#Designgoeson: Alessandro Saviola and circular economy

#Designgoeson: Designdiffusion.com talks with Alessandro Saviola, President of Gruppo Saviola, about the health emergency and circular economy

Alessandro Saviola, President of Gruppo Saviola

Gruppo Saviola and the health emergency: how have you managed this period?

Alessandro Saviola: “The Covid-19 health emergency is an unexpected event that caught everyone unawares. Time is crucial in a situation of this kind, and Gruppo Saviola tried to act quickly to balance organizational needs, both to safeguard the health and safety of our employees and to ensure general continuity of our work. Contact with clients has never failed because, even in a very difficult situation like this one, which affects us all, we feel a strong responsibility towards the territory and those who trust us every day by choosing our products. In this context, I must say that not even the collaboration between companies has ever failed. Our country is characterized by strong companies, great professionalism and expertise, which become necessary in a moment like this.


Have you implemented smart working? Are you considering going on with smart or remote working where possible?

Smart working, a way of working that has been discussed even before the emergency, was the first measure we implemented, together with the distribution of the personal protection devices needed to protect employees against the virus. From this point of view, the introduction of smart working gave us the chance to check whether the organization could withstand such an extraordinary situation. It was a bet, because in normal times we had never thought that we would be faced with a compulsory distance between the various offices (our collaborators come from all over Italy). The fact that our industrial group was already used to working in synergy has helped us a lot.


We have 13 plants in Italy and abroad, and we can say that our staff has a certain experience with transversal and team work across the various plants. Technology has played a very important role in facilitating relationships, and, in the meantime, we have got used to a different way of thinking about work, not only as a physical place, but as an idea, concept, planning. I think that in the future, for some particular projects, we can consider some form of smart working. But don’t forget that people also need relationships and contacts… Our group is a large community, which also results from the fact that the company is managed by a family. Although the digital culture is helping us at this stage, nothing can ever fully replace our personal need for sociality. Working at the plant really favors this special relationship because it stimulates exchange.

What consequences will the emergency have on global economy, in your opinion?

Its impact will doubtlessly be high. Statistics and forecasts say so, and much will depend on the choices made at national, European and international level. The Italian context is full of companies that are the backbone of our society; the ability to invest in the future and invent the world to come is in our hands. Italy has a strong brand on its side, “made in Italy”, which dominates in all sectors, especially design and furniture, but also creativity and a peculiar propensity to adapt. We must not give up the challenge of envisioning a future that is not made of distance but of collaboration. The pandemic leads us to reflect on what we want and our priorities, on which economic models work and which, on the contrary, need to be reconsidered.


In this context, ethical issues take center stage. A more responsible, more conscious, more sustainable world is possible, and we must focus on a regenerative production system. Gruppo Saviola, thanks to my father’s revolutionary idea, who in the 1990s invented a different way of producing and creating based on circular economy, uses only post-consumer wood: we are a 100% recycled wood company. Our upcycling process is based on values such as ecology and sustainability, and numbers are proving us right.

What impact do you think that such a long forced stop will have on exports of made in Italy products?

During the lockdown, paradoxically enough, the contact with foreign countries, with some areas subjected to less restrictive measures than Italy, resisted better than the domestic market. I expect that in “phase 2” even shorter supply chains will resume and the relationship with the territory will be very important. Of course, also a collaborative attitude could help us connect different skills. However, I am sure that large companies will not lose their international appeal, in particular our company, which exports 40% of its production.

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What strategies have you adopted to overcome this difficult period?

A human-centered approach is the most suitable model in a normal situation, even more so in such a difficult situation. We have adopted protocols to slow down production, ensured the safety of our employees without compromising the economic recovery. We have also dedicated ourselves to the territory through donations that would meet the needs of the community we belong to.

Can Italian companies do without the Salone del Mobile and Fuorisalone, in your opinion?

The Fuorisalone has always been an important event for us, in which we have participated presenting new ideas and the latest trends. Over the years we have been looking for creative and up-to-date communication and marketing methods. Postponing the event was a wise choice and there was no alternative in that particular moment. The Fuorisalone is a flagship event for Milan and Italy, which has attracted millions of people from all over the world. When it comes back, it will be in style.

What tools are you going to implement to replace the fairs and the events that will not be held this year?

Creativity and innovation, ecology and design are the cornerstone of Gruppo Saviola’s work. Also communication, which keeps changing, will rest on these values. Virtual platforms will help us on our way to become increasingly social and digital.

How are you transforming communication with clients and the specialized audience?

Communication is fundamental as it is able to interpret reality and the moment. Last April we launched a communication initiative linked to the story of old trees, which invites us all to take as an example the regeneration and resilience of monumental plants, which have withstood storms and disasters over the years, and today are still there to show us that we can withstand difficulties and be stronger. We need these positive messages. The other message is that the time has come to take a leap forward, as younger generations invite us to do. We must take care of the environment we live in by choosing “beautiful and fair” products for the home, the office, the store…

May the behavioral changes required by the emergency become permanent, at least in part?

I hope not, if you are talking about behaviors related to the now famous “social distancing”. Now we need this distance as a barrier to protect ourselves from the virus, but we are realizing how much we miss sociality. Until alternatives are found, like treatments and vaccines, we will have to reinvent our way of being together… If there is a legacy of this experience, it will be a sustainable vision based on shared responsibility. This situation has made us understand that virtual reality is not enough for us and has forced our society to a “positive dependence” on each other. What I decide to do has an impact on your life and vice versa… Even in the way we do business we are all connected in a way. If I produce in a sustainable way because I safeguard our forest heritage and avoid felling 10,000 trees a day, this is a matter of fact. You can always choose.


Could there be any changes also in the production of materials?

Our Group’s research and development department is always very active to find the most innovative and best-performing solutions (a curiosity not related with wood is that Sadepan, the Business Unit that produces glues and resins, is also producing an antibacterial gel that we are going to make available to our territory, where this product is scarce…). There is also a fruitful exchange with the universities that are working so hard on circular economy. Just like our designers and those responsible for the creativity of decors (we have a design center in Frankfurt). Without distorting our nature, which places sustainability and ecology first.”

Read the interviews with other leading figures from the Italian design world:

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