Talking about sustainability is certainly complex. The term is used to refer to very different aspects and processes, and there is also a risk of it being bent to suit the goals one wants to achieve.
Therefore, it also becomes very difficult for those who want to deal with it, particularly for companies that do not have specific legal obligations, to understand what actions are best to take to demonstrate their commitment and improve their reputation.
After discussing Cloud Sustainability, in this article we will see how the adoption of Model 231 can be a first strategic asset to start dealing with corporate sustainability in a concrete way.
In particular, we will talk about Mia‑Platform and freebly‘s experience in drafting an integrated Model 231: one of the very first cases in Italy of integrating the analysis of sustainability risks directly and/or indirectly related to criminal risks according to the 231 regulation.
Sustainability: what does it really mean?
When we talk about sustainability, it is important to keep in mind that we mean a balance between social, environmental and economic aspects. Sustainability is a goal to aim for; it is a state of continuous movement toward improvement in so many aspects, whether we are talking about a company, a state’s policies, or individual initiatives.
Although in the common imagination we often associate the concept of sustainability with green and the environment, in reality we mean a very complex and multifaceted concept.
The definition that best represents it is the one presented by Gro Harlem Brundtland, chair of the World Commission on Environment and Development, in 1987 within the report “Our Common Future.”
His approach, which was later summarized as “sustainable development,” defines sustainability as “that development which enables the present generation to meet its own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.”
Which are the paths for companies and which path Mia‑Platform has chosen
Accomplice certainly to the urgency of climate change, individuals, companies and states have in recent years become increasingly active in adopting more sustainable lifestyles, promoting them and structuring standards and certifications that could facilitate this change.
An important step came in 2015, when 193 UN member countries signed the 2030 Agenda: 17 goals, with 169 targets within them, for sustainable development to be achieved by 2030.
The sustainable development goals, or SDGs, encapsulate the three aspects mentioned just above: the economic, the environmental and the social. We talk about fighting poverty, the right to education, fighting climate change, accessibility, and much more within the different goals.
And as far as companies are concerned?
Since 2016, it has been mandatory in Italy to prepare a non‑financial report for certain types of companies. The obligation concerns large companies (more than 500 employees) and those of public interest, regardless of their size.
All other companies, thus the micro‑small‑medium enterprises that are the majority in Italy, have no legislative constraints and have carte blanche in terms of sustainability.
This can be on the one hand a great advantage, on the other hand a great risk of wasting economic resources and time. It becomes very difficult for a small- to medium‑sized company to choose which path to take among the different certifications, reporting standards, governance arrangements, and more. The risk is to concentrate a lot of forces and invest budget in some certification that may not be the real urgency or need of the company at a given time. Another big difficulty is not finding the right way to bring out and communicate high‑value actions that the company carries out with great commitment.
Therefore, the choice we made as Mia‑Platform was first to improve existing processes and then to try to integrate sustainability into all possible new steps of business management. In fact, we chose to devote ourselves to these two approaches before we even chose to take any additional certification paths, which we have started to study and monitor anyway.
First, then, we improved office management to have a smaller environmental impact and made sure to integrate donations and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives into the company’s normal operations.
Then, at a later stage, we asked ourselves what more structural step we could take, in the belief that sustainability is to be understood as a business management model that ensures the creation of value, in the long term, for all its stakeholders.
Therefore, the choice we made with Mia‑Platform was to first improve the functioning and impacts of existing processes through the “lens” of sustainability.
ESG Factors and Model 231
Returning to what we were recounting at the beginning of the article, namely that sustainability is the balance of environmental, social and economic factors, let us introduce here the concept of ESG: the acronym stands for environmental, social and governance and is used in particular to assess the ability of companies to be sustainable even, and perhaps especially, in the context of financial investments.
In general, the term ESG is increasingly replacing that of the more generic sustainability, and perhaps this comes even more to our aid in reminding us, precisely, that we cannot forget any of the three aspects when evaluating and structuring a company’s strategy.
So here we have decided, as the first formal step for our sustainability strategy, to devote ourselves to the G of ESG, and then from Governance.
A good sustainability strategy cannot do without good governance, compliance with rules and regulations, and the responsibility to properly manage relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities in which the company is embedded.
Therefore, we decided to equip ourselves with the 231 Organization, Management and Control Model: a very valuable compliance tool for companies because it makes it possible to prevent many and varied types of offenses and to avoid penalties that could greatly affect the company’s performance and reputation.
Model 231 integrated with sustainability thanks to freebly
Already in choosing to adopt the Model and in studying what the areas of responsibility are, it becomes clear how proper governance is one of the pillars of a company’s sustainability. Primarily because the drafting of the Model involves, in parallel, the drafting of a Code of Ethics: the company’s “constitutional charter” that defines the founding values and obligations of all its stakeholders.
We chose freebly, the first benefit corporation among lawyers in Italy, because it offers an innovative approach that on the one hand allows us to prevent the commission of certain categories of crime on the other hand to implement virtuous good practices that strengthen our strategy and formalize our already very strong commitment to ESG issues.
With freebly, we had the opportunity to do an analysis of our corporate risks in a completely new and original way. In fact, in parallel to the traditional analysis required for the preparation of Model 231, for each sensitive business process, we also did an analysis of our sustainability risks by assessing their impact in relation to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals mentioned above.
Indeed, it emerged how many points of contact there were between the two analyses and how synergistic and efficient it was to monitor risks of a different nature in a single tool.
In this way we drafted Model 231 in a new form, that of the Integrated Model, and we were among the first in Italy to do so.
Although the risks that emerged from the analysis done through Agenda 2030 are not to be compulsorily compensated for by the company, unlike those provided for in 231, they do become a valuable and in‑depth tool for understanding where to start in structuring one’s sustainability strategy.
In fact, a comprehensive analysis emerges that allows different actions to be put in place right away and just as easily communicated.
The stages of the implementation of the integrated Model 231
As we said just above, Model 231 is a governance tool: basically, it consists of a document that emerges from an in‑depth analysis of all business processes.
The Model is provided for in Legislative Decree 231/2001, which introduced the administrative responsibility of companies for crimes committed by their workers in the interest and/or to the benefit of those companies.
Specifically, what were the steps for drafting and adopting the model?
- Kick off and identification of risks: before the actual start of the project, there were some useful meetings to make a preliminary identification of the key roles and types of risks to which the company is subject.
- Interviews: a multidisciplinary freebly team, consisting of Laura Scaglione and Cecilia Gandini – 231 consultants – Francesca Gardella – criminal lawyer – and Riccardo Taverna – sustainability consultant, conducted dozens of interviews with key roles in the company. Each interview consisted of a mandatory 231 part and one dedicated to the analysis of sustainability issues relevant to Mia‑Platform.
- Code of Ethics: in parallel with the interviews, the drafting of the Code of Ethics began. In this case, the drafting was in charge of Mia‑Platform, but this can also be part of the model drafting project by freebly. In our case, having already a Manifesto of Values and a very structured asset of behaviors and procedures, the Code of Ethics emerged quite naturally by gathering all the necessary information.
- Joint Risk Assessment and Gap Analysis: before arriving at the actual Model, freebly carried out an integrated analysis of both criminal and sustainability risks and drafted a Gap Analysis, in which areas for improvement are highlighted and possible actions to be implemented to mitigate both categories of risks are suggested.
- Organismo di Vigilanza: 231 requires, along with the drafting of the model, the choice of a supervisory body (OdV – Organismo di Vigilanza) which is responsible for periodically verifying that the Model is suitable and effectively implemented through exchanges of information, communications, and possible reporting. In our case, we chose an external body, both to us and to Freebly, namely Lawyer Alessandra Testa, of Studiotesta Professionisti Associati but there are several organizational possibilities that can be pursued.
- Model drafting, publication and training: after several exchanges with freebly, the CDA of Mia‑Platform and the other people dedicated to the project, we arrive at the final drafting of the Model. Once it is ready, the general part (i.e., the first part of the document) must be made public, along with the Code of Ethics and an indication of the contact email for reporting any wrongdoing, on the company’s website. We have therefore created the Governance page on our website to collect this information. Along with these last steps, training is organized, and that is a moment in the classroom in which freebly can explain the value of the Model, particularly our version integrated with the 2030 Agenda, and sensitize each person to its respect and disclosure.
The project is thus concluded and, thanks to the work done with freebly, we now have a 231 Model integrated with sustainability and an initial, very thorough analysis of our improvement points and the actions we can take.
The 231 Model thus becomes a strategic asset for having good governance and for sustainability, and opens the way for several possible paths: greater awareness and better communication to all stakeholders, greater transparency both inside and outside the company, and greater preparedness in taking new paths, such as obtaining certifications.
This article was written by Chiara Muzzolon, Senior Internal Communication & Sustainability Manager at Mia‑Platform.