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Italy’s ecological transition with Minister Cingolani

By ecology, sdg 1, sdg 10, sdg 11, sdg 12, sdg 13, sdg 14, sdg 15, sdg 16, sdg 17, sdg 2, sdg 3, sdg 4, sdg 5, sdg 6, sdg 7, sdg 8, sdg 9

Alongside Roberto Cingolani, Minister for the Ecological Transition, we imagined what the world will be like in 2040 when his youngest son will be 30 years old. Cingolani helps us understand why we need to act now to put all the knowledge we have to good use. Are you ready to do your part to facilitate a transition that, by the very nature of the term, must be gradual?

Cristina: How will we transition from the world we have to the one we want? We came to Genoa to ask the Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani, physicist, researcher and father of 3 children. Good morning Minister. In 2040 we’ll be 10 years away from the 2050 target of zero emissions and your youngest son will be 30 years old – what will the world look like?

Minister Cingolani: If we’ll have done a good job it could be much cleaner than it is now and above all, there should be much less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and we’ll probably start to limit and mitigate the effects of global warming. The problem is that we have to start tomorrow and install all the renewable energy we need, we have to reach 72% of renewable electricity by 2030, so 10 years before the date you mentioned and I have to say that it worries me. Paradoxically, the problem today is neither resources nor technology, nor companies that can install these large plants, especially in Italy where we have lots of know-how. Right now, the most limiting factor is the bureaucratic one. The chain of permits for the installation of photovoltaic, wind and renewable energy plants is so slow, we risk that during the 5-year duration of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR), these permits will be issued too late. First of all, we need to simplify the regulatory and authorizational aspects because there is such urgency, we can no longer waste any
time.

Cristina: Let’s imagine that world in 2040 for a moment longer.

Minister Cingolani: Smart mobility, cities on a human scale, greener. Hopefully we will have recovered some biodiversity, and above all, a greater awareness of tomorrow’s adults, today’s children.

Cristina: A question about fossil fuel subsidies is inevitable. Where are we and what do you think is the right destination?

Minister Cingolani: It’s a very delicate subject, unfortunately, sustainability is a compromise between different demands, we must mitigate the damage we’ve done to the environment as soon as possible, but at the same time, we must allow people to live and work. Unfortunately this also depends on contingent situations, we are not coming out of a particularly prosperous and happy period. The subsidies must certainly be reduced as soon as possible, and if we can reduce them we can reinvest a part of these reductions in something that will help create new jobs, including the reconditioning of the transportation industry. It’s a balancing act because if we ideologize the problem we harm workers, if we neglect the problem we harm the environment, so we all need to think about how to reorganize our habits and our lifestyles knowing that nothing is free.

Cristina: Thank you Minister.

Minister Cingolani: Thank you and good luck to everyone.

Cristina: Our country’s green transition must fulfill all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. An eye on the present and an eye to the future!

On air June 12th, 2021

Bees – the sentinels of biodiversity

By ecology, sdg 1, sdg 10, sdg 11, sdg 12, sdg 13, sdg 14, sdg 15, sdg 16, sdg 17, sdg 2, sdg 3, sdg 4, sdg 5, sdg 6, sdg 7, sdg 8, sdg 9

Having taken sustainable development to heart for a few decades now and focusing on solutions to our biggest challenges, I tend to think that issues which have been brought to our attention have positively evolved. Sadly that’s not the case but I know we have all the information to evolve as a species and co-exist respectfully with the complex ecosystems that we’re a part of. Speaking with Andrea, the beekeeper I always buy honey from, he introduced me to Luca Bosco and Marco Bergero. Thanks to these dedicated, passionate and knowledgeable young men, I found out that bees and pollinators are more threatened than ever. That’s how this interview came about and I learned how much more there is to do. If you know any hazelnut or almond growers please share this story. Christina Grozinger, Director of the Center for Pollination Research at Penn State confirms that exposure to fungicides, neonicotinoids and insecticides is causing great harm to pollinators. Engaging in conversations with the people we buy produce from is critical to understanding the  impact of our choices.

Cristina: Today is World Biodiversity Day, and the UN wants to bring our attention to the complex dynamics that govern life on earth. Biodiversity is our greatest treasure and monitoring its health is complicated. We are in the Cuneo area to meet Luca, a beekeeper. Luca, why are bees the most precious sentinels of biodiversity?

Luca Bosco: Because everything that arrives in the hive collected by bees is the result of a synergy between different forms of life and, therefore, is a result of the environment’s biodiversity.

Cristina: What do your observations tell you?

Luca Bosco: That the bee’s situation, and pollinators in general, is very serious. We often see episodes of die-offs and poisonings in our hives. Unfortunately we find insecticides, fungicides and herbicides in the matrices of the hives. One herbicide in particular, the molecule glyphosate, is very serious because its discovery, especially in the hive’s honey matrix – maturing honey, is a precise clue. The molecule that is sprayed here can end up anywhere, we find it in the water, in the air, it inevitably ends up in the soil because it’s sprayed on the ground and we also find it in plant pollen and nectar. This is a clear indication that the ecosystem’s natural filters are somehow degrading.

Cristina: Luca, which crops are sprayed the most with these substances?

Luca Bosco: Here we find ourselves in an area of viticulture and coriliculture, so grapes and hazelnuts. In recent years, thanks to the work of the beekeepers association, viticulturists have learned to use pesticides wisely, without causing direct and serious harm to pollinators. On the other hand, as far as hazelnuts are concerned, the matter is still open to discussion because it’s a new crop and, at the moment, the agronomic practices in use leave much to be desired. They are a source of direct poisoning, somehow they’re also the cause of those systematic findings in the hive matrices, especially in this area. We want to appeal to those who grow hazelnuts to follow the path already taken by winemakers.

Cristina: Luca you are about to take some samples, what is their frequency and what are they for?

Luca Bosco: They’re monthly and are used to investigate the possible presence of chemical molecules. Experience tells us that we will most likely find them because in past years, their presence has unfortunately been very assiduous. We know that these molecules are harmful to bees, also because of their somewhat unique ability to purify environmental matrices by absorbing chemical molecules into their bodies, to their own detriment of course, but especially preserving the honey. Somehow, the honey always results pure.

Cristina: How phenomenal. Do you cross-reference this data with others?

Luca Bosco: We cross this data with other measurements that are carried out in the area, in particular with those carried out on the Tanaro River, which you can see just nearby, and the two surveys confirm the same thing, the ubiquitous presence of chemical molecules.

Cristina: Thank you Luca. This story touches all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. And what can we do? Talk with beekeepers as much as possible, understand the critical issues in our area and protect it in any way we can. It pays off for everyone. Occhio al futuro

On air May 22nd, 2021

Coherent beauty

By ecology, sdg 14, sdg 3

How to take care of our body and skin without damaging the planet? It's not easy.

Recently I trusted the reputation of a brand that I used a long time ago and bought some face creams. Then I looked at the list of ingredients…

  • Titanium dioxide is used as a protective filter for UVB rays. There are studies showing that very small nanoparticles >35nm of uncoated titanium dioxide can be harmful to the environment by being toxic to marine life. The extremely small size of these particles generates oxidative stress under UV light potentially causing cellular damage to sensitive organisms such as coral or juvenile fish and invertebrates.
  • Liquid paraffin is a colorless and odorless oil, which has mineral origins and is composed of a mix of C15-C40 hydrocarbons obtained from the distillation of petroleum oil. When used on the skin it forms a lipid film. Due to their oily nature, however, products containing paraffin prevent adequate transpiration.
  • Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate (also known as octinoxate) is considered an environmental hazard in many locations and is one of 10 chemicals listed on the European watch list of substances that may pose a significant risk to the aquatic environment. Depending on the topical vehicle used, relatively little chemical is absorbed into the skin, leaving 94% – 99% on the skin that can be washed off into various water sources.

In 2010 I interviewed the eco-dermatologist Riccarda Serri who founded the non profit organization SkinEco, with the desire to shed light on the environmental impact and the interaction with our skin of commonly used cosmetic products. The current European legislation does not yet consider the biodegradability of substances used in cosmetics, and only in Europe, every day, 5,100 tons of cosmetic products are consumed. Unfortunately Riccarda is no longer with us but her precious teaching remain, which I reviewed, discovering that when I finish the products I purchased, I will search again for creams without the chemicals indicated by Riccarda.

Here is an excerpt from my book Occhio allo Spreco

Dr. Serri, what are the most common ingredients that deserve our attention?

“Petrolatum and paraffin are derived from oil, nature is unable to digest them and for the skin there is better. Vaseline, used a lot in childhood products, is occlusive and disturbs the skin microbiology; silicone, and all the ingredients that end in –one and –ani, do not nourish the skin but give texture to the product. ”
A drop of foundation thickened with silicone on the sink is very difficult to clean. This is the case with our face too, and due to the increasing use of substances that mimic in the product the characteristics that one would like to transfer to the skin – a smooth, velvety effect, the use of exfoliating masks and scrubs also increases.
“The last layer of our skin is composed of corneolites, or cells without a nucleus. They are called dead cells, but they are not dead, as they play an important metabolic function and, concludes Serri, “they advise us to clean our skin as if it were Capodimonte ceramic, then we need the scrub for thorough cleaning. At that point the skin becomes irritated and a restoring cream is needed. This triggers a vicious cycle “.

What should we prefer?

“A delicate, natural detergent, to be removed with a pure cotton cloth soaked in warm water. There are also microfiber face cloths that clean without detergents. “

And what to avoid?

“Disinfectants such as Triclosan, very harmful for the environment, which penetrate into the deeper layers of the epidermis and have even been found in breast milk. The motto of cosmetics that are healthy for our skin and the environment is: QB, which in Italian means quanto basta – the right amount of a quality product. “

In researching products that use less plastic (or don’t use it at all) I found greater consistency with the content. For example, I’m trying toothpaste in tablets, packaged in glass and the experience is very interesting. And another in a paste made from coconut oil. Instead, another brand to which I am faithful, which produces a toothpaste without threatening ingredients such as dyes, preservatives, disinfectants and SLS fluoride, is distributed in a plastic tube but I would like to know what polymer it is to understand if it is recyclable.

If we look for natural products we can’t trust the slogans on the packaging – but are there any alternatives to a fantastic cream in a plastic container?

For more information on the chemicals to be avoided, it is useful to consult the website of the REACH directive. It is not necessary to become environmentally paranoid but it is important to be informed. In June 2007, the European Parliament approved the REACH directive (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) with the aim of studying highly suspicious materials and regulating their use. It is estimated that there are around 900 of these which are highly concerning and REACH is identifying other 600 dangerous ones. On the basis of studies and samples, it is estimated that, on average, we all have several hundred harmful chemicals in our bodies.
Currently it is very expensive to introduce new substances on the market, for this reason industries prefer to use existing ones which have never been adequately tested. We are the guinea pigs.

In 1981 there were 100,106 chemicals in use and since then only 4,300 have been introduced, of which 70% are suspected to contain at least one unhealthy ingredient.

Listed in categories 1 and 2 of the REACH index are substances abbreviated as CMR: carcinogenic, mutagenic (they damage genes) and toxic to the reproductive system.
“Highly dangerous” are also “persistent”, “bio-accumulative” (PBT) “very persistent” and “very bio-accumulative” (vPvBs) substances.
Hormonal inhibitors (endocrine disruptors) are also concerning, considered responsible for various hormonal alterations such as hormone-dependent tumors (breast, prostate, uterus), infertility, precocious puberty or menopause, fetal malformations and hermaphroditism (both in men and in animals ).
To learn more about the effects of products on our body: EWG.org e safecosmetics.org
There is a new app called Thinkdirty that I will try.

The water we eat

By ecology, sdg 13, sdg 14, sdg 15, sdg 2, sdg 3

Have you ever thought about the amount of water you consume in a day? Not just the water you drink, or use at home. Even the food we eat has a water footprint, it’s called virtual water and often represents more than half of our daily water consumption.
During Broken Nature at La Triennale di Milano, there will be a Wonderwater Café with a menu translated entirely in terms of water footprint for each dish!

Cristina: Many of us are good at not wasting water at home, but we rarely know how much we consume indirectly. For example, the water needed to produce our food.
Wonderwater Cafè is a traveling project that reaches the Triennale restaurant in Milan for the duration of the Broken Nature exhibition. It stems from a collaboration between scientists and designers and is translated in a menu which illustrates the water footprint of each dish.

Jane Withers: We have no idea about the quantities of water that go into making food. So we wanted to point out the differences between beans grown in Kenya, where they may be draining water resources from local communities, and seasonal, rainfed greens that are locally sourced. We saw the effects, during the drought in California two years ago, when almond prices shot up, it was proof of these invisible water systems.

Cristina: Do you find that scientific facts have to be adapted to reach a large audience?

Jane Withers: I think so, yes. I mean, they’re doing the hard work, the heavy lifting, but we’re trying to put facts in a language that people can understand. I think that a menu that represents the water footprint when you’re choosing what to eat that makes a difference. Maybe looking through it and assessing whether we want a pizza with tomatoes that is equivalent to 290 litres or one with the chili sausage at 960 litres has an impact on our choices. They’re staggering numbers.

Cristina: The first WonderWater café dates back to 2011. In just a few years, awareness of the problem has grown alongside the project.

Jane Withers: At King’s College in London, our academic partners worked to understand where each ingredient comes from, is sourced and so on. So there’s more transparency, but I think the really interesting thing also is that then, it seemed really abstract but now there’s a sense of urgency about it. We’re probably all becoming aware that the single most important thing we can do is to shift from a meat to a vegetarian diet or a flexitarian diet. And the differences are between over 5,000 litres per day for a meat diet to 2,600. They’re palpable. I think there’s a lot more interest and awareness.

Cristina: The information is there, people are more and more willing to be informed about their choices and what impact they have. So if you’re a restaurateur, if you bring food to the world in any way, share this knowledge because it’s very important. Occhio al futuro

On air May 4, 2019

Mirrorable, the motor rehabilitation platform for kids

By sdg 10, sdg 3, sdg 4, technology

Almost 17 million children worldwide have been diagnosed with childhood cerebral palsy, caused by an injury to the central nervous system. By combining scientific research and technology, Francesca and Roberto created Mirrorable, a motor rehabilitation platform that helps young patients move the damaged parts of the body and stimulate the residual potential.

Cristina: This is the story of a family that was able to transform a devastating experience into an opportunity for millions of children around the world. Francesca and Roberto, only a few days after the birth of their son Mario, discovered that he had suffered a stroke in utero or shortly after birth and that it had affected the right side of his brain.

Francesca Fedeli: In the beginning it was difficult for us to accept the diagnosis and we started looking for doctors, looking for solutions around the world, but above all we studied. In our research, we discovered the mechanism of mirror neurons, the cells that activate both when we make a gesture or grab an object and when we see another person making the same gesture. That’s where we started to find a winning solution for Mario. In fact, he managed to train the left side of his brain to compensate for the right side.

Cristina: Today Francesca and Roberto, these two extraordinary people, help many families improve their quality of life. About 17 million children worldwide have been diagnosed with childhood cerebral palsy, caused by an early injury to the central nervous system. By combining scientific research and technology Francesca and Roberto created a motor rehabilitation platform called Mirrorable, which helps young patients move the damaged parts of their bodies and stimulate the residual potential.

Roberto D’Angelo:Everything changed for us when we understood one very simple thing: that the best way to help our son was to help all the children in the world like him. We had the children develop a rehabilitation process for themselves and the only really important thing for these kids was playing and the ability to learn new motor skills thanks to another child like them with the same conditions. A few years ago it would have been impossible but today, thanks to technology, we can do this directly in their homes. Thanks to artificial intelligence, we were able to create a highly personalized process for the emotions of each individual child so that they can maximize the benefits. To give you an idea, during a month-long course of magic tricks, these children improved their bi-manual skills by an average of 26%. An extraordinary result.

Francesca Fedeli: The results of our summer-long Mirrorable Camp, in the process of being published, were exciting for us because we managed to demonstrate that these children improve not only their bi-manual skills, but also their learning skills, increasing the indicators of overall well-being, both the children’s and their whole family’s.

Cristina: When a problem touches us closely, more than ever we can become part of the solution.

On air February 23, 2019

DoCured, corporate welfare

By sdg 3, sdg 8, technology

Do corporate welfare platforms have a real impact?

Corporate welfare programs, the range of services dedicated to an employee’s well-being, can have a series of positive repercussions. DoCured is online medical and psychological teleconsultation platform which developed a chat software that allows employees, directly from the office, to speak with a doctor or a psychologist. CEO Lorenzo Tancredi explains: “To date we have more than 130 doctors and psychologists registered on the platform and we have a pool of employees of around fifteen thousand. We cover about 70% of medical specializations, from gynecologists to orthopedists, and our psychologists are all experts in the management of work stress especially.”

Which are the most consulted specialists? “Without a doubt,” Tancredi says “gynecologists are the most requested doctors along with psychological consultations. Usually with psychological issues when a person addresses it through writing, they’re in a comfort zone where they express themselves more sincerely.”

There are advantages in terms of how much absenteeism is reduced, how much trust is generated with new technologies and in a new way of self-care. The national absenteeism rate is around 7%, and with their platform it became 5.5%. On average in a company with 100 employees, around 60% are in favor and want to use a platform like theirs.

The benefits don’t stop there: because it’s a welfare service, it’s free for employees. The company has a tax advantage in offering the service to employees, creating savings especially for the state in terms of overloading hospitals.

When everyone gains something, clearly it’s a winning solution!

Airlite – the air purifying paint

By ecology, sdg 11, sdg 12, sdg 13, sdg 3, sdg 9

Airlite developed a paint that purifies the air and can be used both indoors and outdoors. It neutralizes odors, bacteria and prevents mold, it repels dust and dirt and reduces air pollution.

Cristina: Don’t we all feel better when the air is light? Today we’re featuring a technology that allows us to breathe better. Hello Massimo, tell us more.

Massimo Bernardoni: It’s a paint that contains various technologies. It purifies the air, eliminates bacteria and molds from surfaces, it works over time and eliminates odors. Through nanotechnology our paint transforms pollutants into salts. Through other processes it gets rid of bacteria, mold and it keeps walls clean and smog free.

Cristina: Does it prevent the black streaks over radiators?

Massimo Bernardoni: Yes those too, no more dark corners.

Cristina: Is it all mineral-based? Any petrochemicals?

Massimo Bernardoni: We do not have any petroleum based ingredients, only mineral-based, and when applied it doesn’t smell.

Antonio Cianci: Outdoors, with this technology, painting a 150 meter stretch of roadside, both left and right, is equivalent to planting a forest as big as a soccer field. 12 meters of a painted surface with our technology, reduce the pollution produced by a car in one day.

Cristina: Does it also absorb particulates?

Antonio Cianci: In an indirect way. Particulate matter is generated by nitrogen oxides through photochemical synthesis, we lower its levels and reduce it significantly.

Cristina: It also reduces energy consumption. How?

Antonio Cianci: We have the amazing ability to reflect the warm component of sunlight, therefore painting the wall with this product can reduce the surface temperature up to 30 degrees. This way less heat passes through therefore reducing the need for conditioning the room.

Cristina: So it creates a protective but permeable coat?

Antonio Cianci: Yes, the paint is permeable, it allows the passage of all the components without causing stagnation, such as those bubbles we sometimes find on our walls, which trap mold. Our paint creates a natural conditioning system.

Cristina: How many colors are available?

Antonio Cianci: 180. I must say that architecturally the performance is beautiful, suited also for high-end finishes. And it cleans the air.

Cristina: This is what happens when two brilliant Italians come together. Occhio al futuro

On air May 5, 2018

Blips, turning smartphones into microscopes

By sdg 3, technology

Would you carry around a microscope if it could fit in your pocket?

What if we could transform the one object that’s always at our fingertips into a microscope? Blips, a spin-off of the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, invented a set of low-cost macro lenses on extra thin film that can be applied via adhesive to your smartphone camera.

There are a myriad of applications for such powerful and portable tools. Blips developed four different lens models to choose from: Macro, Macro Plus, Micro and Ultra. The latter two are so powerful that they need to be used with a support to stabilize the smartphone, enabling you to even see blood cells and their shape, enabling you to verify the presence of certain pathologies, making it possible to screen in places where there is no conventional microscope.

There are a myriad of applications for such powerful and portable tools. Blips developed four different lens models to choose from: Macro, Macro Plus, Micro and Ultra. The latter two are so powerful that they need to be used with a support to stabilize the smartphone, enabling you to even see blood cells and their shape, enabling you to verify the presence of certain pathologies, making it possible to screen in places where there is no conventional microscope.

Blips started collaborating with doctors in the field of dermatological remote consultations. Dr. Andrea Antonini, founder and CEO explains: “The photographs help during the pre-screening phase, in particular for some pathologies, people are hesitant to go to the doctor. For example, sexually transmitted diseases, screening for moles, or in the case of pediatric diseases and dermatitis.” The lenses have an educational value as well, providing schools with microscopes at low cost.

Holey, 3D printed orthopedics

By sdg 3, technology

3D printing is changing orthopedics.

Statistically one in two Italians, over the course of their lives, suffers a bone fracture. Many of you know how cumbersome a cast can be. Today, with 3D printing, there are alternatives to the traditional plaster we’re accustomed to.

Holey, a Lazio Innova spin-off, developed a solution that can produce custom-made 3D printable orthopedic braces that can replace traditional casts or standard-size commercial braces.

A three-dimensional scanner captures patient measurements if the affected area and a software automatically creates the virtual model, which will then be fabricated using the printer.

The benefits of having a custom brace can be significant, Holey CEO and co-founder Gabriel Scozzarro explains, “we reduce the risk of complications from a medical point of view, such as skin irritations or compartment syndrome. The brace exerts a uniform pressure on the whole limb, avoiding non-homogeneous pressure applied for long periods which blocks the normal flow of blood. The braces are non-invasive, very lightweight and completely water resistant as they are made from a plastic material, so not only can you continue all daily activities as if nothing had happened, you can even shower and swim.”

The scan is almost immediate, taking only 30 seconds, afterwards the printing process takes two hours, while the time needed for a plaster cast is about one hour. The technology for 3D printing is constantly improving, soon Holey’s process will be just as fast. Meanwhile, the price is already competitive with the traditional method, a wrist brace costing about 10 euros and a cast between 8-12 euros.

NutriBees, a healthy food delivery start-up

By sdg 2, sdg 3, technology

The relationship between food and health is increasingly evident, which is why nutritionists and doctors recommend adding this or removing that from our diets.

This can be enriching but also an obstacle for those who have little time to spare for cooking healthier meals. To develop a better conscience about the food we eat, we need to acquire a lot of information and that’s why technologies can come to our aid processing a lot of data in a short time. News of the day is that the Chilean government has enacted mandatory food packaging redesigns and labelling rules, aimed at changing the habits of 18 million people. Obesity is becoming an epidemic in many countries, both in adults and during childhood. The health care costs of an overweight population are steep (in 2016 it was $800 million, or 2.4% of overall health care spending), so Chile is starting to shift in the direction of prevention rather than care. In Italy, more than a third of the country’s population is overweight. We love our food.

NutriBees is a start-up that aims to bridge the gap for those who lead busy lives but don’t want to sacrifice nutritious meals. Clients, upon signing up, complete a comprehensive questionnaire about their eating habits and dietary needs. Through a proprietary algorithm, the data is used to help the customer choose the dishes that are best suited for them. Once the selection is confirmed, the order is passed on to the kitchen and the meals are delivered in an isothermal packaging that keeps the food refrigerated up to 72 hours. Properly stored in the fridge, it can last up to 20 days.

Founders Giovanni Menozzi and Mario Villani explain that, with the exception of a few (locally unavailable) ingredients, they strive to supply their kitchen with seasonal goods from local producers. They limit the use of animal protein (especially red meat): when used, the meat comes from family-run farms that graze their animals.

To complete our story, I requested a vegetarian meal that was low in fats, high in plant-based proteins and alkalinizing. The proof was in the pudding, or in this case, the millet meatballs with steamed broccoli the algorithm suggested. While millet is nutritious, it can be challenging to make it taste good, but they succeded.