Europe’s first USGBC Platinum LEED structure, Italcementi Group’s research and innovation centre, was inaugurated with fanfare in Bergamo, Italy.If you think the world is in the midst of an economic crisis, take a look at i.lab in Bergamo, Italy! Designed by renowned architect Richard Meier for the 148-year-old, fourth-generation Italcementi Group, the centre – created to develop technological, functional and aesthetic solutions for new construction materials – has been built at a staggering cost of €40 million!With an annual cement production capacity of around 74 million tonne, Italcementi Group is the world’s fifth largest cement producer, with sales exceeding €4.7 billion in 2011. Through the activities of its research and innovation centres in Italy and France, the group intends to anticipate market trends and requirements, giving priority to environmental issues. In fact, Italcementi has been reconfirmed in The Sustainability Yearbook 2011 – the most comprehensive publication on corporate sustainability released yearly by Sustainable Asset Management (SAM); the group is rated ‘SAM Silver Class’. In 2010, about 2,500 companies belonging to 58 sectors were assessed for their performance, and only the top 15 per cent made the grade for the yearbook.The inauguration of i.lab was attended by Italian Minister for Environment Corrado Clini; Giampiero Pesenti, Chairman, and Carlo Pesenti, CEO, Italcementi Group; along with the group’s top management and representatives and journalists from 18 countries. “Innovation is Italcementi’s strategic lever to create its own competitive advantage,” said Pesenti in his address. Also present was Maurizio Caneppele, Managing Director, Zuari Cement, Italcementi’s Indian arm. The Bengaluru-based company grew from just a 0.5 million tonne capacity in 1995 to 6 million tonne in 2011. With manufacturing units at Yerraguntla and Sitapuram, this recently named ‘Master Brand’ (by CMO Council, Asia) enjoyed a turnover of over €220 million in 2011 and plans to move beyond south India to strengthen its presence in Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal.The event was indeed a cause for celebration for all stakeholders – i.lab is also the first USGBC LEED Platinum-certified building in Europe, the highest rating for energy-efficient and sustainable buildings. The construction methods adopted, materials used and recourse to renewable energies (photovoltaic/solar thermal panels, geothermal energy) enables i.lab to save up to 60 per cent more energy than a traditional building of the same size and end-use destination. As architect Meier says, “i.lab will not only be an iconic building expressing the group’s reputation for technical expertise; it will be a benchmark for sustainable design in Europe. The building is also dear to me because it is a combination of an extraordinary collaboration with Italcementi that started with the Jubilee Church in Rome and has continued through the years.”The launch of the lab – in conjunction with Milano Design Week – was followed by a week-long interaction with eminent international architects at the i.lab auditorium. Architects Odile Decq from France, Zhang Ke from China, Mario Cucinella from Italy and Daniel Libeskind from the US spoke on the theme, ‘Architectures: Building a Sustainable Heritage’.There could have been no place more appropriate!