9 Sustainability Trends Shaping Our Collective Future
The Top Environmental Trends Demonstrate Positive Consumer & Corporate Growth In The Sustainability Sector.
Mon 22 May 2023
The sustainability industry is #trending—and if you don’t believe us, take a gander at some of the global sustainability trends sweeping through conscious consumers and companies alike.
With the environment becoming an ever-more pressing issue for individuals and corporations feeling increased pressure to make changes, we look ahead for key sustainable trends that could help drive environmental efforts in a more positive direction.
From seeking alternative food sources to stricter corporate accountability measures, can these developments shape how people, and businesses, view their environmental responsibilities?
We explore the key environmental trends shaping the world and examine what impacts these trends will have, both now and in the future.
Exploring Key Trends in Sustainability 2023 And Beyond
Trends in sustainability look to encompass both the micro and macroeconomic sphere; people understand that their individual efforts alone won’t be enough, so they're pushing governments, organizations, and businesses also to get on board with sustainability initiatives, too.
As a result, a growing trend of greater transparency and setting sustainable development goals joins the fold.
While consumers are driving this change, companies must follow to compete—and they’re just as likely to benefit. The evidence points to an upward trajectory for sustainable practices. In fact, by 2030, we can expect the “green economy” to soar to $90 trillion!
Without further ado, what are the trends in sustainability shaking up the world and challenging the threat of climate change?
As an effort for a global response to climate change, Race to Zero is still very much a key trend in sustainability, encouraging non-state actors from around the world to take urgent action towards halving emissions by 2030, with a long-term goal of achieving net-zero emissions.
But if we want to make a real dent in global emissions, then tackling Scope 3—the indirect emissions created by suppliers or customers related to any given organization—will be key. Reducing the parts of your carbon footprint you can directly control is only part of the picture!
If recent sustainability reports are any indication, in 2023, companies have sights firmly set on this challenge.
For years, companies focused solely on using carbon offsetting to counteract their emissions, but now we’re seeing carbon offsets alone are not enough.
To truly reach net-zero emissions, we need to see more holistic manufacturing sustainability trends aiming to reduce emissions in the first place, after which any residuals may be counteracted using solutions like planting trees or direct air capture.
Renewable energy might seem like the macro environmental trend of last decade, but it’s still very much relevant.
Due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, global energy prices have been in flux. This has sparked a call for countries worldwide to reduce their reliance on Russian fossil fuels while attempting to protect consumers against energy price inflation.
We’re now seeing reignited interest in renewable energy as a viable alternative. Despite a challenging 2022 for the US renewable energy sector, there is hope yet!
With robust demand and promising incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), growth in the renewable energy sector could accelerate in 2023—albeit with the same challenges and obstacles seen in recent years (such as supply chain constraints or increasing interest rates).
But by taking proactive steps to better harness renewable energy sources now, these difficulties can be navigated while paving the way toward faster future expansion.
And the future, it seems, is already here. AI is already being applied in the renewables sector to forecast consumption levels and predict maintenance needs for renewable sources.
Solar innovation is catapulting the industry forward, making clean energy more accessible than ever before, with floatovoltaics taking off as a new trend in solar power solutions.
In recent years, regenerative agriculture has become an increasingly popular way for farmers to cultivate land—so much so that we now have third-party certifications, like Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC), to verify such claims.
By using practices inspired by nature’s design and replenishing natural resources, this approach is helping decrease the impacts of climate change while also improving biodiversity.
Although only 19% of people were familiar with the concept in a 2022 Food Insight survey, 30% still chose regenerative agriculture as one of the most beneficial agricultural practices, indicating that commitment towards sustainable farming methods continues to grow among consumers.
It’s likely more focus will be placed on these techniques beyond 2023 as companies become further invested in understanding where and how their ingredients were produced.
It makes sense from a business perspective; improving soil health and diversifying crops grown can help foster food security across seasons, which then generates better economic growth and outcomes for all involved.
Eco-friendly retail trends remain a huge driving factor when it comes to shaping the market, and consumer food selections are known to have a significant impact on the environment.
This is a perfect example of how micro-environmental trends change both the world we live in, and how we exist within it.
The food consumers want is the food businesses try to deliver. And since consumers are becoming more aware of how plant-based diets could help to protect the planet, more plant-based food products are hitting supermarket shelves.
But, as with most sustainable lifestyle trends, change takes time; altering meat consumption patterns is a decades-long shift, not a rapid switch.
While some tout insects as the alternative protein source, whether we’re any closer to swapping our sushi rolls for silkworm larvae remains to be seen.
There are some key expectations that need to be met as plant-based eating goes mainstream, and consumers seek out meat alternatives.
In fact, 40% of consumers say they intend to purchase alternative protein products in 2023. However, those same consumers won’t compromise on taste or texture, demonstrating a clear need for new products that satisfy all these factors.
The search for a plant-based protein alternative that looks, tastes, and feels like meat has possibly given rise to a new, growing segment of ‘hybrid’ meat-eaters. Consumers seek alternative protein blends that combine both plant-based protein and animal protein (though in a lesser quantity) in a convenient ready-to-cook form, such as sausages, burgers, and mince.
Sustainability trends in business, including adopting more sustainable products or business practices, offer benefits beyond just good public relations; they come with real financial benefits, too!
On top of the moral incentive, companies now have clear monetary motivations for committing to eco-friendly practices and sustainable operations. Three notable areas within this wider trend are ESG, greater supply chain sustainability, and a pivot toward more sustainable packaging.
ESG—referring to the ‘environmental, social, and governance’ goals and objectives of a business to help manage impacts on the environment and society—is a hot topic.
Various ESG trends driving and shaping sustainable business practices into the future—but what are some ESG trends?
ESG not only makes a business favorable to investors (ESG investing is one of the more prevalent ESG trends today), but it can also improve the overall financial performance.
Supply chain sustainability trends also indicate a wider shift toward more sustainable business practices, such as eliminating single-use plastics or shifting toward a circular economy model.
Not only does this promote less energy consumption and greater energy efficiency, it also offers economic benefits. Using materials already in the supply chain saves money on new raw materials and can help companies protect themselves from the supply chain shortages that plagued business consumers alike in 2021-2022.
Switching to sustainable packaging is also on many businesses' agendas, to help reduce their environmental impact. We must progress toward reducing our global reliance on damaging forms of packaging, and businesses recognize this.
Such packaging sustainability trends are transpiring right now. Costco is working to divert 600,000 tons of packaging waste each year, while Innocent Drinks promises to reduce 2,500 tons of plastic bottles by 2023 and switch entirely to recycled or plant-based materials in less than 10 years.
Ever noticed companies making bold green claims with no real evidence to back them up?
Research has revealed that over 40% of randomly selected websites made false claims about their eco-friendly credentials in recent years.
With eco-friendly trends continuing to dominate the consumer landscape, it’s easy to see why (though this doesn’t make it any less unethical). Companies make bold claims about their sustainable development goals, and at the same time, are vague about their carbon emissions, and overall environmental sustainability strategy.
This is known as 'greenwashing', a technique used by some businesses to convince customers they are doing their part for the environment—even when untrue. Consumers are becoming more aware of such false sustainable marketing, and therefore more transparency is needed.
When it comes to meaningful consumer trends, sustainability is now more than just a label, and brands need to be more forthcoming in their eco-credentials if they want to retain customers (and avoid potential legal action).
Moving forward, we’ll likely see companies and investors tested on their sustainability commitments' authenticity. Governments worldwide, including Europe (currently leading in legislation), have passed laws requiring comprehensive sustainability reporting from businesses, a legal obligation that must not be taken lightly.
The recent introduction of the sustainable finance disclosure regulation (SFDR) means that all financial market participants are required to make climate-related financial disclosures public.
So, moving forward, environmental trends in marketing are likely to grow but in a more honest and transparent way as brands become more discerning in their messaging.
It’s no longer good enough to simply spout green credentials; real change has to begin internally. If greenwashing can affect the bottom line (and thanks to the SFDR, it can), then organizations must take heed.
Cities around the world are leveraging technology to create a smarter and more sustainable future.
These so-called ‘smart cities’ employ a range of eco-friendly practices—from building with green materials, to adopting micro-mobility solutions, and even transitioning toward circular economies.
Smart cities and sustainability intersect in many ways, including the reduction and consumption of resources more efficiently.
Rob Hopkins, author of From What Is To What If, shared his thoughts with Pebble regarding the way that cities will shape the future of sustainability:
“It will be a time when big bold ideas for reimagining how cities feed and power themselves, create new jobs and engage and retrain people will become the norm. As Naomi Klein once put it, ‘There are no non-radical solutions left'.
“It will be a time when cities are out-competing each other to get to zero carbon first and to come up with the most imaginative strategies for doing so.”
This need for radical change in how cities are designed and built is a common theme within the sustainability movement, though it hasn’t quite been realized, and we rarely see such profound solutions.
Vehicle-free cities are yet to exist, despite plans to build them, and while there is a clear need for cities with smart outdoor lighting or intelligent traffic management, such things are costly to implement.
This doesn’t mean smart cities are a dying dream. Quite the contrary!
The need for radical innovation is the driving force. By the year 2050, 68% of the world's population is projected to live in urban areas, placing further importance on building adaptive smart cities to enhance society through innovation.
Since the global Pandemic turned the world upside down, remote work has become the norm for many businesses. As the world recovers, the benefits of working from home are here to stay.
2020 started it all, but for this sustainability trend, 2023 levels of remote workers are just the beginning
Experts predict that by 2025, more than 36 million Americans will work from home, 417% more than before 2020. It’s not hard to see why.
Working from home doesn’t just boost productivity and improve work-life balance. It also has tangible environmental benefits. As more people work from home, there’s less traffic on the roads and fewer emissions from cars and public transportation. The end result?
A significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
A report from Owl Labs & Global Workplace Analytics states that remote work has already reduced emissions equivalent to taking 600,000 cars off the road in the US. As more companies adopt a remote-first approach, these numbers will grow higher.
It’s not just about reducing emissions from transportation. Advances in technology mean that businesses can also save energy by allowing employees to work remotely. With fewer people in office buildings, there’s less demand for heating, lighting, and other energy-hungry resources.
Remote work is a low-carbon trend that’s here to stay, and will continue to be the norm, rather than the exception.
Eco-friendly travel, transport, and tourism are all consumer sustainability trends that have a profound effect on the macro environment.
By reducing the number of flights taken or selecting eco-conscious airports, consumers communicate their need for greener travel options, and businesses will have no choice but to respond. As they say, you vote with your dollar.
Improvements to sustainable transport options—such as increased bicycle use, low-carbon public transport, and the roll-out of more electric cars—have also been steadily evolving for most countries, and we can expect this to continue.
While some countries are adopting energy-efficient electric vehicles more quickly than others, it's clear that these modes of transport are becoming commonplace on roads and highways worldwide.
Emphasizing the need to reduce over-reliance on car transport is a key example of current sustainability trends in greener transportation.
Many ‘eco-conscious’ countries, like Malta, Luxembourg, and Spain, are already encouraging public transport and bike use by offering some free public transport options to their citizens as part of a wider sustainability strategy.
We can expect ecological trends like more sustainable options in the tourism industry to follow suit, such as limiting capacity to popular attractions (as is already the case with the Ghibli Park theme park) and greater efforts to offset an attractions’ carbon against the visitors’ own footprint (like Blenheim Palace is doing).
It stands to reason that greener travel and tourism options are key trends in sustainability that will continue to gain popularity well into the future.
Closing Thoughts On Examples Of Environment Trends In Business & Beyond
It's become clear that protecting the planet and slowing climate change is a collective effort, and companies can no longer just market their ethical values - they actually need to put them into practice.
These are not trends worth shrugging off; they must be met head-on now if there's any hope at all that our planet will remain livable for centuries to come.
Current consumer sustainability trends serve as a loud and proud reminder that businesses must meet our demand for greener options—from eco-trends like plant-based meat products, to more climate-friendly travel choices with fewer carbon emissions.
Simply claiming to be an ‘eco-conscious organization’ is no longer enough.
Greater environmental sustainability efforts, coupled with more transparency, serve as the starting point for a greener future beyond the promising sustainable trends 2023 offers. So let's press forward toward sustainability together—no false promises allowed!
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