WWF and Sofidel: 15 years of collaboration
This issue of Soft&Green aims to offer some food for thought about the importance of partnerships in effectively promoting sustainable development. The now 15-year collaboration (2007 – 2022) between WWF and Sofidel tells a positive story of sharing and achieving goals. Soft&Green wanted to ask some questions to Luigi Lazzareschi, Sofidel’s CEO, and Alessandra Prampolini, WWF General Manager, to get some more information about the history and evolution of this experience.
The first question is a must: who came up with the idea for this collaboration? And what was the first project you did together?
Luigi Lazzareschi: Sofidel, like other Italian family businesses, has always followed a long-term business strategy in its choices and investments. This is a characteristic that, in many cases, has made them somewhat more sensitive to sustainability issues by fostering the emergence of a model of “responsible proximity” capitalism, capable in many cases of bearing fruit. As far as we are concerned, at some point in our journey, in the early 2000s, we found it necessary to systematize and enhance this heritage by integrating sustainability into the way we operate. The goal was to make it a strategic growth factor. The fact, then, that the paper industry is energy- and water-demanding, and it uses forestry-derived raw material, led us at that first stage to focus particularly on the environmental dimension. So in 2007, we decided to get in touch with WWF since it seemed the most suitable partner due to its history, international profile, and authority. The initial contact led us the following year, in 2008, to join – as the leading Italian manufacturing company and the leader in the world in the tissue sector – the international Climate Savers program, which proposed that companies voluntarily adopt plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by implementing innovative technologies and strategies. This was the start.
Alessandra Prampolini: The idea for a collaboration came after a positive discussion on the main environmental issues for the tissue paper industry, from energy to forests: Sofidel wanted to invest in and support WWF projects to protect nature, and we found great willingness to discuss how to improve the group’s environmental policies and practices. Thus, from the outset, a holistic partnership was established that included the definition of challenging environmental goals and concrete action plans to achieve them, as well as the development of communication and awareness-raising activities on key environmental issues, which have also been enriched over the years with educational programs and institutional events. The first joint project was Climate Savers, WWF’s international program that brings together business leaders who voluntarily pledge to drastically reduce climate-altering emissions (and which was the progenitor of voluntary climate programs). Sofidel has emissions targets in line with climate science and a goal of 84 percent purchased energy from renewable sources by 2030.
Of the many initiatives carried out together, which one did you feel brought the most significant results due to it being the result of your partnership?
Luigi Lazzareschi: A significant result was certainly achieved with Climate Savers. In fact, between 2009 and 2020, Sofidel reduced its direct emissions (carbon intensity) of CO2 into the atmosphere by 24 percent, even exceeding its target of 23 percent. But what I think is most appreciable is that, since the Climate Savers experience, the collaboration with WWF has expanded and strengthened. In fact, we have shared with WWF a pathway to improve our forest procurement process, which in 2016 led us to have 100 percent of the fiber we use certified by independent third parties with forest certification schemes. And we have also joined or supported numerous activities to raise awareness, educate and inform on sustainability issues, among which I like to mention in particular “I’ll Take Care of You” (“Mi Curo di Te”), the environmental education program made available free of charge to Italian primary and secondary schools that, since 2014, has already involved more than 650,000 students.
Alessandra Prampolini: It is difficult to name a single initiative. We are satisfied with the quality and positive reception of the project “Mi Curo di Te. Il gesto di ognuno per il Pianeta di tutti” (“I’ll Take Care of You. Everyone’s Contribution to a Planet for All”) has had an impact in schools in recent years. Just as we consider strategic the role of the “agent of change” that Sofidel has played on climate and energy within its own production sector and along the value chain, since it is an important corporate testimony and because the group’s commitment has also virtuously involved its suppliers, acting as a multiplier. One certainly significant achievement is the most recent joining of the Forests forward program for sustainable forest resource management because the Group’s global commitment to responsible sourcing is a strategic part of our work together. Sofidel has not only achieved 100 percent certified cellulose (of which 80 percent is FSC®) but is constantly comparing notes with WWF to improve environmental policies and reduce any possible risk of impact on the ecosystems where the company’s operations insist.
The relationship between WWF and Sofidel is an example of a “long-lasting” collaboration between a for-profit company and a nonprofit organization – when it began, would you have imagined such a long-lasting partnership? What developments will there be in the future?
Luigi Lazzareschi: In our efforts to create long-lasting shared value, collaborations with stakeholders play a central role. An important lever for building transparency and trust. And also to combat poor quality information or harmful forms of greenwashing. When we started the collaboration in 2007, we were already convinced of this and certainly aspired to structure a meaningful relationship. However, nothing is a given. Let’s say that, luckily, these 15 years have strengthened us in this belief. Today, sustainability issues are more relevant than ever. Changing paradigms of production and consumption, ecological transition, energy crisis, supporting the creation of new skills. There are many areas in which the business world and an organization like WWF can work together in the interests of people and the planet. Among other things, right now, we are working with them for “Sofidel4Talent“, a training activity dedicated to young people, and we adhere to the Re-Nature Italy campaign for the protection and regeneration of natural capital in our country. I see this as a very good basis for looking positively toward the future.
Alessandra Prampolini: We had envisioned a multi-year path on topics of mutual interest, but such a long-standing collaboration is truly a cause for satisfaction and has been made possible by the Group’s willingness and continued support on sustainability issues. In general, following the goals of the conservation program, WWF works with companies to address complex challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss so that we can produce and consume within the limits of a single planet. Today and in the near future, given the urgency of the environmental crisis, our demands on institutions and the private sector will be increasingly ambitious, aimed at building resilient communities and ecosystems. 2030 is the key year by which we must be on track to decarbonize and reverse the loss of nature to create a secure future for people and the planet. The Sofidel and WWF partnership, which has become a best practice benchmark for for-profit and nonprofit collaborations, continues on this path according to the challenges identified as priorities: commitments to climate and nature that can truly contribute to a transition to a net-zero and nature positive global economy.
From your respective perspectives, do you feel that this experience has enabled your organizations to further understand the challenges at hand? To gain new sensitivities, beliefs, or points of view?
Luigi Lazzareschi: I think I can say that WWF has acted within the Sofidel world as a powerful catalyst. That is, it has helped the company grow in awareness, strengthen itself culturally, and become familiar with issues and sensitivities at the center of international public debate. An “acculturation” factor. One of the components that has helped fuel our efforts to innovate processes and products. To responsibly project ourselves into the future.
Alessandra Prampolini: Partnerships are about sharing vision, values, and know-how to achieve more together than can be achieved alone – we believe strongly in this hybridization. Our collaboration with Sofidel will see us work increasingly together, with the possibility of testing new approaches to reducing ecological impact, knowing that good practices can be shared, involving the entire supply chain and industry sector in these crucial years. Nature is everyone’s business!