Sustainability: what to expect in 2019

Posted in Sustainability on 22 January 2019 By Katy Fuller, Junior Consultant

In the spirit of looking forward and embracing the New Year, we’ve identified some of the key sustainability trends we’re expecting to see over the coming year.

As the attention surrounding sustainability continues to grow, it is no wonder businesses are doing all they can to demonstrate their commitment. This isn’t a fad and it isn’t solely consumer-led. Stakeholders from all walks of life are demanding greater accountability, action and a display of purpose in line with profit.

So what does 2019 have in store for sustainability?

1. Circular economy principles to go mainstream

As we witness the damage our throw-away culture has had on our planet (thank you, David Attenborough), there’s evidence that consumers are beginning to understand that less is more. Not only do circular economy principles seek to make the products we can’t live without last longer, they also seek to build a use case beyond disposal.  

In our fast-paced consumer culture, waste continues to present an ongoing challenge. With global resource use expected to double in 2030 against 2010 levels, and population growth on the rise, it’s clear that radical solutions are needed to combat overconsumption.

In 2018, single-use plastic became a frequent feature in the headlines driven by huge consumer-demand for action. In response, more than 290 organisations, (comprising 20% of all plastic packaging produced globally) signed up to The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment to implement circular principles for plastic production and use in 2018. And organisations like Starbucks and Just Eat implemented ambitious commitments and circular economy innovations to reduce single-use plastics.

Beyond the obvious environmental benefits, a recent study has shown that transitioning to a circular economy could generate a net economic gain of 1.8 trillion euros per year by 2030, in Europe alone. What’s more, 86% of sustainability executives believe that the circular economy will be important two years from now. This is double from two years ago (47%).

Clearly, this trend is on the up and has its own role to play in the development of sustainability strategies and business strategies more widely into 2019 and beyond.

2. Businesses to embrace global targets

We live in a global community. Gone are the days where we can shun a problem as “theirs”. This is especially true in the context of sustainability. As a result, we have seen a rapid rise in the number of businesses adopting global frameworks that seek to have an impact beyond their direct operations.

The most obvious example is the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of goals developed as a blueprint for “peace and prosperity for people and the planet.” So far, 72% of businesses mention the goals in their annual or sustainability report with 50% identifying priority goals, however, meaningful commitment has been lacking.

In 2019 we’re expecting to see companies embrace the SDGs in a much more meaningful way. Progress here will be aided by science-based targets which are gaining real traction from major corporations. These targets seek to align business goals with global greenhouse gas emissions targets and the Global Carbon Budget.

So far over 500 companies have signed up to science-based targets, with around 160 having already set dedicated commitments. These include some big names such as BT, Coca Cola, Philip Morris, Tesco and Unilever. We are expecting to see even more pledge their commitment in 2019 and beyond as companies commit towards ensuring that we remain below the two degrees’ pre-industrial levels.

3. Legislation will continue to drive transparency  

As stakeholders continue to demand more from businesses, legislation is on the rise. The enormous 72% increase in non-financial regulations since 2013 is clear evidence that this trend is only set to continue.

So what can we expect in 2019? Well, coming into effect this April is the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting framework (SERC). The SECR’s purpose is to simplify carbon and energy reporting, to ensure that businesses in the UK can focus on reducing emissions. The legislation will require all quoted and unquoted companies with at least 250 employees (or an annual turnover of over £36 million) to disclose their Scope 1 and 2 emissions. It’s expected that this will drive a ‘tenfold increase’ in carbon reporting for UK companies as the UK transitions towards a low-carbon economy.

Beyond this, we’ve seen the gender pay gap dominate the reporting landscape. Now legislation looks set to take this further as the ethnicity pay gap may form part of the overall plan. Although this has not yet come into effect, the consultations so far show that the government has understood this growing trend in transparency and are keen to do more.

This trend suggests that legislation follows trends and mainstream discussion. So as more action takes place in 2019, expect to see legislation follow closely behind across a broad range of issues.

If you’d like help or a discussion about any of the above, please email [email protected] and get in touch.

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