10 sustainability trends for 2019

By Fiona Stephenson

Each year international think tank SustainAbility identifies the latest sustainability trends for businesses to be aware of. These are the top trends you need to know about this year – five global trends and five sector trends.

Global trends

  1. The climate’s in crisis

We’re simply not doing enough. We’re on course for potentially catastrophic levels of greenhouse gases and current efforts are insufficient to change our course. We urgently need to deploy low carbon solutions. The impacts of 1C warming are far more severe than predicted and extreme weather is causing billions of damage each year. Businesses need to collaborate to scale up low carbon economy solutions.

  1. People power

People are taking to social media and the streets to demand action from governments and businesses on social and environmental issues. Gen Z (born at the turn of the century) are important influencers, engaging with companies and governments. Expectations for companies to address issues such as climate change, plastics and gender equity will continue to grow. People, especially youth, will increasingly shift their loyalties to companies they perceive to be acting on these issues.

  1. Security under threat

Trade wars, cybersecurity breaches and climate change threaten global security and economic stability. All companies need to increase investment in cybersecurity. Climate change is increasingly recognised as the number one global security threat. It threatens essential resources, damage to infrastructure and communities, and human health.

  1. Saving ecosystems

Species are disappearing at alarming rates, land degradation is threatening wellbeing, and plastic pollution is reaching dangerous levels. China’s decision to ban plastic and e-waste imports has thrown waste and recycling markets into turmoil, exposing the magnitude of the problem. Companies will face growing pressure to address plastic waste and invest in circular solutions. Awareness of the importance of biodiversity will grow and businesses will be expected to address their impact on land and marine ecosystems.

  1. New leadership

Cities and businesses are stepping up to fill the leadership void created by the inaction of many national governments. Trust in governments remains low, largely because of political polarisation and inadequate responses to issues such as climate change. People will increasingly look to business to act. Therefore companies should ramp up leadership and set and report on bold sustainability goals. Transparency – on everything from diversity to executive pay and carbon emissions – is more important than ever.

Sector trends

  1. Food and agriculture

We urgently need to make our food system far more sustainable. Ecosystems on land and in the ocean are being devastated by plastic packaging – a large percentage of which comes from food and beverage products. Businesses need to implement circular solutions to address packaging without compromising shelf life or food safety.  Meanwhile the majority of the world’s global energy intake comes from just three crops: rice, wheat and maize. This monoculture is fuelling biodiversity loss on an unprecedented scale.

  1. Technology

Trust in the tech sector is declining, largely because of major data privacy breaches, tax avoidance and the use of technology platforms to undermine democratic processes. At the same time, tech companies are innovating to drive economic growth and help tackle social and environmental challenges. Emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles, blockchain and Artificial Intelligence are the most poorly understood and least trusted. Tech companies need to embrace transparency to become accepted as good corporate citizens.

  1. Healthcare and Pharma

The healthcare sector faces challenges and opportunities – from the risks of antimicrobial resistance and climate-enabled pandemics, to the consumer-driven shift to wellness and holistic illness prevention. More than ever, food producers, retailers, pharmaceutical companies and policy makers are being forced to work together to find solutions to interconnected health challenges.

  1. Energy and utilities

Electrification is gaining momentum. The lines between oil and gas companies and electric utilities are beginning to blur as fossil fuel companies invest in low carbon solutions. Cities are on the frontline of change, with smart grids, energy storage and electric vehicle infrastructure. Blockchain technology will continue to spur adoption of innovations such as peer-to-peer energy trading, empowering consumers. Therefore companies that invest early in blockchain will have an advantage.

  1. Financial services

The financial services sector is finally taking environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues seriously and not looking back. Banks, asset managers and investors are integrating sustainability data into decision making at unprecedented levels. It is critical for financial services to work together to send a united signal to governments that ESG issues are essential for long term profitability and financial success.

Read the full report here.