More than forty years have passed since the great oil crisis that, as a result of the embargo decreed by OPEC in October 1973, stopped private cars in the United States and allied countries in Europe, including Italy. The Italian government passed an austerity decree that imposed price increases on gasoline and diesel fuel for heating, but also a sort of “curfew” to limit energy consumption, very similar to the lockdown we have recently experienced. Every Sunday restricted to bicycle use saved the equivalent of 50 million liters of fuel.

In the following years - still mindful of the measures they had undergone such as the cutting of public lighting, the reduction of stores opening hours, the early closure of cinemas, bars and restaurants and the suspension of television programs at 11 p.m. – observers and politicians of the time suggested that the way out would be to dismiss oil as an energy source, in favor of coal, which was not subject to the will of OPEC. Fortunately, we noticed that all of this did not happen: not only has coal not replaced crude oil, but the issue of sustainability and the focus on climate change has gained ground.

Today more than ever, as we make our way out of the health and economic crisis of Covid-19, which has similarities to the oil shock of the 1970s due to the restrictions on mobility and the economic impact, sustainability is at the heart of any industrial restart strategy. The term is in use not only in companies at every level and among politicians of every rank: at universities, even before the coronavirus, future managers had already begun to redesign the development paradigms for the third millennium. Because the energy transition is an irreversible path, a new model of daily life: not simply a response to climate change. The pandemic has forced us, on one hand, to react from an economic perspective formulating strategies to bring back growth to our GDP; on the other hand, we have had to reflect upon the culture and type of thinking that we will need to face the coming decades.

The challenge now lies in balancing welfare standards with the energy transition, moving from emissive, exhaustible, and concentrated resources (gas and oil) to widespread resources such as renewables. But also, from the perspective of the circular economy, towards the construction of new waste recovery and recycling plants and also plants for the production of biofuels for mobility and industrial use. In fact, the answer to the reduction of pollution and climate change cannot be “everyone at home in lockdown”, but a balance between classic consumption models and a different direction, aimed at sustainability. Drawing on the lessons that history has taught us, just as politics after the Second World War took to the field bringing a change of direction- and with the intervention of governments and institutions instead of the military - today we are looking at the solutions Europe is proposing to us with great interest: the Recovery Fund and Innovation Fund, if well managed, are useful tools to redirect economic development. The same can be said of the Green Deal led by the European Commission, born with the general objective of achieving carbon neutrality in Europe by 2050. Investing in clean technologies, such as hydrogen or recycling technologies to support the manufacturing of products made with bio-based raw materials or chemicals from waste and waste recycling, implies a parallel attention to competitiveness in the international arena, knowing that in some areas of the world the focus on sustainability is not always a priority.

Looking at Maire Tecnimont’s strategies, even the Circular Districts Model (for the green conversion of traditional industrial sites, which we will discuss in an article in this issue) is an effective response, provided that institutions move in synergy with companies. The project of the districts - illustrated by our Chairman Fabrizio Di Amato during the States-General with the Prime Minister of the Italian Government Giuseppe Conte - is an example of a resilient response, of a renewed vision supporting policies that are no longer short term, but with a medium to long term reach. And everything that Nextchem (Maire Tecnimont Group company for the energy transition) is planning in Marghera, Livorno and prospectively in Taranto is going in this direction. I believe that the “grounding” of projects - by involving a specific area, national and local institutions and the citizens - is the right approach to ensure that it is not just an industrial initiative.

This is why we at Maire Tecnimont have our focus on a global vision one which does not look at a limited range of technologies, but rather at a broad spectrum of unconventional innovations, so that we are ready for a world that is constantly changing. At Nextchem we consider this policy to be an asset, a form of resilience (technological and environmental) preparing us for the future, to anticipate scenarios and systemic risks. It would be easier to invest in conventional technologies, to focus on petrochemicals: instead, ours is an operation of courage that we are sure will be rewarded in time. Already today we are able to produce hydrogen using waste at a competitive cost with fossil fuels: in looking towards production that is completely green from now until the next 20 to 30 years, the problem of urban waste management will be solved. This requires the convergence of different worlds: the world of waste, the industrial world and the world of politics. In order to implement certain solutions, different actors must be brought together. One possible idea is to create regional, territorial clusters where on one side the waste problem can be solved and on the other hydrogen can be produced, also to be used for mobility.

Resilience (the central theme of this issue of EVOLVE) remains a key feature in designing the strategies and models of the future. The first evaluation on smart working activities are decidedly positive: a modality towards which our Group was already structured a few years ago, and for this very reason has not led to a decrease in productivity. Smart working shows us the companies of the future. And if we look at the European Green Deal, with the “zero emissions” horizon by 2050, we cannot but think of our young people. On that date they will be in the prime of their lives, even more concerned than us about the issues surrounding the environment and sustainability: for this reason, they must be involved from the outset in the decisions to be made in order to outline the policies of tomorrow. This topic is linked to the emotional mobilization triggered by the coronavirus phenomenon. This drive for change has increased the attention to energy issues: an active interest that must be maintained and increased over time. If we must take one lesson away from this whole economic and health emergency for the future, I suppose it should be the one of systemic risk. We cannot return to the pragmatism of the status quo. Just as the increase of flooding and extreme meteorological events is unfortunately becoming more and more frequent, we have seen that a pandemic can also have a profound effect on our lifestyles and production models. There is no doubt that economic recovery will remain a priority: but all this cannot continue to take place at the expense of environmental sustainability.