Glossario Economia Circolare

The concept of sustainability can be understood as the ability to meet one’s own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. This concept underlies the definition of sustainable development and the related agenda. Sustainability today is conceived from an integrated perspective of several components such as economy, environment and society.


The first definition of Sustainable Development, we owe to the report proposed by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in 1987 ‘Our Common Future’ also known as the Brundtland Report. According to this document, sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.   

‘AGENDA 2030’  

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a document adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015. It consists of 17 goals called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 sub-goals to be achieved by 2030. Through this document, the concept of sustainability as a mere environmental issue is overcome, proposing instead an integrated vision encompassing economy, society, environment and institutions.    


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the 17 goals contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which are to be achieved by 2030. These goals affect all aspects of human life and the system in which we live. For their achievement, no distinction is made between developing, transition and developed countries, as all are called upon to contribute to the effort required for the transition proposed by the 2030 Agenda.   


The definition of Earth Overshoot Day (EOD) was first proposed by Andrew Simms a member of the British think tank New Economics Foundation. Overshoot day represents the date on which humanity’s demand for resources and services exceeds the regenerative capacity of our planet in that given year.   


Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) specifically represents a form of voluntary responsibility that companies can assume towards their stakeholders such as shareholders, customers, employees, suppliers and the local community. This approach translates into the adoption of a corporate strategy that combines economic, social and environmental objectives   


The certification of corporate social responsibility is based on the international standard SA 8000, first drawn up in 1997 by the NGO Social Accountability International (SAI). The standard is aimed at organisations wishing to certify the proper management of labour relations within their sphere of control as well as the initiatives put in place for their constant improvement.    


The social report (or sustainability report), is a document addressed to all stakeholders, i.e. to all those subjects with whom the company, during its activity, comes into contact, with the aim of describing the economic, environmental and social impacts caused by its activities. Directive 2014/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, transposed in Italy by Legislative Decree No. 254 of 30 December 2016, has made it mandatory for certain categories of companies to draw up this individual declaration of a non-financial nature.   


The GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards are the world’s first and most widely used guidelines for sustainability reporting. GRI standards are specifically designed to be used by organisations to report on their impacts on the economy, environment and society.    


The concept of materiality is one of the core principles of sustainability reporting. The objective of the materiality analysis is to determine which issues (among those related to sustainability) are relevant for the reporting organisation. The issues identified as such, and on which the organisation’s activities have a significant impact, then represent the material issues.    

The carbon footprint can be defined as the measure through which to express the total emissions of climate altering gases (expressed in CO2 equivalent), associated directly or indirectly with a product, an organisation or a service. With regard to products, this measure can be carried out on the basis of the ISO 14067 standard while, with regard to organisations, the reference standard is the ISO 14064 family.  


Carbon neutrality can be defined as the balance between residual climate-altering emissions and removal activities from the atmosphere. This term refers to an organisation (or product) whose net contribution in terms of climate altering emissions to the atmosphere is zero.   


Climate neutrality can be defined as a condition in which human activities have no net effect on the climate system. Achieving this condition requires zero net emissions, i.e. that residual anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals in a given period.   

L’economia circolare può definirsi come un sistema pensato appositamente per rigenerarsi da solo, caratterizzandosi per l’impiego di due principali tipologie di materiali: biologici, in grado di essere reintegrati nella biosfera; tecnici, destinati ad essere rivalorizzati senza entrare nella biosfera. Tale sistema è dunque progettato per riutilizzare i materiali in successivi cicli produttivi, con l’obiettivo di ridurre al massimo gli sprechi.


The circular economy can be defined as a system designed to regenerate itself, characterised by the use of two main types of materials: biological, capable of being reintegrated into the biosphere; and technical, intended to be revalorised without entering the biosphere. This system is therefore designed to reuse materials in subsequent production cycles, with the aim of reducing waste to a minimum.  


The concept of industrial symbiosis is central to the emerging discipline of industrial ecology. This concept refers to the ‘collaboration’ between traditionally separate industries to promote competitive advantages through the exchange of matter, energy, water and/or by-products. Key aspects that enable its full realisation include inter-enterprise cooperation and the development of synergies that leverage cost-effectiveness and geographical proximity.   


The European Green Deal represents the new growth strategy presented on 11 December 2019 by the European Commission. This aims to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society with a modern economy in which growth is decoupled from resource use, competitive and efficient as well as carbon neutral by 2050.      


The European Green Deal Investment Plan (EGDIP), also referred to as the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan (SEIP), was presented on 14 January 2020 and is a cornerstone of the Green Deal proposed by the Commission. Specifically, this envisages the mobilisation of at least EUR 1 000 billion in sustainable investments over the next decade in order to achieve the objectives identified by the European Green Deal.   


A green economy can be defined as an economic system capable of generating improvements in human welfare and social equity, capable of significantly reducing environmental risks and combating resource scarcity. In simpler words, it can be thought of as a low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive economy.   


The term ‘sharing economy’ refers to an economic system that is more efficient in the use of resources and characterised by a different management not only of physical goods (e.g. means of transport, clothes, accessories), but also of digital products, space, skills, ideas and money. The structure of the sharing economy also places a strong emphasis on the importance of social relations in economic life.   


The term ‘decoupling’ refers to the separation between economic growth and pressure on the environment. This phenomenon occurs when, in a given period, the growth rate of environmental pressure (measured by indicators such as climate-altering emission levels) is lower than the growth of the economic flow (measured by indicators such as GDP) that causes it.    

Absolute and relative DECOUPLING  

Decoupling is defined as absolute when the economic flow (e.g. GDP) shows a positive growth rate and, at the same time, the environmental pressure (e.g. climate-altering emissions) is stable or even characterised by a negative trend. The phenomenon of decoupling is defined as relative when there is an increase in environmental pressure, as measured by an appropriate indicator, but at a lower rate than the growth of the economic indicator.   


Eco design refers to the integration of environmental considerations into the design of products in order to improve their environmental performance over their entire life cycle.   


The initiative, first published in 2018 during the World Annual Forum in Davos, provides insight into the status of the circular economy globally, presenting specific insights into the circularity gap of individual countries and sectors.   


According to the C2C (Cradle to Cradle) approach, compared to conventional recycling, the quality of raw materials used in the production of goods is maintained throughout the multiple life cycles of products. With this in mind, the production processes, use and reuse of products are designed to maintain the quality level of the raw material over countless life cycles, thus avoiding the production of waste.   

The standard defines the requirements that must be met in order to obtain product or process certification. At national level, the standardisation body is UNI (Ente Italiano di Normazione), which is responsible for drawing up and publishing voluntary standardisation documents (UNI standards, technical specifications, technical reports and reference practices) applicable in all industrial, commercial and service sectors.


Product certification is a form of ‘direct assurance’, carried out by an independent third party, through which compliance with the requirements applicable to a product or service is ascertained.   


System (or process) certification is a form of ‘indirect assurance’, which guarantees the management capability of an organisation with regard to its resources and production processes. This family includes management systems for quality (UNI EN ISO 9001), the environment (UNI EN ISO 14001), information security (UNI CEI ISO IEC 27001) and food safety (UNI EN ISO 22000).   


ISO is an international non-governmental organisation, which includes 164 standardisation bodies from as many countries. The latter represents the world’s leading organisation in the development of Voluntary International Standards. Italy is represented at this organisation by UNI (Ente Italiano di Normazione).   

Waste is defined as (in accordance with Italian law Article 183(1)(a) of Legislative Decree 152/06), any substance or object which the holder intends or is required to discard.


Management is understood as: the collection, transport, disposal and recovery of waste, including the control of these operations and after-care of disposal sites, as well as operations carried out as a dealer or broker.    


Recovery is defined as any operation the main result of which is to enable waste to fulfil a useful role, by replacing other materials that would otherwise have been used to fulfil a particular function, or to prepare it to fulfil that function, within the facility, business or economy at large. The different types of recovery operations are listed in Annex C to Part IV of Legislative Decree 152/06    


The term by-product refers to any substance or object that meets the conditions set out in Article 184-bis of Legislative Decree 152/06.  


A secondary raw material is obtained from waste which, following specific recovery operations, loses its waste status and can be used for subsequent uses or other production processes.   


Termination of waste status (End of Waste) occurs when a waste has undergone a recovery operation, including recycling and preparation for re-use, and the latter meets the requirements of Article 184-ter, Paragraph 1 of Legislative Decree 152/06.   


Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) is the approach through which to analyse the environmental, economic and social sustainability of products, services, technologies and systems, considering their entire life cycle (extraction of raw materials, production, use, distribution and end of life). The main tools through which this approach is applied are Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Life Cycle Costing and Social-LCA.   


The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach represents the main operational tool of Life Cycle Thinking. This methodology, regulated by the ISO 14040 family of standards, allows the assessment and quantification of the energy and environmental loads attributable to a product, process or service by considering its entire life cycle, i.e. from the supply of raw materials, through the use phase to the end of life.   


Life Cycle Costing represents one of the application tools of Life Cycle Thinking. Specifically, it is an evaluation methodology for determining the overall cost of a product or service, considering its entire life cycle.   


Social LCA can be defined as the methodology for assessing the negative and positive social impacts, arising from a product or service throughout its life cycle and in relation to the different stakeholder groups involved. The ultimate goal of this tool is therefore to promote the improvement of the socio-economic performance of products and services throughout their entire life cycle.