It’s 2020, what will the key sustainability trends be this decade?

A look back over the last few years…

As the clock ticks over into a new decade, SustainIt look at what are some of the global trends facing sustainability professionals and indeed the planet as the time remaining to mitigate catastrophic levels of climate change shrinks further.

The last 3 years in particular have seen a mass galvanisation of the general population getting behind critical sustainability issues (such as single-use plastics) which were able to shape company and government initiatives very quickly.

Among some of the most prevalent milestones was the release of the IPCC’s special report that triggered world-wide understanding and, quite-rightly, massive concern around what will happen if we don’t limit average global temperature increases to 1.5ºC. Spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the student climate strikes captured the attention of the older generations and pumped new life into the impassioned plea to politicians and companies to break away from business-as-usual to save the planet. Similarly, the Blue Planet effect showed that the general population can influence the decisions of companies and governments to act on topics such as single-use plastic.

The UN SDG’s, the race to net zero, increased use of renewable energy and veganism were all strong contenders for the most prevalent sustainability trends and all will continue to be important conversations over the next 10 years. The Global Goals for example, which encompass all aspects of sustainability, have the target, by 2030, to make the world a fairer and just place, aiming for long-term sustainable living. But to make this vision a reality, there’s still so much that needs to be done.

ESG and sustainable investing

Money makes the world go around. Barring a few exceptions, this is true across an increasingly globalised world.

News around investors taking the risks of environmental sustainability seriously when making investment decisions and building their investment portfolios has been increasing over the last few years and is set to accelerate further this decade. The well-publicised letter from Larry Fink, CEO of investment giant Blackrock, who are also a founding member of the TCFD, implores other CEOs to wake up to the risks and opportunities of climate change may be a sign of things to come.

The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) is likely to help investors understand the opportunities and risks associated with their investments. The increased focus on ESG metrics in general could well help accelerate the standardisation of corporate reporting and simplify the data collection processes being used. However, access to standardised, transparent, quality data still has a long way to go, in a similar way that access to scope 3 data is still a major challenge for companies wishing to fully assess the sustainability of their supply chain.

Data collection advancements

If you don’t know where your business impacts are, then it’s pretty impossible to implement changes across your organisation that drive improvements and positive change. Data enables this process of insight and behavior/operational change. A drastic change is needed, and quickly. Technologies around data collection and analysis are developing to try and help meet the need for a far greater understanding of sustainability around the world. We’ve worked with many companies over the years, helping them manage their non-financial data – but now the data landscape as well as the technologies are rapidly changing.

Block chain for example is being used increasingly by a plethora of sustainability professionals from conservationists to financial investment firms. There are however, still many unknowns. Blockchain’s ability to drive sustainable change and strategy is still being explored but you also have to consider the energy required to power the data centers to hold and manage that information.

Scope 3 data in general is tackled in a huge variety of ways, but all are time consuming, and standardisation is in desperate need of supply chain professionals.  Increasingly, sector-focused membership organisations are looking at ways to standardise the way in which data is collected from suppliers to ease the administrative burden and drive real change across shared supply chains in common industries.

The scale of supply chain software will also be a big focus as the demands of the market currently go beyond the technological capabilities, especially when compared to those of Health & Safety and risk for example.

The ecological emergency

Already in the conversation is the importance to consider the ecological emergency directly alongside the purely emission led climate emergency. Controversial group ‘Extinction Rebellion’, have been a key figure in reminding the world that we’ve lost around 60% of our vertebrates since 1980 and are entering another mass extinction. It was also published in the Biological Conservation journal that one-third of insect species as classed as endangered.

The impacts are far wider than the diminishing of furry friends for animal lovers. Insects and animals support a delicately balanced ecosystem that form the foundations of our own life on Earth and will continue to have devastating impacts on agriculture, land use and food production into the 2020s. Agroecology and sustainable land use will continue to be critical factors focused on by governments and companies the world over.

Circular Economy

From agriculture to apparel, re-thinking the way we consume is a priority for a number of sectors . From the way we design products to re-using the waste we produce in the short-term, circularity in all forms will drastically change the way companies want to sell products and services.

Successful partnerships include the various brands that have signed up to TerraCycle’s ‘Loop’ initiative as well as the collaboration between Adidas and ‘Parley For The Oceans’ who  manufactured 11 millions pairs of shoes made from 95% recycled plastics from beach and ocean cleans.

Selling products on a subscription basis may also be a major trend coming through.  Increasingly being utilised by product manufacturers in order to attempt to close the waste loop and improve the access to waste materials for new products. This will be especially important for producers of items containing precious metals and/or scare resources such as technology companies.

The decade to 2030 needs to and hopefully will be the decade of serious transformation with so many interlinking factors needing to come together in order to have any chance of limiting average temperature rises to 1.5 ºC and improved equality.

If I was a gambling man, I would be focusing hard on these three trends really advancing and moving forwards over the next decade.

1            Data collection improvements through technology

2            Increased supply chain analysis and scrutiny

3            Circular economy and business driving innovative and creative solutions

By Callum Rees, Strategic Account Manager,

Illustration By Jess Knights, Creative Marketing Assistant,


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