Ortomercato and recover fresh food together with Banco Alimentare della Lombardia, Recup, Croce rossa sud milanese, Università degli studi di Milano and many other supporting partners.

Food Waste Hubs among the Earthshot Prize finalists

The Milanese project against food waste is one of the 3 finalists of the prize promoting environmental protection measures, in the category “Build a Waste Free World”


On 17 September, Prince William announced that the City of Milan Food Waste Hubs have made it into the shortlist of 15 finalists of the inaugural year of the Earthshot Prize, the prestigious international award for the best environmental protection solutions.

In particular, Milan will be vying for the prize in the category “Build a Waste Free World” alongside another two projects: one for the conversion of waste into safe agricultural inputs (Kenya) and one involving a water treatment system that turns 98% of water waste into clean fresh water (Japan). Food Waste Hubs was selected from among 750 projects submitted worldwide.

Making it into the shortlist of Earthshot Prize finalists confirms the great teamwork demonstrated by the city of Milan. Through the work of the City Council and many local, private and third-sector companies, today Milan has 3 hubs in the districts of Isola (2019), Lambrate (2020) and Gallaratese (2021).

The project stems from a partnership, established in 2016, between the Milan City Council, the Politecnico di Milano, Assolombarda, Fondazione Cariplo and the QuBì Programme.

In particular, the Politecnico di Milano School of Management conducted a network feasibility study and monitored the hubs’ operation and the impact generated by the project, thus making it possible to build an extensible logistic model replicable in other areas of the city.

The project also involves major mass retailers, including Lidl Italia, Esselunga, Carrefour, NaturaSi, Erbert, Coop Lombardia, Il Gigante, Bennet and Penny Market. Moreover, in collaboration with Fondazione Cariplo and SogeMi, the Milan City Council has also launched the “Foody Zero Waste” initiative to replicate the hub model at Ortomercato, Milan’s wholesale fruit and vegetable market, and recover fresh food alongside Banco Alimenare della Lombardia, Recup, the Southern Milanese Red Cross, the University of Milan and many other supporting partners.

The winners will be announced in late October.

For more information:
Food Policy Press Release
Finalists announcement

Linear to circular: when waste becomes a resource

What is the circular economy and how can it become part of our daily lives? We asked Simone Franzò, Director of the International Master in Environmental Sustainability & Circular Economy at MIP.

When we talk about a circular economy, what are we referring to?

A circular economy is an “emerging” economic model that contrasts with the traditional “linear” model (summarised with the terms take – make – dispose) and aims to maximise the efficient use of resources. Reuse and maintenance of products, extension of their life cycle, recovery and recycling of materials are just a few of the practices on which a circular economy is based. It is a model that brings benefits not only to the environment, but that also generates new business opportunities. This is why we study the managerial implications that this model can have in companies that intend to apply it.

McKinsey actually predicts that, in Europe alone, the move to a circular economy could generate €1.8 trillion in profits by 2030. Are companies ready to seize these opportunities?

First of all, I would like to make a premise: the topic of the circular economy is part of a broader context, which is that of sustainability. This is subdivided into three different perspectives, namely environmental, economic and social, which must be considered jointly to enable so-called sustainable development.
That said, from my point of view, companies are increasingly sensitive and aware of the impact that their activities have, not only for themselves, but also for the “context” within which companies operate. However, translating this growing awareness into concrete initiatives aimed at pursuing the goals of sustainability and the circular economy is a very important challenge in many respects, primarily at a cultural level. In fact, it is a question of moving from a “purely economic” orientation, aimed at maximising the value that the company creates for shareholders, to a broader perspective, which provides for the creation of value for all stakeholders as well as, of course, for the shareholders.

A qualitative leap from the cultural point of view, however, is not enough; a change is also needed on the managerial side. Adopting the principles of the circular economy, in fact, requires the company to make significant changes in terms of strategy – that is, to shift from traditional business models, linked to a linear economy, to new, circular models. This obviously has important repercussions from an operational point of view as well. It is no longer enough to think in terms of the company, but we need to move to a broader perspective, that of the supply chain, involving for example suppliers and customers. This is a significant challenge from a managerial point of view.

This is an interesting perspective, but how does it translate into career opportunities – both present and future? Why should a young person entering the job market choose this sector?

There are many careers that can be undertaken in this area. The potential consequences associated with the spread of the circular economy – as shown by the numbers cited above – are enormous. However, it is appropriate to reflect on the new skills required of companies, primarily from a managerial point of view, in order to enable the transition to the circular economy, which opens up important windows of opportunity for young people (and others) looking for a job. Consider, for example, the need for a company to redesign its range of products and services, as well as the business model through which they are offered. In fact, designing new products, services, or business models based on the principles of the circular economy requires specific skills, which are different from those traditionally relied upon to design linear-economy services and business models.

In addition to the impact on innovation processes, all the other business functions must be imbued with the principles of the circular economy: think, for example, of logistics – which in some cases play a crucial role in the implementation of circular business models – and purchasing to marketing, to make customers aware of the characteristics of the “circularity” of the products and services offered by a company.

MIP offers five different Masters dedicated to the topic of sustainability and one is dedicated to the circular economy. Why is this?

As I said, the issue of sustainability is quite broad and encompasses three perspectives: environmental, economic and social. The theme of the circular economy definitely plays a central role in the broad focus of sustainability, to the extent that implementing circular economy business models can enable the achievement of sustainability goals.
May I say that, in this context, our Business School is an ideal place to study and analyse these phenomena. In the first place, because of the coherence between this topic and the purpose of our School, which aspires to make a positive impact on society by inspiring and collaborating with the innovators of today and tomorrow. What we can also offer our students is a particular focus on the study and analysis of strategic issues related to the management of a business. This is an important element for those who want to guide companies towards circular business models, given that change must also be addressed from a strategic-managerial point of view. Moreover, we take a “data-driven” approach to problem solving, in line with the engineering imprint that characterises our Business school and, more generally, the Politecnico di Milano.
A final element that distinguishes our range of courses is our strong collaboration with companies. For the International Master in Environmental Sustainability & Circular Economy we have already involved about 15 companies as sponsors. This provides a number of opportunities for our students, from company testimonials during the training course – which give the theoretical sessions an experiential configuration – to the possibilities of internships or carrying out the project work at the end of the Master at companies, in order to be able to apply what you have learned during the Master in the field.

SER Social Energy Renovations

The H2020 project to finance sustainable construction in the service sector has begun


Financing sustainable building renovations in the service sector with an innovative tool that will accelerate the ecological transition and counteract energy poverty: This is the objective of the European project SER-Social Energy Renovations, which sees the participation of the Italian CGM Finance, the School of Management of the Politecnico di MilanoENEA, and Fratello Sole, a consortium of non-profit entities dedicated to fighting energy poverty. Other partners include the Spanish company GNE Finance, the project leader, Secours Catholique-Caritas France, and the Bulgarian branch of Econoler.

Financed under the Horizon 2020 programme, the project will last three years, in which a de-risking mechanism will be designed and developed to reduce the risk associated with financing and allow access to credit, even for subjects with limited economic capacity. The mechanism will include analysis and technical standardization when defining interventions to make buildings more energy efficient.

The projects will be consolidated and subject to social impact assessment and then financed, allowing investors to access safe, effective investments in line with ESG criteria. It will also allow social companies to carry out green renovations at accessible prices with the necessary technical assistance.

ENEA and Fratello Sole will involve service entities and select buildings used for non-profit activities, intervening with energy-efficient and sustainable restorations. Energy renovation will be carried out by Fratello Sole Energie Solidali – ESCo, a joint venture between Fratello Sole Scarl and Iren Energia.

Within the project, the School of Management will identify indicators to assess and analyse the social impact of the financed projects.

“The question of evaluating social impact is as current as it is complex, growing from a topic of interest to few people into an integral part of business strategy and an essential issue in finance”, explains Mario Calderini, Professor of Social Innovation in the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering.
He adds: “This project aims to improve not only the environmental impact generated by building efficiency interventions, but also the social impact generated by service-sector organizations, which will be able to offer better services due to the benefits of such interventions.” 

Finally, Secours Catholique-Caritas France, together with the Bulgarian branch of the energy efficiency consultation company Econoler, will explore the possibility of replicating of this tool in other European countries.


Reducing the environmental impact of logistics: the GILA Project

The international project GILA, sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, is designed to contribute to global efforts in reducing absolute GHG emissions from logistics and enhancing resource efficiency to thus meet the Paris Agreement’s objectives


Like all other business sectors, logistics can adopt more sustainable practices to reduce emissions and enhance resource efficiency.

The GILA project – run by a German, Italian & Latin American Consortium joined by the School of Management  – is designed to reduce the environmental impact (especially carbon impact) of logistics, focusing on sites that play a connecting role within transport chains, such as warehouses, consolidation/fulfilment centres, distribution centres, cross-docking sites or micro depots/city hubs, as well terminals at maritime or inland ports, freight and intermodal terminals or cargo terminals at airports.

In order to achieve the overall objective, two main research areas will be addressed:

  • best practices and future requirements, services and concepts for sustainable logistics sites within an energy and resource efficient transport chain
  • establishment of a methodological framework for assessing the environmental performance of logistics sites

The targeted methodological framework for assessing the environmental performance of logistics sites helps gain enhanced transparency and a robust basis for decision management and for the targeted identification and definition of measures to reduce CO2 emissions.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics is responsible for leading the project and its scientific implementation.

The industry partners are: Arcadis Germany GmbH, developer of logistics sites, P3 Logistic Parks, skilled in sustainable industrial properties and market development. GreenRouter is mainly responsible for the calculation of GHG emissions of logistics sites, while Fercam, Flexilog, Conad and Prysmian group contribute through their expertise and experience of their own logistics sites.

The School of Management of Politecnico di Milano, as academic partner, contributes with its know-how on green logistics concepts, while the Universidad de los Andes brings a Latin American perspective and experience on the environmental performance of terminals.

Sharing best practices will help participating companies to be prepared for future trends and demands within logistics networks and to pave effective pathways towards zero emissions logistics by 2050 and the sustainable transformation of the sector.

The project will enable industry to use the outcomes in future planning and the implementation projects of new investments in logistics sites infrastructure, e.g. city hub distribution, new greyfield warehouse projects or sustainable transformation of existing warehouses, transhipment sites and terminals.


Air transport sustainability: a PhD in collaboration between easyJet and the School of Management

Diego Babuder, easyJet pilot, will undertake the four-year Executive Research Path of the PhD Programme in Management Engineering


This year the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano, in collaboration with easyJet, is launching an Executive PhD in Management Engineering focusing on sustainability in the airline industry. The course focuses on the challenges and opportunities that digital innovation can have in this area, with a particular focus on how airlines can contribute to the de-carbonisation of the sector and reduce the effects of climate change.

Environmental sustainability is a cornerstone of easyJet’s development strategy and in 2019 it decided to offset emissions from the fuel used on all its flights to meet the global challenges of climate change. “Investing now in the research and development of revolutionary technologies such as hybrid, electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft is the best way to effectively address the global challenges posed by climate change for this sector. This is a historic moment for commercial aviation and we intend to play a leading role in the transition towards solutions capable of significantly reducing the impact of aviation on the environment” – explains Lorenzo Lagorio, easyJet Italy country manager.

“The transition to more sustainable and circular industrial systems is an unstoppable process and for commercial aviation it represents both a challenge and a great opportunity. This is not just about technological innovation, but an overall transformation of business models with systemic impacts at sector level that will lead to the emergence of new supply chains – comments Paolo Trucco, Professor of Industrial Systems at the School of Management and head of the research project with easyJet It is a source of pride and great stimulus for us to be able to study and address these phenomena through a research and training partnership with a leading company in the sector such as easyJet. It is also significant that this collaboration is centred around the doctoral studies of one of their pilots; a demonstration of how the development of human capital underpins the ability of organisations to transform themselves and take advantage of all the technological and operational opportunities to make their business more sustainable”.

Diego Babuder, easyJet pilot for over 7 years, now a new PhD student at the Politecnico, has a degree in air transport management from the UK and has collaborated with the Politecnico di Milano on the lessons of the first level master’s degree in “Fundamentals of the air transport system”. “I am convinced that air transport can play a leading role in combating climate change and set an example for many other industries. There is a lot of enthusiasm for the various research areas that are currently underway, starting with the development of hybrid and electric aircraft and the production of sustainable fuels.”

Sustainability and companies: towards a hybrid model


In recent years, the issue of sustainability, also thanks to the agendas of economic and financial institutions at European level, has increasingly been brought to the centre of the debate.
This is why we asked Raffaella Cagliano, Professor of People Management and Organisation at the School of Management of the Politecnico and Director of the Master in Sustainability Management and Corporate Social Responsibility at MIP, how sustainable behaviour by managers and businesses can have an impact on society.

Let’s start from the basics: when we talk about sustainability in business, what exactly do we mean?

Today, companies should no longer be focussing exclusively on achieving profit  ̶  and therefore solely on shareholder satisfaction  ̶  but must act for the benefit of a wider set of stakeholders, who also have different objectives, such as the sustainable development of our society, both from an environmental and social point of view.
It is, however, difficult for companies to achieve these goals by themselves. In order to make a significant contribution, it is important that several players work together: businesses, the non-profit world, public administrations and civil society. The issue of partnerships is essential in this area: only by joining forces can we make a significant impact.

But what is driving companies to take this path right now?

It has been a long-term process, although we are now seeing an increasing awareness of these issues, especially on the part of the younger generation, who are more attentive and who are no longer willing to work for realities that are not perceived as sustainable. It is therefore important for companies that want to continue to attract talent and sell to these segments of the population to move in a new, more sustainable direction.
Not to be underestimated is the growing emphasis on these issues at the level of European public institutions, through a series of policies that encourage sustainable development. I am thinking of the Green New Deal, to name just one.

Finally, there is also the feeling that this pandemic has somehow revitalised consciences, raising people’s awareness of broader issues than was the case in the past. But this is only a further push to an already well-established phenomenon.

So something has already changed.…

Yes, indeed it has. It is precisely this growing focus on social and environmental challenges that is bringing companies closer to some of the logic of the non-profit world.

We are facing a sort of hybridisation: while on the one hand, “traditional” companies are becoming increasingly aware of their impact on society, non-profit concerns are using business models typical of the world of enterprise to make themselves economically sustainable and reinvest profits in the goals – social or environmental – for which they were created.

It is precisely this convergence between the two sectors that leads us to explain why MIP does not include specific programmes dedicated to the non-profit world in its educational portfolio.

Rather, the school decided to address the issue of sustainability by thinking about the business function concerned. While it is indeed true that all managers should have expertise on the subject, given the central role of sustainability in creating value, there are also some areas that deserve a more specific approach.

So, while we have created the International Master in Sustainability Management and Corporate Social Responsibility for those who need to set a company’s strategy with a view to sustainability, for those who want to apply it to the productive core business of industrial companies, there is the Master in Sustainable Industrial Management.

Then there are the International Master in Circular Economy & Green Management, which focuses on environmental objectives, and the International Master in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship, which discusses how companies and start-ups can address and overcome major social challenges.

Finally, specific attention is paid to the financial world, with the International Master in Sustainable Finance. In fact, dealing with sustainability in this particular area involves two different tiers. On the one hand, more and more financial institutions are including sustainability in their parameters for evaluating and choosing investments; on the other, companies must both manage their financial assets by including a logic of sustainability, and know how to interface correctly with the financing bodies, which are changing perspective.

Such a wide range of courses shows a definite interest in the topic. After all, MIP is the only Business School in Europe to have received B Corp certification, which attests to its commitment to combining profit, the search for well-being for society and attention to the environment…

I don’t believe that we can teach sustainability if we are not putting it into practice ourselves. MIP is a company, which first has to apply those principles that it then teaches in the classroom.
For example, we have always demonstrated a strong interest in the social aspects of sustainability, such as inclusion, equal opportunities, and access to training. Just look at the Gianluca Spina Association, which, with its scholarships, guarantees access to the Masters to deserving young people who might otherwise have difficulty in obtaining such a place.
In recent years, however, we have also committed ourselves to embracing other aspects of sustainability, such as reducing food waste, the use of paper and plastic and the proper disposal of waste.
For these efforts, we have also been awarded B Corp certification. Being the only Business School in Europe to have received this certification must not be an end in itself, but a starting point on a path of continuous growth. Precisely for this reason, the School is developing a strategic plan aimed at improving those aspects of sustainability that still need a further push.
The idea is to become one of the world’s leading business schools in transmitting this message  ̶  as well as obviously wanting to build a better future for everyone.

How can traceability improve sustainability in the global coffee supply chain?

Food supply chains garner public attention for sustainability; traceability is one of the possible solutions, but is it always the case?

Verónica León-Bravo, Assistant Professor, School of Management, Politecnico di Milano


Sustainability in the food industry has recently gained a great deal of attention, as this sector faces several challenges regarding scarce natural resources to be preserved, attention to consumer’s health and safety, communities’ economic development around the world, food and packaging waste, land and water consumption, and unfair trade relationships. Moreover, consumers today opt for food that is not only tasty and nutritious, but also of high quality, grown responsibly and with specific characteristics or origin, which in turn calls for better and more efficient traceability. Consequently, food companies are developing varied initiatives, assessment policies, standards, traceability systems and reporting tools with sustainability purposes.

During the current health world emergency, food chains are also struggling with menaces on their products’ health and safety. As is the case of a few Brazilian poultry exporters who were suspended by China in July 2020 due to concerns about possible Covid-19 contamination in the containers. China established certain restrictions and newer or different certification requirements for food products coming from several countries, with the aim of avoiding a new outbreak, although no evidence that Covid-19 could be transmitted though food existed. Another case was related to Ecuadorian shrimp exports to China, which were suspended in July 2020 because of similar concerns relating to the containers, though the shrimp and inner packaging tested negative. How can companies in producing countries ensure buyers the quality and, even more critically, the health and safety of their products? Around the world, improved traceability could be the key for supply chain continuity under risky or unexpected situations.

Through its Food Sustainability Lab, the School of Management at the Politecnico di Milano is dedicated to studying the elements shaping and determining the food supply chain efforts to become sustainable, and improve its sustainability; thus, a broad multidisciplinary team is running several research initiatives in this area, given the interest and relevance for the academic community, companies and society at large.

One of the research lines is focused on the traceability systems implemented along the supply chain, in particular for food commodities, such as coffee, that involve actors dispersed around the world. Commodity chains are highly fragmented and long, with many very small producers in low-income countries, and several intermediaries are needed to ensure the product flow from origin to consumption. According to the International Coffee Organization, coffee consumption is steadily growing globally, reaching up to more than 169 million bags in 2019-2020. Producers (exporters) are mainly located in South America, Africa and South-East Asia, with Brazil being responsible for 43% of production. Global consumption registered close 119 million bags in 2019-2020, with the largest importers being the European Union and the United States [1]. Consumers in these markets increasingly demand coffee that is not only safe but also ethical, organic, generates a low carbon footprint, etc., requiring the supply chain to demonstrate traceability throughout the chain.

Traceability systems available in the market are said to help actors in the chain not only to track the product from origin to final consumption, but also to respond to the need for mandatory and voluntary quality standards, certifications of origin, and to create the basis for reporting sustainability-related practices and performance. The benefits of traceability could be spread along food supply chains: for managing risks, maintaining consistency and specific product features, and keeping a chain of custody. In addition, traceability helps to achieve operational efficiencies, increased productivity and reputational benefits.
Nonetheless, traceability requires substantial investments in technology and processes aimed at tracking goods along the supply chain. Cost is still proving to be a difficult barrier to overcome, especially in the initial production phases. Current debate in the literature also questions whether traceability systems are driven only by quality assurance expectations, or are also somehow related to sustainability needs and goals.

The research team at our School involved in this project is composed by Prof. Federico Caniato, Federica Ciccullo, Verónica León-Bravo and Giulia Bartezzaghi. Currently, we investigate the traceability systems implemented in the coffee supply chain, providing a taxonomy of solutions and characterizing how these systems are applied, in terms of technological display, information width and depth, as well as considering their relationship with sustainable value creation. The analysis of the case studies (including different stages in the chain, located in different geographical regions) revealed how the implementation of traceability systems along the coffee supply chain could be influenced by the targeted information width and depth, along with the supply chain tier, country of origin or company technological capabilities. On the other hand, it is observed that the link between traceability and sustainability, especially for coffee roasters, might be influenced by two main contingencies: volumes purchased and product type. Indeed, one of the companies being studied explained that dealing with large volumes makes it impossible to trace all the details up to the producer, especially for non-certified products. On the other hand, another company, using advanced technology for traceability, highlighted the precise information they are able to register and communicate while buying smaller lots from certified coffee producers. Besides, we found traceability and sustainability to be disconnected when they are both implemented but managed separately and not aligned. Whereas, traceability and sustainability can be synergistic when both followed a common strategy and are consistent with each other, i.e., the level of detail in the traceability system corresponds to the scope of sustainability practices.

Maintaining consistency and keeping a chain of evidence (e.g., benefits of traceability) are efforts incurred during the current health crisis as companies worked hard to apply newer and stricter safety measures that needed to be shown to international buyers. For instance, the Brazilian Ministry of Health and the slaughterhouses affected by the Chinese restrictions are working to reverse the bans and started testing the cargoes with the aim of demonstrating to buyers that the food is not only sanitized in the plants, but also before transportation. Similarly, Ecuador improved shipping protocols and applied the required quality standards, allowing shrimp exports to China to be resumed in August 2020. These two examples also show that different actors in the supply chain need to work together to apply health and safety measures, that in turn need to be demonstrated to the downstream actors, thereby ensuring traceability and transparency along the supply chain.

There is no doubt that adopting traceability could bring varied benefits to companies in the food supply chain, but for improving sustainability, it might not be enough. Sustainability in food supply chains needs attention from varied angles. Traceability implementation in a commodity supply chain is one of the projects currently being developed at our School. Other research projects in place are observing different food supply chain configurations, such as short supply chains, and their implications for sustainability; or analyzing the added value of information obtained in the assessment for sustainability with a supply chain-wide perspective.

Managing sustainability along food supply chains is still a work in progress that requires multi-tier involvement for reducing ‘distances’, reaching common understandings and better performances; and thus, achieving food security, improved nutrition and sustainable agriculture as called for by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.