Each time Nicola Giuggioli takes a flight, not only does he offset the carbon miles, but he also buys a plant to mark the occasion. Being the CEO of a successful company he flies frequently, meaning his house has started to resemble an orchid-clad jungle – much to his girlfriend’s dismay. Over the years, small changes like this have helped Nicola, 32, make his own lifestyle a more sustainable one – but an eco-campaigner he is not. An advocate for intelligent design and efficient technology, Nicola simply sees a sustainable lifestyle not as a choice, but as a necessity. It is this message he conveys through his London-based brand consultancy, Eco-Age.
Like many people who are raised living a frugal lifestyle, Nicola Giuggioli was embracing the principles of sustainability long before he knew the word existed. Part of a single-income Italian family of six living in central Rome, Nicola and his siblings learned the importance of living simply. “Sustainability wasn’t really a concept that was talked about back then,” he recalls. “But we had low-energy lightbulbs and we tried to mend clothes as much as possible. My mum has always been a very wise buyer of food, so we never wasted anything – I still remember having to eat leftovers over and over until they ran out!”
The first time that Nicola became aware of sustainability as a concept was in secondary school. “I was really interested in technology and one of the new and upcoming technologies was solar panels,” he recalls. “I became completely obsessed with it as a renewable technology. And because I liked to take things apart and put them back together, for my final exam in secondary school I built myself a solar panel. That was what started my awareness of sustainability, but at that time it was more about having a genuine interest for very sensible technologies.”
Still unsure of the career direction he wanted to take, Nicola studied economics at university, working towards a career in finance. Fortunately, the idea of an impending lifetime of boredom spent at a desk soon deterred him from that path – particularly when he realised that most financial institutions did nothing to save the environment.
The realisation helped him rekindle his passion for the environment, and so for the final three years of his degree he focused on the macroeconomics of sustainable systems. At the time, in 2003, the idea of sustainability was relatively new, so when Nicola proposed a thesis on ‘Sustainability applied to macroeconomic indicators’, his teacher was a little perplexed. “He told me that he had no idea what it meant, but he liked the title,“ Nicola laughs.
Eager to see the world outside Italy (and looking for a change after being dumped by his girlfriend), at 23 Nicola made the move to London, where his sister Livia, a film producer, also lived. He had been working as a private chef in Rome during university and one of his clients who ran a successful advertising company in London offered Nicola a job as a runner fetching coffees. Planning to remain in London for only six months to improve his English, instead he stayed with the company for 18 months.
Nicola eventually left to start producing social-themed documentary films with Livia. Their first film explored the death penalty in the USA, while the second dealt with the issue of violence against women in Bangladesh. It was during the filming of the latter that Nicola’s sustainable spirit again stirred. “Bangladesh is one of the countries that is most affected by climate change and touching it with my own hands was quite shocking,” he recalls. “I came back to London and started thinking about the environment all over again.”
Looking for a way to make a positive impact, Nicola came up with a simple idea. “There were all these eco product solutions that were starting to arrive on the market, but nobody knew where to buy them,” he says. “So I decided to open a shop for it.”
He and Livia opened up their shop, Eco-Age, with the assistance of Livia’s husband – actor Colin Firth – and a family friend in 2008. Framed by a living green wall and solar panels on its roof, the three-storey store sat on the high road of the London suburb of Chiswick. In addition to selling high-end eco-friendly design products, the retail space also offered a design consultancy for people who were looking to renovate their house in a sustainable way, but still maintain an element of style.
“I’ve never been an environmental campaigner,” Nicola clarifies. “But I am a genuine lover of efficient business, and these solutions make sense both financially and on the design side. As a result of climate change, resources are starting to become more expensive and you need to start using them more wisely. ”
He says the people who inspire him most in the realm of sustainability are those who put their words into action. “I really admire people who are doing something positive that they believe in and they make it happen with business sense. To change the world, you can’t just campaign – you need to come up with a solution that makes business sense and is environmentally sound.”
Growing from what was a team of five people two years ago, Eco-Age now has 20 employees. It has evolved from its original retail concept to now focus on corporate brand consultancy. “The impact of our work is so much bigger with businesses than with residential clients,” Nicola explains.”It’s very difficult these days to differentiate your product from other businesses. So the new way to differentiate your company is via sustainability.”
Five years in, Nicola and Livia have reached a point where their unique consultancy – which calls its offering ‘managing ethics and aesthetics’ – is sought-after by big-name brands. Currently Eco-Age is working with luxury jeweller Chopard to build its brand to be the leader of sustainable luxury, while other clients include Gucci and Wembley Stadium.
Personally, Nicola finds his inspiration in his father, an engineer, as well as his sister. “Livia has a talent for public relations like I’ve never seen anywhere else,” he marvels. ”She gets everyone to love her and can build a relationship with anyone. And she always makes something happen. It’s incredible.”
Cleverly making the most of constantly being on her husband’s arm throughout the awards season leading up to his 2011 Oscar win, Livia used the exposure to wear only eco-friendly and sustainable gowns and accessories on the red carpet. The initiative, which Eco-Age labelled the Green Carpet Challenge (GCC) has since convinced several high-end designers – including Armani, Prada, Tom Ford and Valentino – and A-list personalities to do the same, raising awareness for sustainable fashion. The GCC is now seen by many as the most successful project on sustainable fashion ever developed.
In his down time, Nicola finds peace in his rapidly flourishing garden and dreams of one day settling in his family’s house in the countryside of Umbria in Italy. When asked the advice he would give to people who say it’s too difficult or too late to change their lifestyle to a more sustainable one, his answer is simple, but effective. “Just start somewhere.”