Fabio is making the transition to sustainable energy possible for the Third Sector. He enables NGOs to achieve their sustainability goals by changing their energy consumption habits to comply with environmental standards and expectations. In doing so, he is also realizing important financial savings that NGOs can channel to their core operations.
The New Idea
Building on Fabio's great expertise in the not-for-profit field through his experiences of youth participation in Catholic groups, his professional experiences as an educator, and later as an executive in a large Italian NGO, he is providing systemic solutions to tackle energy poverty for the Third Sector. Fabio founded Fratello Sole, a non-profit consortium consisting of large organizations that provide social services to thousands of people in socio-economic distress. Fabio enables their ecological transition by shifting the mindset on environmental and energy issues for his member organizations, their beneficiaries and government actors.
He had two vital insights. The first one is to focus only on large organizations in the consortium. These NGOs provide health support, housing, food, and clothing for thousands of beneficiaries and low-income people. They generally own many buildings that are often obsolete and in poor condition. In addition, the central Government does not invest many resources in them, such as the leading Catholic organization Roma Caritas, which is one of Fabio’s main partners. It serves thousands of meals daily, housing people in more than 50 accommodations. In this sense, working with them is a way for Fabio to intervene on behalf of a very large number of beneficiaries, multiplying the impact of Fratello Sole in a very significant way. Fabio’s main goal is to tackle energy poverty by upgrading their buildings, through clean energy interventions, freeing up resources they can invest safely and without stress for their beneficiaries. He first conducted financial consultations to understand the Third Sector’s needs and realized that energy costs are a large part of their expenses, ranking second among operating costs. He also provides them with preferential access to ethical and patient finance, directly from the network of Fratello Sole and supports the Consortium to reach their funding goals.
His second insight was to engage NGOs and their beneficiaries, through capacity-building activities, in understanding how to become sustainable, measure their environmental impact and tackle energy poverty. The secret sauce was the intuition to transform them into partners because they understood that working together reduces financial payback times. Through dissemination activities, workshops and an app to monitor Third Sector consumptions, consortium members become active agents in their own energy transition. They are championing this process and stimulating virtuous behaviors to reduce energy waste.
For years Fabio has worked on a real paradigm shift involving public and private organizations in his program. He advocated for the Italian government to include the not-for-profit scene in the national legislation on tax breaks and deductions. Particularly for the 110% Building Bonus (Super Bonus) that was introduced during the pandemic, aimed at improving the energy efficiency of buildings. In addition, Fabio has created strategic partnerships with Italian energy companies, a necessary step to truly operationalize a systemic change in this sector. He enabled his consortium members to save more than 13 million euros in tax deductions (bonuses) that entities have been able to channel toward their social activities. In Italy, Fabio is the reference person for the Third Sector's ecological energy transition and is now co-leading several European Commission projects to set scientific and methodological standards.
According to the UNDP Sustainable Energy Hub, 73% of global greenhouse emissions come from the energy sector. Annual energy-related CO2 emissions need to decline 70% below today’s level by 2050 to set the world on a pathway toward meeting the climate goals. This process is called energy transition and it consists in long-term energy strategies to reach net-zero emissions. According to the UNDP reports, renewables, energy efficiency and substantial electrification can provide over 90% of the necessary reduction. These goals are in charge of local governments, which have control of the funds to achieve the 2030 Agenda goals first, and the 2050 later. These key pathways will only be possible if the approach to energy transition is integrated and people-centered, with all available energy technologies playing an important role in transforming energy systems.
In fact, one of the most relevant issues is precisely the economic dimension of this transition, as high energy costs continue to rise due to global crises and ongoing conflicts. The private energy sector recognizes the importance of the transition and the need for appropriate support measures. However, there is unequal access to the economic resources needed to get started and keep going. As the European Commission defines Energy poverty is a situation in which households are unable to access essential energy services and products. The EU is committed to tackling energy poverty and to the protection of vulnerable consumers. According to the European Observatory on Energy Poverty, the combined effect of income compression, rising utility costs and aging buildings has led to an estimated 52 million people in Europe countries that are living in energy poverty. In 2018, the Italian government measured the percentage of households in energy poverty in Italy at 9%. This corresponds to 2 million households in 2021. If cooling costs are included, the number rises to 3.8 million households. That's 16% of the total population.
Everyone, including the Third sector, is affected by energy poverty. In Italy, NGO’s buildings are outdated. Vulnerable people are housed in energy-intensive buildings due to the government's underinvestment in these facilities. According to the first Italian analysis on energy transition in the Third Sector by ENEA (National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development), in 2022 there are between 180,000 and 200,000 buildings in use that need efficiency improvements. However, internal economic resources are scarce, and NGOs invest mainly in humanitarian services, their main activities. This increases their energy vulnerability. Also, according to ENEA's analysis, among the percentage of buildings eligible for comprehensive energy upgrades.
Because of these costs, the sector has not made progress in the energy transition. Due to a lack of expertise in this area and the high demands of day-to-day operations, NGOs do not have specific energy-related know-how. Even if they are interested in tackling the problem, energy efficiency and renewable energy are not seen as priorities. There is a preconception that energy, efficiency and sustainability should only be addressed by technical and expert people, regardless of whether these are complicated concepts and procedures for large and complex NGOs. These organizations do not achieve strength and visibility with the government to access the programs and economic measures needed to support their energy transition. The third sector is still invisible to the government in the energy transition, as incentives are only available for the private sector.
Fabio founded Fratello Sole with the aim of understanding and advocating for the needs of the Third Sector in the energy transition while also making NGOs visible to policymakers.
Fabio identified a financial gap related to energy costs: it is the second largest general operating cost for NGOs, representing a large amount of expenses. Through his venture project Fratello Sole, he discovered that public incentives didn't include the third sector, only the private sector. This led him to launch a very successful political campaign to allow NGOs to benefit from these incentives. Fabio advocated for the Italian government to include the Third Sector in the national legislation on tax breaks and deductions, to incentivize energy efficiency interventions, such as the 110% Building Bonus (Super Bonus) law during the COVID-19 period. He has also contributed to a better understanding of technical issues for the third sector and to the definition of a framework composed of policies and guidelines to address the issue of energy poverty in Italy. In fact, he is one of the co-leaders of the Italian National Observatory on Energy Poverty, a network of 57 researchers and experts, from universities, public and private agencies and institutes, founded by the University of Padua. Fabio is also an ambassador for the Italian Energy Poverty Alliance and one of the organizers of Laudato sii, a research network requested by Pope Francis. Fratello Sole has developed the first Italian Guidelines for the Sustainability of Third Sector Entities, available publicly through the Fratello Sole website and created by Fondazione AMGA, Fratello Sole and ENEA to offer a comprehensive tool for the sector to start the journey towards the ecological transition.
To reinforce his vision of an autonomous energy efficiency system for NGOs, Fabio created an innovative methodology to strategically connect NGOs, communities, energy companies and technical experts. First, he created Fratello Sole ESCO as a non-profit partnership between Fratello Sole NGO and Iren Energy (a public government utility provider). Fratello Sole carries out an assessment of energy consumption of the NGO’s facilities to allow for sustainable and clean energy interventions. Based on the energetic level reached by the NGO, Fratello Sole provides recommendations to be more efficient and offers a cost plan for technological intervention. Fabio also suggests different financial strategies, such as tax incentives, crowdfunding, public calls or access to bank loans, coming from ethical and patient finance tools that Fabio provides through his network of partners.
The technical intervention is accompanied by a social intervention: training and informing NGO managers and their direct and secondary beneficiaries to bridge what Fabio calls the ecological divide. Fabio's goal is for NGOs to be the most active part of this mindset shift. He is engaging NGOs through capacity building activities to help them understand how to become sustainable, how to measure their environmental impact, and how to educate their direct beneficiaries to fight energy poverty. Through workshops, a dedicated app, and gamified activities also proposed to their beneficiaries and organized throughout the year, NGOs can learn how to control their consumption. Once a year, Fabio and Fratello Sole's team also presents a report on the environmental and social impact produced by the efficiency interventions and sustainable behaviors of all members of the NGO communities and explains future development steps.
Fabio's plan is to expand his participation in energy community projects with EU funding. The issue of energy poverty and the related and necessary energy transition is topical and relevant in this historical moment where climate change requires regulation because the effects are more than visible. In this scenario, Fabio started to replicate the partnership model applied to also encompass other civil society entities, creating a model for Energy Communities. These are organized aggregations of citizens and families who work together with the intention of producing renewable energy themselves, to be consumed in shared management between different users in the same condominium. He also started to replicate his capacity building activities for citizens and households who want to empower themselves on sustainability and energy efficiency issues. With the help of a team of experts from the Catholic University of Milan, Fabio and the Fratello Sole team are beginning to measure their capacity-building interventions. The goal is to define a social impact model to measure engagement and habit/behavior change for all Fratello Sole beneficiaries, including secondary beneficiaries.
Fabio is also starting pilot tests to scale up and replicate his impact in Europe, starting with a partnership with Caritas France and Spain. Fratello Sole is a regular partner in European Commission projects, he recently presented his work at the Madrid International Meeting on Energy Prices and Energy Poverty in Southern Europe. Currently Fabio is co-leading two projects: the GreenAbility project, dedicated to non-profit managers, together with France and Spain Fabio's colleagues, and another one on financial innovation for the third sector. He is also extending the model to other types of interventions, such as green restructuring activities. He launched the Fratello Bosco process to monitor large green areas managed by NGOs to obtain incentives for CO2 certification.
Fabio was born into a simple, low-income family where only his father worked. He grew up with his brother and sister, with whom he discovered his ability to be part of a team with strong personalities. This discovery still guides his ability to be the leader of his organization Fratello Sole. His leadership is recognized in knowing how to modulate the team dynamic and bring out each person's potential.
His true motivation to work in the social sector came from meeting the scout group and the priest in his village. He completed a degree in pedagogy while working. His first professional experience as a teacher was in a school that took in young students with what we would now call "learning disabilities" that the public school system could not handle.
He continued his career as a manager in one of the largest NGOs in Northern Italy working with minors. This professional experience has allowed him to grow and improve his skills in administration and management, but above all to pursue innovative projects and strategies for the third sector.
However, Fabio's strong creativity was also constrained within the hierarchical organizational structure; this was the driving force behind the creation of his entrepreneurial reality.