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Food for thought: why the bioeconomy is a top priority in sustainable business?

From agriculture to fashion, the bioeconomy is a huge sector in Italy and across the globe. Reform it and you can change the world


Recent Intesa Sanpaolo research shows that more than 10 per cent of Italy’s production now comes from the bioeconomy. That’s double the amount of the UK. The bioeconomy provides two million jobs in Italy alone.

The bioeconomy refers to the economy of everything we produce through biomass or biological processes. That includes agriculture, forestry and fisheries, but it also extends to industrial sectors such as food and paper, as well as biotech and parts of the chemicals industry. Understandably, the bioeconomy is a pillar of the EU’s sustainability goals and a cornerstone of the sustainable development plan.

“It delivers strong communities by creating an economy that is able to respect the environment,” says Laura Campanini, Head of Finance and Local Public Services at the Intesa Sanpaolo research department.

Why bioeconomy should go circular?

Food and agriculture account for more than half of the global bioeconomy. Closing the loop on processes within this sector ­– to make them adhere to the ideas of the Circular Economy – is an important goal for the EU. “Each phase of the agri-food value chain produces waste of differing kinds and in varying quantities,” says Campanini – noting that, in the EU, the waste currently amounts to 171kg per capita. This could be used as biomass.

"The bioeconomy is very important in preventing biodiversity loss."

Laura Campanini, Head of Finance and Local Public Services, Intesa Sanpaolo

An example of how a focus on the bioeconomy can affect change is the switch to biodegradable plastic alternatives, such as biodegradable rubbish and food bags. This allows for a closed loop in terms of waste, as these items are both made from biological material and can be broken down alongside other biological material.


The bioeconomy also encompasses the textiles and clothing industry: silk, cotton and wool are all natural fibres, for example. Because of its breadth, optimising the bioeconomy will not only help the world become more sustainable; it will also provide new opportunities for business growth. However, this requires sophisticated thinking and co-operative action.

“I think co-operation at an international level is very important,” says Stefania Trenti, Head of Industry Research, Intesa Sanpaolo.  “On the other side, specific projects relating to the bioeconomy must take into account the local context.” In Italy, the large number of smaller farms with a focus on higher-quality output means that the country is leading the way in terms of optimised agriculture.

"The pandemic has made it even more evident that models of economic development need to be rethought"

Stefania Trenti, Head of Industry Research, Intesa Sanpaolo

Intesa Sanpaolo leading the way in green finance

Intesa Sanpaolo has been at the forefront of sustainability practices in finance, issuing its first green bond in 2017 and establishing a dedicated €6bn Circular Economy credit facility for businesses to make the change to circular practices, including those that are part of the bioeconomy.

The development of this part of the economy will be a focus for all, with sustainability top of mind. “The pandemic has made it even more evident that models of economic development need to be rethought,” says Trenti.

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