Innovation and sustainability are the two mainstays of our vision. And they are also inextricably linked: there can be no such thing as successful sustainability without ongoing innovation and, to us, innovation makes no sense if it is not focused on sustainability.
Innovation is about more than technology. It also reflects a cultural sea change that is essentially a new way of relating to the world. In actual fact, we prefer to talk about Open Innovation: an opening up to the outside world, to industrial partners, universities, research centres and startups, and clients and colleagues too. A virtuous ecosystem in which crossovers and cross-contamination are incentivised and allow us to work together to devise innovative solutions to meet society’s changing needs. This often results in the creation of partnerships that play an essential role in accelerating the process of value creation.
Hence our idea of creating an international network of Enel Innovation Hubs. The Hubs are not merely observation points but active collectors and incubators of problem-solving ideas which allow us to pinpoint innovation in the places and communities in which it is taking place. Our Innovation Hubs (Catania, Madrid, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Santiago in Chile and Tel Aviv) scout for any technologies and business models of potential interest to the Group (from smart grids to artificial intelligence, e-mobility to IoT) and select technologically innovative projects on the one hand whilst fostering local development, i.e. social sustainability, on the other.
We want to use this ‘open’ model to give voice to all stakeholders, both within and outside of the company. This is why the OpenInnovability crowdsourcing platform allows anyone to propose sustainable innovation projects or solutions to challenges our Group needs to tackle.
360 degree sustainability
Innovation can drive progress only if it is sustainable. And we are sustainable only when we can generate measurable long-term social and environmental development benefits. For this reason, we have explicitly committed to helping to achieve four of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that concern: access to affordable and clean energy, support for quality education, contributing to socio-economic development in the communities in which we operate and the fight against climate change.
On a practical level, this commitment has translated into a large number of projects which are summarised in our Sustainability Report: we are attempting to provide targeted solutions that will deliver a better, more equitable future in both developed and emerging markets, often in partnership with NGOs.
We have launched several different projects to give people living in some of the most isolated areas of the world access to affordable and clean energy. These include the Liter of Light project in South Africa and Barefoot College in South and Central America. We want to improve the quality of life for people in the areas in which we work by promoting education, employment and social inclusion.
In order to create social sustainability and shared value, it is essential to communicate with the other stakeholders involved, starting with the local communities themselves. We have adopted a participatory approach to finding shared and sustainable solutions with the result that local communities are no longer passive observers but are actively involved in decision-making processes from the outset and, through a co-creation process, benefit from the value created in the long term. This too is innovation.
Innovation and sustainability also come together in the circular economy, which is about more than just recycling and reusing. It is a completely new model, a whole new approach to customers, resources, the market and proactively including stakeholders. This is what we are doing here in Italy, for instance, through the ambitious Futur-e project to convert 23 former power stations with the involvement of communities in the surrounding area. The project involves environmental protection, the creation of long-term shared value, pioneering technological solutions and innovative business models. In other words, innovation and sustainability.