Valeria Colombo

When I started thinking about the theme of language, the first thing that came to mind is a poem by Eugenio Montale titled ‘Do not ask us for the word that gives shape from all angles’, one of the most beautiful pieces of Italian poetry, which is a part of the masterpiece Ossi di seppia (Cuttlefish Bones), from 1925. I invite you to reread it; like many of Montale’s poems, the communicative and emotional power expressed in a few simple words is astonishing. Leaving aside the deeper meaning of the verses for a moment, I would like to focus on the surface message: finding a word, a common language that clearly defines a concept, is a complicated undertaking. And this is also true when we talk about sustainability. In recent years, sustainability has gained a lot of space in economic, social and political debates and the discussion has often focused precisely on the difficulty of defining it in an exhaustive and at the same time intelligible way.

The market for ‘sustainable’ consumer or financial products has expanded greatly, and in the absence of a shared definition, the risk of confusion, if not ‘deception’, which in this sector is called greenwashing, is increasing. To protect savers and consumers, the European Union is working to define a common language that clarifies what characteristics a product must have in order to be considered sustainable. With regard to sustainable finance, the tool that is being adopted is the Green Taxonomy, which classifies which activities can be considered sustainable from an environmental and social point of view. The EU has opted for a positive classification (what is sustainable) and, given the complexity of the issue, has established three criteria for categorisation. To be defined as ‘green’ an activity must contribute positively to one of the environmental and climate objectives, be carried out in compliance with minimum social guarantees, and at the same time not damage any other objective. The environmental and climate objectives identified by the taxonomy are: climate change mitigation, adaptation to climate change, sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources, transition to the circular economy, pollution prevention and control, protection of biodiversity and the health of eco-systems. The taxonomy will allow investors to identify the most sustainable companies towards which to direct investments. It is indeed important that capital is channelled to companies that contribute to the transition to a low-carbon economy, in compliance with social priorities.

The EU’s work is impressive and has not been free from criticism, but it is currently the most advanced step towards a shared definition of sustainability; the EU is also working with other countries within the International Platform on Sustainable Finance (IPFS) to compare existing taxonomies and identify commonalities and differences in approach, criteria, and results obtained. To ‘look at sustainability from all angles’ it is therefore necessary to consider several dimensions, evaluate the positive and negative impact, as well as the intentional and collateral impact, share points of view and good practices and, above all, to not forget that environment and people are part of a whole that must be protected and allowed to grow.