Innovazioni integrate per l’economia circolare e la decarbonizzazione nelle imprese cooperative di produzione per una sostenibilità ambientale, economica e sociale

Titolo del progetto

Innovazioni integrate per l’economia circolare e la decarbonizzazione nelle imprese cooperative di produzione per una sostenibilità ambientale, economica e sociale


Dott.ssa Asia Guerreschi

Responsabile scientifico

Prof. Massimiliano Mazzanti

Corso di Dottorato 

Sostenibilità Ambientale e Benessere


 Introduction of the problem at the scientific international level

Following the Green New Deal in March 2020 there has been a drawn interest in circular economy (CE). These last two years, and recently pressured by the pandemic, we have observed a faster progress in the sustainability field with regards to efforts made to apply and create more resilient policies to help improve the Planet’s state. An example is shown by the European Union (EU)’s Green Deal, which main mission is, “…no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, economic growth is decoupled from resource use, and no person and no place is left behind.” In this regard, efforts are made to shift the EU’s economy to a greener one, away from the linear polluting system. Some points of the EU Green Deal include boosting the efficient use of energy to a renewable one to restore the biodiversity and cut pollution, while investing into technology that will help achieve this mission, supporting industries that wish to shift, and working with international partners to improve these standards at a global level. Thus, demonstrating that there is support for shifting into a CE system for a greener future. The Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) is the EU Commission’s work for a cleaner and competitive Europe while collaborating with several stakeholders as citizens, civil society organizations, economy actors, and governments. In its plan, Commission states that it will strongly work towards this mission at a global scale as well with its influence, expertise, and financial resources to implement the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A CE system makes sure that there is as little, or none at all, waste or pollution produced as a “…framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design.” In fact, the Commission considers establishing to achieve its goals a series of principles to regulate the amount of waste and pollution produced as: improving the durability of the products, increasing recycled content, enabling product remanufacturing, restricting single-use, introducing bans on unsold durable goods, incentivizing product-as-a-service, increasing digitalization, and providing reward based on sustainability performances. While it works to include effective policies, the Commission also reviews different areas where work should be carried to achieve effective results. For instance, it wants to empower consumers and public buyers to provide them with cost-saving products that can be sustainable. Data collected in the report highlights that public authorities’ purchasing power represents 14% of the EU GDP and it can also serve as a powerful driver for demand. Companies must take part in this environmental shift and the Commission adds in its plan the importance of the circularity in production processes that can generate extra value and unlock economic opportunities. The ways in which Commission is trying to achieve the latter is assessing available options for circularity, facilitating the company’s transition, supporting the sustainable and bio-based sector, promoting digitalization, and the uptake of green technologies. In view of the upcoming interest in CE the question is raised for production co-operatives. The latter since co-operatives play an important role towards a just society. Born to tackle the struggles of governments, markets, and businesses, (Codini, 2007) co-operatives’ objective is meant to close the gap on untacked spaces that derive in society from economic, social, and cultural differences. Furthermore, they differ for the services they provide looking to close these gaps. In simple terms, their final objective goes beyond profit. Production co-operatives as business entities have a role, such as any enterprise non-co-operative, to shift towards environmental sustainability. To this point, as presented by Thomas Homer-Dixon (2014) the co-operative movement, “…can play a very important role in introducing the ideas and practice of resilience to out national and global communities.” (p.131) Literature that will be presented does consider a new economy where ecological and social elements, are integrated contrary to the old economy, due to a co-operative way of thinking. A new way of thinking where rather than proposing the elimination of the market as such, works for a different form of institutionalization of the market where in co-operative undertakings, “…people (the members) rather than the capital, constitute the focus on productive activity.” (Zamagni, 2014, p. 195)

Relevance of the problem:

Considering the pandemic, consideration on the packaging value chain for instance has been greatly essential. Online buying has increased, therefore packaging even regardless of the many elements caused by the current global situation is a crucial sector for most businesses. In 2017, packaging waste in reached a record of 173kg per inhabitants, the highest level ever. The Commission in the plan underlines that they will review the Directive 94/62/EC to reinforce mandatory essential requirements for packaging but is also focus on other measures as: reducing overpackaging, support packaging design for reuse and higher recyclability, and reducing the complexity of packaging materials. Some of these measures can be observed at local level in many businesses, however, the Commission’s efforts in my opinion are essential to pressure these improvements onto governments and at a global scale. Another important key value chain that has been considered in the report, and much spoken about in the media these last years has to do with plastic. We see plastic in the water (as microplastics inland and outland), in our food, and we can find plastic in forms of packaging for products and purchases. Especially in consideration of the microplastics, the Commission is proposing these measures to reduce plastic litter by: restricting intentionally added microplastics in collaboration with the European Chemicals Agency, develop adequate labelling and certification to increase the capture of microplastics at all stages of a products’ lifecycle, develop methods to decrease the presence of microplastics, and close gaps in the scientific knowledge related to the risks and occurrence of microplastics in the environment. The CEAP and EU Green New Deal are two perfect examples of European efforts to achieve a greener present and future with an environmental agenda that will protect the population, biodiversity, and the environment. There is the hope that all the efforts placed to produce these deals and plans will be rewarded with concrete results for environmental wellbeing. The EU is also tackling decarbonization within the Green New Deal, however, further reinforcement should be carried out by companies by looking at environmental, social, and economic sustainability. While a CE is not the only option to achieve sustainability it allows us to move closer to the objectives of the Paris Agreement. CE can help promote a sharing culture and strengthen regional democracy and participation of the society in political decisions, already reflected in a co-operative. Therefore, knowledge of what consumers want and employees know is crucial to promote proper circularity business models that are shared by all stakeholders. The assumption is that in view of their business model co-operatives, generally more attentive to the collective good - could provide more easily be more drawn to apply circular innovations. This is due to its innate structure where the social factor should be included. One local example is a cooperative compost plant in Emilia Romagna, Italy called Citta Verde that hires people from disadvantaged backgrounds and provide a circular model by taking waste that then becomes compost and can be sold again. This concept where waste becomes a form of profit is circular already. Therefore, when the social factor is included, this also helps achieve a secondary objective. However, if something is circular it does not necessarily mean it is sustainable. Therefore, the questions raised are: when decarbonization is required, how can it yet apply an effective circular business model, who are those innovating, and for which reasons? Which factors are then necessary to achieve successful environmental, social, and economic standards? All these elements are not complementary to each other automatically. In addition, as expressed by Chioatto, Zecca, and D’Amato (2020) there is difficulty to recognize the conceptual boundaries among eco-innovation (EI), business models, and circular economy.


Both qualitative and quantitative structured surveys will be applied with the aim to determine how production co-operatives think makes them a circular co-operative and study on which variables correlate with higher application of circular innovation. The key objective is to identify which subjective or economic data is affecting management decisions towards effective circular application. During the first year it is key to structure the questionnaire, analyze data already available, and frame who the survey should be sent to. A global comparison between Italy, another EU country to be determined, and an Asian country, tentatively Japan could be useful in addition to identify for the same surveys the changing variables in-between countries. Time frame: 1 year to identify and interview companies to observe what has been currently done to reidentify the benchmark. Objectives and Expected Results The main objective is to identify how cooperatives operate towards decarbonization with observations towards its impact on a social, economic, and environmental standards. Then the following step is to identify past and future trends in application of innovative circular tools in support of cooperatives in order to identify the gaps and requirements to successful achieve decarbonization. What implications does this have with the application of a correct circularity?


A European Green Deal. (2019, October 12). European Commission - European Commission. 2024/european-green-deal_en
New Circular Economy Strategy - Environment - European Commission. (2020). European Commission.
What is a Circular Economy? | Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2020). Ellen Macarthur Foundation.
The circular economy in detail. (N.d.) Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Impresa ospitante

Legacoop Roma - Ufficio studi Via Guattani 9, 00161 Roma

Ambito di Ricerca e Innovazione PNR

Il progetto è coerente con i seguenti Ambiti di Ricerca e Innovazione del PNR 2021-2027:

5.4.6 Innovazione per l’industria manifatturiera
Articolazione 1 Industria circolare, pulita ed efficiente
Articolazione 2 Industria inclusiva
Articolazione 5 Industria competitiva

5.5.2 Cambiamento climatico, mitigazione e adattamento
Articolazione 6 Valutazione della efficacia e della sostenibilità delle misure di mitigazione

5.6.1 Green technologies
Articolazione 4 Riduzione dei rifiuti e della domanda di critical raw materials tramite approcci di disassembling e materials recovery, remanufacturing e refurbishing
Articolazione 5 Industrial symbiosis, co-located assets
Articolazione 6 “A fair benchmarking”: sviluppo e diffusione dei metodi della ecologia industriale per una corretta valutazione comparativa tra tecnologie green e consolidate


The impacts are that providing a key understanding of those drivers of circular innovation can highlight steps required or already implemented by production co-operatives to shift towards effective circular innovation. The latter is in particular relevant to the changes during ongoing on our way of producing and consuming products.

The secondary impact is that this analysis will include a review of those research gaps on variables not yet study that will shed light on how we understand production in a different industry structures.

Parole chiave

  • Circular Economy
  • Innovation
  • Production Co-Operatives
  • Green Technologies
  • Co-Operation
  • Circular Design