19 Lug A wråd entrepreneur and her re-evolutionary vision: Perpetua.
I met Susanna at the HQ of her company lab, now also a co-working space for local start-ups, in Vicenza, a city in the north-east of Italy not far from Venice..
The company is called Alisea Recycled and Re-used Object Design, a name that hints only in part to the core of her business. Because Alisea, I then discovered, is in all aspects a creative laboratory where Susanna and her team have been working since 1994 to give wasted materials a new life and purpose. And it is here that Perpetua la Matita (“matita” is the Italian word for pencil) was born, a revolutionary object that is becoming a cult in Europe.
Susanna, you made sustainability the core of your business for the past 20 years. What’s your story, and how was Alisea created?
My story is definitely not conventional. After graduating from Law School in Italy I moved my first steps professionally with Mondadori – Walt Disney in 1983. I was part of a new training program aimed at developing a new class of commercial figures for the big editorial / media group. After this experience I then created Alisea. Our core business was initially the sole development of promotional products for other companies. But soon after our start I grew fond of the idea of carrying out my activity in an environmentally and socially sustainable way. This was 1997.
One of Alisea’s slogans is “only ideas in stock”. What’s your way of doing business?
When Alisea was born the concepts of “recycling” and “upcycling” were unknown, especially in our sector. We however decided to bet on them and have put sustainability at the core of our operations since then. Every product our clients asks us to make come from the recycling of waste materials, often their own. And our job is to create the synergies among industry players and suppliers to re-introduce in the economic cycle these materials that would otherwise end up in landfills. The process enabled us to create new objects that had to be invented to serve a higher purpose: sending a strong message about the fact that change is possible and necessary, to preserve life on our planet. So we say “only ideas in stock” because we are not really manufacturers, but we simply connect players in different industries to give life to our ideas.
There is however a product you have manufactured: Perpetua. What’s its story?
A few years ago we were approached by a client who had tons of waste graphite to dispose of at very high environmental and economic costs, and challenged us to find a way to repurpose it instead. So we asked ourselves: what do people normally do with graphite? They write. And what if we empowered people to contribute to the making of a better world while writing? We started looking for pencil manufacturers in Italy to give the wasted graphite to, but could not find any. Not a single one! So we decided to do it ourselves.
You are often heard saying “Perpetua is more than a pencil”. What do you mean by that?
Perpetua is the flag of a new and necessary way of doing business today, the s ymbol of a revolut ion towards a more livable future. It is proof that there is chance to realize change in the name of sustainability, working in circular synergic systems. P l u s , f ro m a t e c h n i c a l s t andpoint , Perpetua i s special. Both its material and manufacturing processes are patented, and.. do you know how many trees are cut down each year to meet the annual demand of regular pencils?
Approximately 82,000! Perpetua, being made of 80% recycled graphite, needs zero. Despite this aspect the graphite, thanks to the eco-polymer on its outer layer, does not get your hands dirty and if it falls.. (Susanna throws a Perpetua to the floor).. it does not break.
What are other environmental advantages coming from Perpetua?
First of all Perpetua lasts longer than conventional pencils: while on average regular pencils can write up to 56km, Perpetua, being entirely made of graphite, can write up to 1,120 km. Then in Italy approx. 1832 kg of CO2 are produced each year as a result of the disposal process of waste graphite. Since Perpetua repurposes part of this graphite before it ends up in landfills, recovering approx. 37 kg a day, at least 1 / 10 is saved in carbon emissions, equal to 183 kg of CO2 per day. And in total we have calculated that as of today 6.7 tonnes of graphite has been repurposed and saved from costly disposal. Finally, Perpetua leaves zero waste. It will keep on writing until the last ounce of graphite is used and the f o o d – g r a d e r u b b e r completely consumed. Being the rubber fused to the pencil through a technopolymer, no metal pieces or glue is used to attach the two components together.
What are Perpetua’s goals?
Perpetua’s goal is to make a simple gesture like writing become an active contribution towards the protection of the environment. Those who write with Perpetua are de facto cleaning our planet rather than contributing to deforestation. Those who buy Perpetua are therefore not customers, but investors and participators in our mission towards the realisation of a better and healthier world. They become part of our community.
Is Perpetua a community?
It sure is. For all of those who respect our planet and want to take an active stance to save it. People use Perpetua because they truly see more than a simple pencil into it. They perceive it as a vehicle to manifest their social and environmental responsibility. And that’s exactly why so many people in Italy and Europe love it and why Perpetua was chosen as the official gadget for the COP21 in Paris by the Italian Ministry of the Environment, and by the European Council during the semester of the Italian Presidency.
What do you have to say to the Millennial and GenZ citizens of the world?
I truly believe my generation is responsible for the state in which our planet is left today for them. We feel guilty, and my only hope is that our mistakes will serve as an example for the the younger generations to come. They are in the position to find solutions to catalyse positive change. Change towards a more sustainable living and circular ways of doing business.
Susanna will be a TEDx speaker in Vicenza, Italy, on May 7th, sharing her story and the rise of Perpetua, the re-evolutionary pencil.
by Alvise Bortolato