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10 Sustainability Trends to Watch in 2021 and 2022

Plus: How Your Organization Can Get on Board

Last year, when we covered the sustainability trends to watch in 2020, we knew the sustainability and clean energy landscape was quickly evolving. This is nowhere more apparent than in all the new trends we’re seeing for 2021 and 2022! Net zero emissions is on its way to being replaced by climate positivity, sustainable products that were just taking off last year are booming now, ESG investing is taking over the financial world, and more cities and states are requiring companies to report on energy use and emissions.

Read on to explore all the latest sustainability trends you need to know about. In addition, we’ve included action items after each one so that your organization can get on board.

2021/2022 Sustainability Trends

1. Sustainable Products Will Become the Norm

Thanks to Gen Z, sustainable products are one of the top sustainability trends. Expect sustainable products to become mandatory among consumers in the coming months and years. More than any other generation, Gen Z is aware of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and the responsibility they must try and fix these issues. Research suggests that 54% of these young adults think a company’s environmental and social efforts are very or extremely important when considering whether to purchase a service or a product. As if that weren’t enough, Gen Z is gaining more purchasing power as they join the workforce, so your organization needs to take environmental and sustainability seriously if you want to attract customers.

So, what types of consumer products can you expect to see going sustainable? Our prediction is food, fashion, and lifestyle products:

  • Food production is currently responsible for 26% of greenhouse gases and has a major part to play in habitat destruction and freshwater consumption. Consumers are more aware of these facts then ever before, hence the growth of veganism and plant-based diets. In fact, consumption of plant-based meat and dairy substitutes rose during the pandemic. According to Nielsen, sales of meat alternatives were up 140% in the US! Unilever expects to increase its plant-based meat and dairy alternatives sales to €1bn in five to seven years. Meanwhile, sustainable grocery delivery services like Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market, which sell products that would ordinarily be discarded, are gaining popularity.
  • Fashion brands must get sustainable – or risk not making the cut with consumers. Research from BCG found that 38% of consumers switched from their preferred clothing brand to a different one that has better environmental and social practices.
  • Lifestyle changes like switching to electric vehicles, demanding sustainable or (less!) packaging and digitalization (to save paper)will rise among consumers in the coming year.

Action Item(s):

  1. If your organization produces packaged products, it would be wise to work on reducing your plastic packaging or transition to more sustainable packaging methods like plant-based compostable and biodegradable packaging.
  2. Calling all fashion brands: start using sustainable materials, making their supply chains transparent and ethical, and creating circular fashion systems through designing, producing, and selling products that reuse and recycle post-consumer textiles. Examples include:
    1. Adidas, which is launching a range of footwear made from recycled fabrics and natural materials.
    2. Patagonia, which is looking at natural solutions to remove carbon from the atmosphere, including adopting regenerative farming.
  3. At the very least, your organization should be monitoring your emissions, energy and water use, and waste amounts so you can start working to reduce them.

2. ESG Investments Will Continue to Rise

ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) is a form of investing with the environment and social good as its guiding principles. Since the pandemic began, ESG has become one of the popular  sustainability trends to get involved in. Investors and organizations realize the importance of non-financial considerations and are looking beyond profits in such challenging times.  For example, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager has put sustainability at the center of its investment ethos.

Action Item(s):

  1. ESG can be an intimidating arena to step into. Check out these great guides from GRESB and CNBC to get started.

3. Renewable Energy Will Become Increasingly Cheaper,

Fossil fuels used to be much cheaper than renewable energy, but that is quickly changing. Wind and solar plants became 70% and 89% cheaper in the last ten years and, their capacity will exceed coal and gas in less than five years, according to the IEA’s Renewables 2020. In fact, solar power is now cheaper than coal!

Renewable energy will continue to get cheaper because renewable technology costs follow a learning curve: they get cheaper as we increase capacity. Thus, when countries like the U.S. deploy renewables, they lower the costs for everyone and make the technology accessible for the entire world.

Action Item(s):

  1. Research green energy procurement and decide if it could be a good fit for your company now or in the future.

4. Working from Home is Here to Stay

The work-from-home lifestyle is one of the more unconventional sustainability trends, but it’s surprisingly effective. Work-from-home took off as a necessity during COVID-19, but it turns out that working remotely is also very good for the environment. When we work from home, we reduce the number of cars on the road and energy used by office buildings, thus reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption. Major companies like Twitter, Shopify, and other tech companies have already committed to their staff working from home fulltime even when lockdowns lift. This means widespread benefits to the environment generally from less consumption. In the words of Kate Lister, the President of Global Workplace Analytics,” … there is no easier, quicker, and cheaper way to reduce your carbon footprint than by reducing commuter travel.”

Action Item(s):

  1. If possible, leave the option open for your employees to work from home part or full-time.
  2. If employees need to work in person, provide public transportation vouchers to help limit the number of cars on the road.

5. Carbon Offsetting Will Go Mainstream

Carbon offsetting means making up for the emission of CO2 or other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. A carbon offset occurs when a company or organization funds carbon-offset projects that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere or prevents some greenhouse gases from being released. Carbon offsetting can be as simple as planting trees, or more complicated (e.g. investing in carbon capture technology). Carbon offsetting is already common in sustainability circles, but with the rise in popularity of net zero emissions, we expect that 2021 will see carbon offsetting go mainstream and public. True, offsets are often seen as greenwashing, but this will likely change as more credible options are becoming available, contributing high-quality offset projects.

Action Item(s):

  1. Explore the different types of carbon offsets available and speak with decision makers at your organization to see which ones would work best for your company. Avoid excessive offsetting to ensure your actions are not just greenwashing but providing meaningful action and true environmental responsibility.

6. Forget Net Zero Emissions – Climate Positive Is the Next Big Thing

If your company is already on the carbon offset bandwagon and committed to net zero, expect things to go to the next level in the coming year. The net zero emissions initiative is currently booming (click here to learn all about it), but we expect it to soon be superseded by climate positivity, whereby a company’s activities are actually creating an environmental benefit by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Action Item(s):

  1. If your company is already working towards a net zero target, you can begin to assess climate positive actions. Climate positive actions include tree planting, carbon capture and sequestration, investing in regenerative agriculture (which helps reverse climate change by restoring soil organic matter and biodiversity) and more. Sit down with decision makers at your organization and decide which path is best to take, if any. Better yet, poll customers and investors to see which option they value the most.

7. Companies Will Be Required by the Government to Disclose Climate Risks to the Public

States like Colorado and cities like New York are already requiring buildings and organizations to report on their emissions and energy use. Expect many more states and cities to follow suit in 2021/22. Keep in mind that this will lead to big changes for your organization in terms of share prices, financing options, willingness of investors to invest, etc.

Action Item(s):

  1. Before you can begin reporting on your emissions and energy use, you have to be able to measure Energy and sustainability management software like WatchWire from EnergyWatch can help you gather and organize the necessary data. Consider the different platforms on the market and get set up with one – it will put you ahead of the game so you’ll be ready when reporting requirements are inevitably passed.

8. Clean Air Will Become a Higher Priority

After the world saw pictures of polluted skylines become clear during the pandemic, the importance of air quality came into stark focus. In addition, with a respiratory disease like coronavirus still a major threat, clean air is vital for health and wellness. Expect improvement of air quality to be a big issue in 2021/22.

Action Item(s):

  1. Enter, energy and sustainability management software once again! You can manage what you can’t measure, and that includes your building(s) emissions. Use energy and sustainability management software to determine how much greenhouse gas emissions your organization is producing, then create efficiency projects to reduce that amount. Don’t forget to measure and verify them for effectiveness!
  2. If your company uses vehicle fleets for operations, consider switching to hybrid or electric in order to reduce your overall emissions.

9. Organizations Will Face Consequences for Insufficient Climate Action

Last year, poor social and environmental performance caused the CEO of the world’s largest mining company to resign; the stock of three chemical giants plummeted; and corporations were called to the carpet for poor emissions offset programs. This shows that climate action is no joke among the public, and the stakes are only going to get higher.

Action Item(s):

  1. When your organization announces new sustainability and climate plans, you should expect all claims to be carefully inspected by shareholders and the public. Carefully vet all plans and double check data.
  2. Make sure to address emissions spanning your entire value chain. Being transparent is the best thing you can do.
  3. Avoid “greenwashing,” i.e., touting your organization’s actions or products as being more sustainable than they actually are. Your investors and customers are smart, and they’ll figure out the truth.

10. Electric Utilities Will Face Increasing Pressures to Re-invent Themselves

Resilience is top of mind for utilities right now as heatwaves across the nation have tested grid reliability. Expect to see utilities exploring new business models that use microgrids, smart grid technology, distributed energy resources (DERs), and energy storage to build stronger and more intelligent services.

Action Item(s):

  1. If you work for a utility, the best thing to do is invest in a customer engagement platform. An Energy and Sustainability customer engagement portal enables customer value and visibility for you to identify the correct programs for your clients. Controlling costs, reducing usage and carbon are key goals that your clients are trying to meet. A customer engagement platform, like WatchWire from EnergyWatch, allows commercial and industrial users to turn their utility data into actionable insights both in and out of territory.
  2. If you work at an organization, company, or manufacturing plant, discuss with your decision makers and the utility you use how you can take advantage of and implement energy storage and DERs.

Got Questions or Comments About Sustainability Trends?

Curious about anything we discussed here or just want to share your thoughts on sustainability trends? Feel free to ask a question or leave a comment on our LinkedInFacebookInstagram, or Twitter!