On 23 April 1899, the “Association of Farm Labourers of the District of Concordia” was created before Notary Edgardo Muratori, known for his enlightened liberal ideas, in the form of a cooperative with indefinite capital in Concordia di Modena. The articles of association were signed by 382 workers, most of which were illiterate. Each worker undertook to pay 30 Italian Lire per share. Nearly all of them were former members of a like-named society founded in 1890, which had been wound up after the government lead by Di Rudinì had taken an authoritarian stance against organisations based on socialist ideals. At the beginning of the 20th century, the cooperative had as many as 1500 members, who engaged in excavation, ditch digging, embankment building work for water containment and flood-relief. They were known as “scarriolanti” (wheelbarrowers), who among other things repaired the river Secchia embankment.
The cooperative is a founding member of the Provincial Federation of Worker Cooperatives of the Province of Modena.
The Land Reclamation Consortia Parmigiana-Moglia, of Burana and the Civil Engineering Authority of Modena entrust the cooperative with several canalisation projects and railway sections (e.g. the Mirandola-Rolo railway line).
The cooperative was deeply affected by the Italian and international economic recession, and had as little as 23 members when it set up business again in September 1934. Due to poor demand and its political stance against the regime – which made it difficult to obtain contracts – CPL suspended activities for nearly a decade (until 1945), but did not wind up.
In the post-war period, the cooperative was able to obtain contracts again, such as that for the excavation of the Sabbioncello channel taking water from the Po river. It is during this period that wheelbarrows were replaced with Decauville locomotives and cars.
CPL CONCORDIA was awarded contracts to build road sections in the provinces of Modena, Mantua, Rovigo, Agrigento, Pavia, and Aosta. Some of these works were built in regions quite far from the Concordia headquarters, with all the connected risks and difficulties.
Bruno Bighi, surveyor, (Carpi, Modena, 1929 – 2001) was the first technician graduated from a vocational school ever hired by the cooperative. Having filled the position of Technical Director from 1954 to 1984, Bighi left a mark at CPL, as he played a significant role in laying the foundation of today’s cooperative. With his vision and his determination in putting his “innovative ideas” on methane and connected activities into practice, he was instrumental in the technological development of CPL, with such breakthroughs as building the first methane grids, converting internal gas plants, managing plants on behalf of gas utilities, opening up the energy sector. President Giuseppe Tanferri recounts how their work relationship and friendship began in 1954: “We realised that we needed a qualified person to interface with the Civil Engineering authorities and set out to hire a young surveyor. Someone at the Consortium of the cooperatives of Modena told us about a young man from Carpi, who was working during the day and would ride to Modena on his bicycle every night to take a surveyor’s course. He was glad to join CPL. We were simple workers, and having a technician amidst us seemed like a big thing back then”. The room where Members’ Assembly meetings are held in Concordia has been named after Bighi.
CPL CONCORDIA diversified activities and set foot in the water sector, building the waterworks of Arezzo, and later that of Monghidoro (Bologna). New construction materials were introduced: the Channel of Mariana (Mantua) was the first reinforced concrete structure built in 1960.
Giuseppe Tanferri (Concordia, Modena, 1915 – 2007) began to work with CPL as a wheelbarrower in the land reclamation and canalisation projects. He served as President of CPL from 1958 to 1976. In the docufilm “Il lavoro e la giostra” (The work and the merry-go-round, by Alessandro Baraldi, published by CPL), he tells about his opinions about the cooperative. When asked: “If you could talk to the young people joining the cooperative today, what would you tell them?”, he answered: “I always felt like I did not belong to myself, and that I belonged in a society. I saw myself as a member of the working class and wanted to work with my class mates. The cooperative was an entity that organised work and those who carried it out were members of that entity, rather than employees. At this time and age, it is very difficult to discuss this matters, to talk about ideals that must be pursued at all costs”. “What is your fondest memory of your time as a President?” “It was a battle I had to fight personally: the transition from earth to pipelines, i.e. from earth moving works to gas and water grids. This enabled the cooperative to go down a different – and better – path.”
Due to a downturn in the road-work market, the cooperative faced a serious crisis. After struggling for 3 years, the way out was to embrace a new sector – methane distribution grids. The first plant marking CPL’s big transition to the energy sector was built in Castelfranco Emilia, near Modena: it was the first of over 200 plants that the cooperative would design and build in all Italian regions, from Trentino to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
In addition to building grids, in the early Seventies CPL started converting the gas appliances running on town gas to operate on methane (highly qualified work learnt from Italgas). The first conversion projects were carried out in Novi Ligure, followed by Leghorn, Cesena, Vercelli, Lucca, Pistoia, Legnano, La Spezia and 30 more municipalities. Later on, CPL developed the “Safe Gas Service”, regular inspections of methane appliances in residential homes to ensure compliance with safety regulations and provide energy-saving tips.
Roberto Casari (Cavezzo, Modena, 1953) joined the cooperative’s technical staff in 1970 as a heating electrician tasked with gas system conversions. He was appointed Vice President in April 1975. Both the then-President Giuseppe Tanferri and Technical Director Bruno Bighi regarded him as the right person to lend the cooperative a more dynamic approach in spite of his young age. In April 1976, he was elected President of CPL CONCORDIA at 22. At that time, the cooperative had 80 members and a turnover of 14 billion Lire.
While he headed the cooperative, CPL CONCORDIA took such opportunities to grow as the conversion to methane in Southern Italy in the Eighties, and engaged in several new business that were to prove instrumental in the cooperative’s growth: heat management, co-generation and district heating. Among many other awards, he was knighted in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic by President Giorgio Napolitano in 2011.
CPL built a storage site for methane odourants in Concordia. It was the first of its kind in Italy built in compliance with specific environmental protection rules. CPL’s special vehicles make deliveries from this site to the gas distribution plants of municipalities, municipally owned companies and licensed private companies.
In the Eighties, Italian authorities decided on promoting conversion to methane in Southern Italy, and CPL took part in the construction of gas grids in Southern regions. This is when it started offering management services on behalf or under licence of municipalities. Several dozens of them would be using its services within the next few years. In the same period, CPL explored new opportunities in the sectors of district heating, heat management, co-generation with experimental trials (FIAT Totem).
Severo Barotto (Mirandola 1947 – Concordia 2014) worked with CPL CONCORDIA for over 37 years. He went from working at the building sites, to serving as Vice President and Director of Personnel of the cooperative until 2006.
The company decided to expand into a holding company, acquiring certain subsidiaries and affiliated companies: Metanodotti Polesani (1986) and Co.Gas (1989) were among the first acquisition, aimed at expanding CPL CONCORDIA’s share in the management of plants under licence.
CPL CONCORDIA celebrated its one hundredth anniversary with conferences, volumes, films, and a photographic exhibition of stock photos (“CPL CONCORDIA 1899-1999: A century of great energy”), attended by honorary members and notable personalities from political and industrial circles (including prominent journalists Sergio Zavoli, Everardo Dalla Noce, Enzo Biagi).
With the acquisition of BiGi RIMI Italia from British Gas, CPL CONCORDIA integrated the natural gas supply chain in the sectors of E&P (Exploration & Production) and marketing of the raw material. The mineral assets included concessions and onshore and offshore exploration permits for the Adriatic Sea. Outside Italy, CPL was present in China with a joint venture in Tianjin; and in Romania, where some gas grid projects were starting. Significant contracts were secured in France and Greece, whereas the distribution and sale of methane was starting in Argentina.
COOPGAS, the main gas selling company of the CPL Group started operations. Through acquisitions and new gas grids built in Southern Italian basins, the gas concessions whose methane or LPG grids were managed by CPL at a national or international level rose to 130. Important district heating lines were built in the Malpensa and Linate airports, while innovative geothermal and building automation projects were completed in Modena.
CPL built the largest Italian public photovoltaic plant ever in Carano (Val di Fiemme, Trento): 500 kW power, with nearly 3000 (fixed and mobile) silicon panels capable of generating over 625,000 kWh per year. This was the first of several plants, which would total 40 mW of installed photovoltaic power in 2012. Significant developments were achieved in the use of Tyfon absorption chiller units bearing the CPL trademark (airport of Linate), while co-generation offering expanded to include biomass from agricultural farms and animal farms, as well as sewage sludge.
The anniversary was celebrated with a cycle of 6 conferences on “Man, work, cooperation”, a photographic book (“Ott[o]re” (Eight hours), Business Media Sole 24 Ore), an essay based on conversations “Per chi verrà dopo di me” (For those who will come after me) (publ. Rubbettino) and the video “110” directed by Roberto Rabitti (winner of the 25th Turin Film Festival). The CPL Group had a workforce of 1250 (including 520 members), a turnover of more than 300 million and shareholders’ equity amounting to 110 million Euro. As a birthday present, it lit up the first flame on the Isle of Ischia, with 18 million Euro project financing for the first Italian island to be supplied with methane after Sicily (thanks to 13 km of submarine pipelines and 45 km of urban grids).
CPL Energy India Private Limited, a joint venture to export distribution technology for gas and renewable sources to the Indian subcontinent, was founded in New Delhi. Turnover was growing in Algeria: particularly noteworthy was the technical and engineering work performed at the turbogas plant of Hamma in Algeri. The CPL Group operates directly in Maghreb through Aipower, a company incorporated under Algerian law. The largest agricultural biomass plant in Italy, generating 4 MW of energy thanks to the co-generators installed by CPL, was opened up in Bondeno di Ferrara.
The largest photovoltaic farms in the Tuscany region (Pisa, 3.7 MW) and in region Abruzzo (Torano, 1 MW) began generating renewable energy. CPL kept developing smart metering technology for gas distributors after securing the largest European Italgas contract for new gas volume converters, which provided for the installation of 25,000 gas volume converters during the 2010-2011 period.
CPL CONCORDIA obtained the OHSAS 18001 certification for the system protecting the safety and health of workers. CPL continued growing in foreign markets, with contacts worth 10 million Euro in the new sector of large turbine maintenance (Oil&Gas and Power Service). In May 2012, an earthquake of grade 5.9 in the Richter scale hit the cooperative facilities in Modena causing damage for 20 million Euro. None of the 600 employees were injured and operations started again immediately with smart campuses held under marquees. In the months following the earthquake, the cooperative installed a 6.2 MW photovoltaic system on the roofing of the Agri-Food Centre of Bologna and put 30 co-generation plants into service.
CPL focused on research and the development of technology connected with energy efficiency and smart cities. Public lighting management contracts increase thanks to the renovation projects for the transition to LED lamps, e.g. in Ravenna (37,000 lighting points). Outside Italy, the CPL Group set up operations in the United States and in Poland to operate in the co-generation sector. In May, the company obtained the SA8000 certification concerning Social Responsibility for human rights, childhood protection and workplace issues. In December, CPL CONCORDIA was awarded the FERPI Financial Statements Oscar in the category “Non-listed Companies and Large Enterprises” at the premises of the Italian stock exchange Borsa Italiana in Milan”.
In 2014, CPL intensified its research and development efforts in the field of energy efficiency, also in connection with the 50001 certification of its Energy Management System. Coop Bilanciai and Sacofgas 1927 SpA merged into Meter Italia SpA, a new player in the market for (smart and conventional mechanical) gas meters.
2015 witnessed the inauguration of new (tri-generation and district heating) plants built by CPL CONCORDIA for the headquarters of Lamborghini Automobili, the legendary car-maker in Sant’Agata Bolognese. In Sardinia, the dairy plant of Cooperative “Assegnatari Associati Arborea” was the first to use methane in the island, thanks to an innovative LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) plant built by CPL and capable of generating enough heat and power to meet its requirement. Polargas, the company of the CPL Group engaged in the sale and haulage of LNG, take care of deliveries.
When the cooperative experienced some judicial vicissitudes, its members resolved for a complete turnaround in governance, with a new Board of Directors chaired by Mauro Gori, a new Supervisory Board and new tools to guarantee abidance by law.
In 2017, the company continued its efforts to revamp business, among other things thanks to the Global Service contract with Tor Vergata University Hospital, a tri-generation contract with Internet provider Aruba Spa and with Health Institute ISMETT of Palermo. In May, CPL won the national award “Public Asset Best Practice 2017” given within the PA Forum in Rome to the “Smart Lux” project for public lighting renovation in the municipality of Montecchio Emilia (Reggio Emilia). June 2017 saw the approval of the new Memorandum and Articles of Association, which place environmental sustainability and local development at the core of the cooperative’s mission.
In 2018, we are witnessing a decisive recovery of the company in terms of acquisitions, hiring of new staff (+180 employees) and a reduction of bank borrowing thanks to operations to improve the value of Group companies. In the multi-year works portfolio – which has increased to over 700 million euros – we highlight tri-generation for the Genoa Aquarium, Global Services for the Maggio Fiorentino Theatre and the Rome Auditorium, the LNG regasification plant in Marghera, the relamping of the light towers at SEA Linate Airport, the laying of fibre networks (Open Fiber) for the cities of Lecce and Taranto, gas network construction contracts for Italgas and FFSS maintenance for the main stations at Naples, Bari and Palermo.
In June, with more than 86% of the votes cast, members elected the Cooperative’s new Board of Directors, which saw the return of cooperative directors to the senior management.
In 2019, the Cooperative continued on the path of growth in employment and works, thanks also to the multi-year contracts of Heat Management for the Metropolitan Cities of Bologna, Rome and Naples, and co-generation with district heating for the Water purification plants of CAP Holding and NET in Milan. CPL is celebrating its 120th anniversary with a series of initiatives: conferences on the theme of Work in Rome and Milan, Open Days for the public and stakeholders, the “Plastic Free” project to reduce plastic in the company and the introduction of electric and methane-powered cars in the company fleet, 10 “Roots of the Future” scholarships for the best students at Italian technical institutes and a tour of the Sustainability Report.
In the year of the global pandemic, CPL CONCORDIA has been on the front line from the early days of the emergency with hundreds of energy service workers in Italian hospitals, particularly for the conversion of wards to accommodate Covid patients, in nursing homes and in essential services for public and private providers. To protect its 1,600 employees, the company has been implementing safety protocols since February 2020, providing appropriate equipment, protecting workers with an ad hoc Covid-19 policy and promoting smart working as much as possible. The Cooperative also considered the needs of the local area, offering free facilities and technology to the local health service (including the Concordia Hotel, which has been loaned to the Modena AUSL to accommodate over 200 Covid-positive patients), foodstuffs to associations, washable masks and computers for distance learning to schools. In May 2020, it held a fund-raising campaign among members and employees (raising a total of 110,000 euros) for 11 projects supporting health and social organisations in the areas where the company operates.
In terms of sustainability, CPL’s Annual Report is digitalised on the “CPL Racconta” platform, while the Bee Sustainable (bee re-population) and Earth Care (planting of 6,000 plants in 3 forests near CPL offices) projects were launched.
Among the contracts acquired were those relating to the energy management of the Universities of Milan (Bicocca), Brescia and Catania.
The year continued in the name of issues resulting from the global pandemic which influenced the company’s activities. At the beginning of 2021 CPL obtained a 43 million euro loan from 7 banking institutions with SACE warranty, as part of the initiatives implemented by Italian Government in order to support the economic system, hit by the Covid emergency.
Between the contracts acquired the one which stands out is the adjudication of the energy global service of the Uffizi Galeries in Florence.
Focusing on the sustainability, CPL CONCORDIA made Concordia Hotel available in order to host Covid-19 patients and later to harbor dozens of Afghan refugees fleeing the war (August 2021). Among the sustainable projects, it was realised the first step of Earth Care project with the planting of the first 2.000 plants in the forests near to CPL’s operational headquarter.
For those who come after me, the story of a cooperative told by those who experienced it.
By Paolo Franchi and Francesco Manicardi.
Published by Rubbettino – Storie di imprese