Reg. at Vicenza Court No. 1165 on 18 December 2007
Editor and director Bianca Nardon
Redazione STEP Srl Contrà Porti, 3 Vicenza
Editor-in-chief of Edizioni Ambiente
How did the decision to set up a publishing house focusing on environmental subjects come about?
We grew out of a previous publisher, Arcadia, which dealt with various subjects. In the early 90s it also published manuals and guidebooks for environmental organisations, for example the WWF. It was then decided to focus on this specific sector and Edizioni Ambiente was founded.
Was it simply a market choice or also one of cultural sensitivity?
Both. We knew that more and more attention was going to be focused on environmental matters, so the sector was one of the most promising, and at the same time the original group shared a history and common sensitivity on these subjects.
Edizioni Ambiente decided to report on Italian environmental problems through a precise literary genre with the Verde Nero series of crime books on the ecomafia.
We were already publishing the annual report on the ecomafia drawn up by Legambiente. The document was drawn up by the association with the assistance of the police and then used by them in their work. It is a big collection of information on subjects that concern all, very close to the everyday lives of people, from illicit traffic in waste to unauthorised building and more. The material was suited to stories of a crime genre so we asked writers of this type to turn it into stories. The project began in 2007 and was presented at the Turin Book Salon that year. It reached its objective, helping to increase interest in ecomafia subjects and the books are selling well.
What kind of result does this kind of commissioned narrative production have from a literary point of view?
Every author responded according to his own style and personal attitude, reinterpreting the subject on different narrative registers. An operation of this type must necessarily also be judged on this criteria. The publications as a whole offer a terrifying but true reading of the country. The accuracy of the information is guaranteed by Legambiente's contribution. Readers seem to very much appreciate the part at the end of the book entitled 'The facts', where facts and information are shown. Regarding the format, we have to consider the reading unit people are able to relate to, which is increasingly the short book. The short reading or information unit is the result of years and years of television prevailing over the other media. At the start we therefore gave a maximum length to our writers. Many of the writers accepted because of their political convictions and in the awareness that crime writing in our country has now replaced the investigation.
Which books in the series have been most successful?
Sales reflect the 'weight' of the different authors. This means that many were already devoted readers of, for example, Carlo Lucarelli or Massimo Carlotto, and came to us through an already defined love of the crime genre and a specific author. The most successful titles have sold several thousand copies. A particular observation must be made on Massimo Carlotto: the actual origin of the Verde Nero series was partly inspired by reading his book NordEst. In that novel he talks about the disposal of toxic, harmful waste, and reading it made me realise that it was possible to talk about the environment through fiction. We must also not forget that the North East is in many cases precisely the area where the clientele of the ecomafioso reside. The book by Licia Troisi was also a big success. She is a fantasy writer, so of another genre, and was evidently able to entice her readers into this publishing adventure, too.
What is the target of the series?
It is a less specific target than that aimed at by essays or technical books. We have reached a more diversified and wider readership than those who are concerned with these subjects for work or anyway by necessity. And this was exactly our intention.
Are translations and sales in other countries planned?
Promising contacts are being made and there is a good chance this will happen. Remember that from a subject point of view our mafia also manages international networks and the settings are not always only Italian.
Theatre or movie versions?
'Bestie' by Sandrone Dazieri, the first Verde Nero crime book, will be shown on television as fiction. But before TV, the theatre had already worked on some books in the series. This confirms that in places where the Italian theatre has given signs of life in recent years, it has done so precisely through forms of civil and political engagement.
Faced with the journalism vacuum in our country, who can fulfil an intermediary role between scientific information and culture on environmental subjects? How do you interpret the lack of any intervention or incisiveness on the part of some professions, for example doctors? Or what role can showbusiness stars play?
This is a very critical point. TV and newspapers are not mediators of information on a complex subject like that of the environment. They do not aim at in-depth studies. So it's not by chance that our publications find space in the market. As far as other possible efforts at raising awareness go, there is clearly a difference of attitude that varies a lot according, for example, to profession. Let's take two cases: architects and doctors. Among the former there is now a fairly generalised interest in questions of the sustainability of construction, such that, in fact, planners often recommend innovative contents to their clients. The same does not seem to be true of doctors. Activism by the respective trade and professional associations seems very different. Doctors maintain positions that are absolutely in the background on too many questions, as if environmental matters were not their concern. And yet these professionals' perception of the impact of environmental pollution on health should be the clearest. It seems that the profession is the prisoner of 'other' mechanisms, which almost prevent it from acting on phenomena that are behind the most widespread of contemporary illnesses. Regarding the world of show business, finally, there are numerous examples of artists who act to sensitise people to the most varied aspects of environmental and social matters, as I mentioned previously regarding theatre.
How serious is the Italian delay in the circulation of suitable cultural products on environmental subjects?
We are behind. Also from the publishing point of view, there are more in most other European countries, particularly those in northern and central Europe. You only have to think for example of the German magazines on the environment at the last Frankfurt book fair. There were a lot and of a depth quite different from ours, both from a scientific and political point of view. Here even 'La Nuova Ecologia', the historic Legambiente magazine, is no longer able to go into the newsagents and can only be found in some bookshops. The delay is also due to the poor history and substantial disappearance of the political force that elsewhere represents these subjects, the Green party.
The green economy is influencing the markets more and more, but from a cultural and intellectual point of view there doesn't seem to be any high profile transverse mobilisation, not even at an international level. Why is that, do you think?
Even if it isn't visible, the phenomenon exists. I think that Paul Hawken's book 'Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and why non one saw it Coming' (Italian title: 'Moltitudine inarrestabile'), of which we published the Italian version, is an interesting read on this. It talks about a fragmented movement, made up of people who we never see in a group, but which exists. The fragmentation of actions and the different ways of being active are precisely what ensure the movement exists. Everything happens, however, as Hawken says, below the information 'radar'.
How do you rate the time factor in the emergency of climate change and man's potential to take corrective action?
We are not yet going fast enough in the processes of applying possible solutions. And we probably should do so. Some of the most authoritative scientific sources say that a certain time threshold has already been passed, and that some changes are irreversible. The debate has centred on the times in which the effects will occur, but what is certain is that it will not be possible to stop the process, not even with radical and rapid actions that, however, can still not be seen on the horizon. The results of the actions we can set off today may be a long way in the future. In the middle is the price we will pay, both from the point of view of the actual damage done to the environment and our health, and from the economic point of view.
What do you think about 'patented' solutions such as the zero impact products promoted by Lifegate?
This is a worthy operation of awareness raising on the subject. From a technical point of view they are solutions that have aroused some debate. Polluting in rich countries and proposing compensation with virtuous actions in other parts of the world is actually a mechanism planned by the Kyoto Protocol itself. It must be noted that Lifegate has introduced a 'change of route' in this sense: the 'Zero Impact' programme now actually also calls for actions at a local level in the Ticino Park.
The most popular book at the last Turin Book Salon was 'Soil not oil. Environmental Justice in a Time of Climate Crisis' ( Italian title: 'Ritorno alla terra. La fine dell'ecoimperialismo') by Vandana Shiva, an invitation to re-establish a relationship with the biological cycles of agriculture and soil fertility. A direction indicated also by Carlo Petrini and Ermanno Olmi. What do you think of such radical kinds of proposal?
They are very important and raise awareness. Even if the proposed solutions cannot be applied on a large scale, some people can always put them into practice. It is precisely initiatives like these or for example that of urban vegetable gardens that leave a mark on the community in which they are set up. On the contrary, many of the projects emanating from on high have the serious limit of having a set duration and not leaving any lasting trace after they end.
Is Edizioni Ambiente's vocation also that of a force for mobilisation on environmental subjects? Your offices are in Milan, in one of the areas with the highest air pollution in the world.
The market we aim at has begun to give signs only quite recently. We now see some sign of development that gives sense to our work. Before, in '95, it really was an investment. We were inspired by ethical, political and personal motivations. Every day we ask ourselves how we can keep up with this challenge: making the publishing house survive through products that really are useful regarding the aims of environmental sustainability and social justice in which we believe. And we make a contribution here, too, where we have our offices, through our intense public interest with events, presentations and press conferences.
New publishing projects?
The natural development of Verde Nero is toward inquiries into environmental scandals. We started with the new series and the first three publications presented at the last Turin Book Fair. We are trying to push ahead with investigative journalism, which is visibly lacking from newspapers and television. The first investigations published are on the traffic of international waste that is behind the killing of Ilaria Alpi and Miran Hrovatin ("Carte false" edited by Roberto Scardova), on the use of depleted uranium in the Balkan war ("L'Italia chiamò" by L. Brogioni, A. Miotto and M. Scanni) and the third is on Ilva of Taranto ("La città delle nuvole" by Carlo Vulpio).
Between September and October we are launching a series of paperbacks, again on environmental subjects, and sustainability. The aim is to give working indications, to stay as close as possible to the actions and subjects that really can involve people, also in their everyday lives.
Otherwise we continue our more normal activities. About thirty people now work for us. We have two information portals, one on energy and one on environmental law; we organise training courses and we have a line of products for professionals, technicians and policy-makers. It is a part of our work that has perhaps less public visibility, but is undoubtedly the most consolidated and enjoys considerable, recognised prestige.