A Local Fix To Italy’s Public Woes: Grandma’s Thrift

The "Virtuous Cities' movement aims to cut costs and waste. And change the world

Recycling al'Italiano (Kevin Hutchinson)

COLORNO - Spending half-a-day with Marco Boschini is "bello e istruttivo" (beautiful and instructive), to paraphrase Italian writer Giovannino Guareschi. But the beauty and acquired wisdom comes at a cost. Without uttering a word, Boschini will make you feel uneasy for the smallest foibles: leave a room without turning out the light, or propose taking the car when you could easily walk, or even leave a morsel of food uneaten while dining out, and judgment is quickly meted out.

Marco Boschini, 36, is the national coordinator for the Association of Virtuous Cities, a kind of parallel world which aims to combat the failures of the modern era - from pollution to the economic crisis – by reintroducing into our daily lives a healthy dose of that age-old virtue our grandparents taught: thrift.

Boschini is an after-school teacher and city administrator in urban and environmental planning in Colorno, a town of 9,000 in Northern Italy. This humble profile, however, belongs to someone trying to spark a revolution.

Boschini recalls how the movement began with Colorno, two other northern towns, Vezzano Ligure and Monsano, and the southern town of Melpignano in Puglia. "The impetus was the belief that the economic development model of today not only has led to global disasters, but has also had an impact on the lives of small local communities," Boschini said.

Today there are 48 Italian municipalities participating in the Virtuous City movement. The simple idea is to spark a revolution through small daily actions, a sort of modern Italian version of the Amish. "They can laugh all they want at us," Boschini says. "But throughout history there are examples where the small acts by ordinary people have led to revolutionary changes."

One example, he cites: "For years we have been saying: When you go shopping be sure to bring a canvas bag so you don't need to take plastic bags from the supermarket? And for this they called us the Taliban. But now the government has finally banned plastic bags.

"Do you have an idea of how many plastic bags we use each year in Italy?" he asks, pausing with a theatrical flash: "Twenty-four million! Do you have any idea how much damage that does to our ecosystem? So that is an example of a bottom-up revolution." Indeed, reusing a canvas bag thousand of times is really just a question of getting in the habit of doing it.

A year and a half ago, the town of Capannori, in the Tuscan province of Lucca with a population of 50,000, opened a special kind of shop called Effecorta. "Do you know what they are doing in that shop? They only sell products without the packaging. Food, detergents, cosmetics and so on. All loose, offered in a long row of glass containers. You go there with a box, takes the dough and cookies and head home. People who buy in the store do not produce waste, you know? Now many are following suit."

The saying is ‘last one out, turn out the lights' Boschini and his colleague want to change it to ‘turn out the lights when you don't need them."

In the town of Laveno Mombello, on Lake Maggiore, a professor at a technical institute has launched the ‘Guardians of the light" initiative. Each month a student is responsible for controlling wasted energy. If you see that it's sunny, open the curtain and pull the switch whether you are in the classroom or in the gym. Guess how much they saved on their bill without changing the system? Fifty-five percent."

Italy's mineral water-drinking habit is another target. "In almost all the school cafeterias of our communities we have replaced bottled water with the ‘mayor's water," which is just tap water. In our small town alone we can avoid the purchase of 200,000 plastic bottles a year. Bottles that are first transported by trucks that pollute, and then end up in the trash. Now, think of such operations in Milan and Naples."

Boschini's goal -- like all revolutionaries -- seems crazy: "We want to reach a point where we are producing zero waste. I realize that it seems impossible but for example in Colorno we introduced a door-to-door trash collection system. There are no more dumpsters on the street. Instead every family has at least four bins: for paper, plastics, organic materials and ‘other". So we are now recycling almost everything."

He ticks off all the program's advantages: The citizen will now not buy what he deems unnecessary, and he pays lower taxes for waste collection. The city saves on the incinerator and creates jobs for the door-to-door collection. "The main objection is that creating a world that consumes less means fewer jobs. But we have calculated that if all the municipalities did the door-to-door collection, 300,000 jobs would be created." And as for his goal of "zero waste," Boschini cites Italy's national average annual waste per capita at 600-650 pounds. "In many of our communities, we are under 40 pounds."

A former member of the center-left party, Boschini says he left a while ago. "Our initiatives are boycotted by all parties, even the left." Could it be that you're just a pain in the ass? "We certainly are in the eyes a ruling class that is not up to the job, and culturally unprepared to understand the scale of the challenges we face."

He mentions the southern town of Camigliano, part of the Virtuous Cities movement, that was penalized because it has reduced the amount of trash it produces by 70 per cent, allowing it to be exempt from the regional regulations.

"They penalize the only city without trash on the streets," he says. "So you tell me: are we the crazy ones?"

Read the original article in Italian

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!