The concept of B corps explained through the example of NWG Energia

NWG Energia is an Italian Benefit Corporation, whose net income amounted to € 2,7 m in 2018. The main goal of the company is to provide final users electricity exclusively derived from renewables. As mentioned on NWG Energia website final users are powered by solar, hydroelectric, geothermal and wind power, with no watts coming from other sources. This is consistent with the firm choice of becoming a B Corp, a type of business we’ll discuss later. But how does this firm operate into the Italian energy market? Why should we be interested in it?

Self-portrait

Nwg Energia’s Vision is “growing awareness about the fact that the future of Earth -our future- depends on responsible choices on what type of energy we consume. Its Mission is to “provide an actual opportunity to consume energy derived exclusively from renewable energy sources. [It] creates a long-term advantage for our planet while collaborating with local communities [and] promote ecoliteracy projects involving schoolkids so that they can learn how crucial it is to use renewable energies for the sake of our Planet.” This is a rather sparkling presentation, but let’s deepen into the actual firm business model.

B Corp what?

To reach such goals in 2016 the whole company decided to incorporate as a B Corporation, a peculiar type of business that embraces a wide stakeholders-based governance in order not just to maximize profits but to actually maximize the production of value provided to society as a whole. B Corps are all part of a broad community that reports to the NGO “B Lab”- that (despite reminding us of another Bocconi student association…) evaluates firms’ value production performances. This is implemented by using an “impact assessment” that includes factors such as: employees’ contribution in corporate governance, minorities inclusion in firm staff, percentage of profits given to charities and exploitation of renewables. Evaluation is strict and impartial, and it might take multiple years for a firm to obtain it. NWG was indeed involved in charity events and donated almost 4500 vaccines to Ugandan population. On top of that the firm contributed to spread ecoliteracy between more than 170,000 schoolkids across Italy with “Sole in classe” [sun in classroom, tn] project.

How does NWG perform?

The bottom line for a firm, though, is to be profitable. NWG Energia has shown to be profitable so far by almost doubling its net income since 2016, and increasing its total sales to €72M in 2018. It provides 100% of its energy supply by exploiting renewable energy, thus achieving the company main goal. Other data are not completely public, and this does question full availability of information provided by the company, which promotes its products heavily as their “invite friends to have a discount” policy highlights. This peculiar sales strategy might pay off on the short term is clearly not sustainable on the long term. Furthermore, promotion of firm products is implemented by a system of “energy brokers” and YouTube videos. Anyway, this is consistent with the clear intent of the firm to grow, as shown by its sales trend (+60% since last year). But is NWG Energia likely to succeed in growing again? An upcoming date might answer to such a question.

July 2020: a crucial date for a crucial sector

Next July will be a crucial date for NWG Energia as deregulation of the Italian electricity market will occur by that time. That will be the opportunity for the B-Corp to prove that its business model is not only good for society but profitable as well. As happened recently with the space industry the participation of private enterprise into economic activity often leads to technological innovation and an overall better-off for both consumers and producers. NWG Energia will have to compete with firms providing energy derived from non-renewables sources and this may be both an advantage and a disadvantage in the market.

Vote with your wallet, or the great role consumers play in free markets

One of the most popular slogans B-Corps use is “vote with your wallet”. Its meaning is clear: as consumer provide feedbacks to producers whenever a market transaction occurs in between the two, consumers can reward those firms whose products better fit with buyers’ self-interest. Self-interest may not only be limited to price but may also include the consumers’ mindset and ethics. Given these premises NWG Energia could tap into the Green Wave movement propaganda and provide families whose members feel the urge to address climate change the proper clean energy supply. On the other hand, renewables are on average more expensive than fossil fuels, and this might be a turn-off.

Renewables dependence, a question mark on compromise

According to the IPCC the Energy sector contributed for 25% of overall global GHGs emissions in 2014, making it a crucial sector for future innovation. As NWG Energia is fully dependent on renewables, innovation of technology will drive the sustainability of the firm business plan. This should be not only an issue for the future profitability of this company but a topic that should be publicly addressed. Is the total use of renewables the best option of energy supply? Incomparable efficiency, duration and relative safety should spring further debate on the use of nuclear energy among the green movement, but we will leave this to the reader’s curiosity.

Conclusion: a call for further discussion

As I tried to highlight in this article NWG Energia, has indeed achieved remarkable goals in adding social value by both providing clean energy and sending medical aids to African population. The firm is so far profitable, and this is great as well, but its sparkling growing rate and its intense AD campaign lead us to question how durable such a growth might be. For a proper evaluation further data should be available. Eventually, in a complex industrial sector such the energetic one -where physics overlaps with diplomacy- and yet the outcome is something we take for granted, NWG Energia should inspire us -future businesspeople- to address with a green approach, the Energy issue. As the energetic sector is the one that produces the most of greenhouse gasses’ emission, it is maybe the most crucial in which we should operate.

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