Predictions for sustainable business 2020

By Fiona Stephenson

Find out what’s in store for sustainable business this year, with 12 predictions from across our network.

Climate change, transport, a ‘reusables’ culture, purpose-led investing and partnership: these are some of our experts’ top picks!

Kat McDonald, Sustainability Manager, Lion

“Beyond the tipping point – 2020 will be the year of sustainable business.”

“Those already on the journey will accelerate their efforts and those who haven’t started will be scrambling to keep up. The growing realisation that sustainability touches every part of a business from finance to supply chain, innovation to recruitment – will expand capability and knowledge and require greater collaboration and partnership.

The voice of the customer, consumer and employee will continue to shape the sustainability agenda – people will speak up about issues they care about and take action if a company doesn’t align with their values or beliefs. As impacts from climate change continue to make headlines, anxiety among young people will grow. They will increasingly use this fear as a motivator to create change and disrupt the system (that they believe is broken). Transparency and authenticity will become the new currency for brand reputation, beyond the products or services themselves.”

 Mark Roberts – Group General Manager, ALSCO NZ

“I look forward to the business world influencing with positive climate change initiatives, as I fear the global political climate is not one that will encourage rapid transformation, despite the rise in lobbying and activism.”

“We operate as leaders in our own little corner of the world, and I watch with interest as our friends across the Tasman grapple with the tragic bushfires. How will the current emergency shape beliefs in Australia once the bushfire season is over?  Will it challenge opinions so that climate change and sustainability thinking in Australia becomes more closely aligned with the position in NZ?

In the last couple of years, I have seen encouraging signals from countless NZ businesses that procurement decisions are becoming more sophisticated, that organisations are genuinely valuing partnerships, not just price. There is wider appreciation and acceptance that sustainability and business success go hand-in-hand.

Businesses that are mitigating their impact on the environment, and giving back to communities, are winning favour with customers and building brand. Price will always be important, but not at the expense of sustainable and environmentally responsible solutions.

I am heartened by the shift in thinking in NZ, and believe the momentum created to date will ultimately be ingrained in the NZ business psyche.”

 Maria Slade, Business Editor, The Spinoff

“Demonstrating a purpose other than making money for their shareholders is going to be one of the biggest challenges for firms in 2020, because today’s customers and employees are no longer willing to tolerate businesses that generate profits at the expense of people and the planet.”

“Taking action on climate change will be another great challenge, as investors increasingly shun unsustainable industries such as coal and moves are made to hold company directors and managers accountable for their impact on the environment.”

Andrew Caseley, Chief Executive, EECA

“I’ve focused on two things: transport and the election.”

“Tackling transport emissions is vital to decarbonisation, and so continuing technological advances, particularly with batteries, will be crucial.  Given the progress being made (I hope) we’ll start to see technically and commercially feasible alternative options to lithium ion batteries which will help bring the cost of electric vehicles down, further extend their range, and use fewer rare earth minerals.

People continuing to recognise the power of collective action – small steps, taken together, making big strides. I hope that will be most evident when people wield their influence by voting in the General Election this year, and I’m particularly hopeful younger people will more actively engage and exercise their democratic rights.”

Kelly McClean, Sustainable Packaging Project Manager, Foodstuffs NZ

“In 2020 I predict a ‘reusables’ culture in Aotearoa will take shape with confidence.”

“Last year we saw reuse gain traction and become more accessible as an alternative to single-use packaging or serveware – BYO container in supermarkets, swap systems such as IdealCup and Again Again coffee cups spreading throughout NZ cafés, reusable bags becoming the norm, rise of refilleries and water refill stations; and reusables at events.

‘Going reusable’ will increasingly work from a convenience stand point, driven through new delivery models and technologies. On the other hand, this direction is a human response – Kiwis are really concerned about single-use plastics and are willing to take action. Peer pressure to ‘remember’ or use a new swap or sharing service will help form new everyday habits.

From a product perspective we will see more disruptive reformulation and redesign towards formats coming through this year that reduce the need for plastics in the first place – think refill bottles, concentrates and ‘just add water’ tablets. This may require new ways of doing things but as Ethique has shown, New Zealanders are curious and adaptive!

I also anticipate a rise in B2B reusables as identified loops can be managed through existing logistics and chain-of-custody mechanisms. B2B is a great place for businesses to start exploring reuse models.”

Tara Smith, Sustainability Manager, Yealands Wine Group

“Recent events highlight climate change and its potential impacts are looming in the larger public consciousness.”

“From the plastic bag ban to Australian bush fires, regardless of the varying opinions, the heightened discussion and the need for action is evident.

We are seeing a number of trends emerging; companies working collaboratively to tackle industry-wide challenges, whereas in the past they may have been more inwardly focussed operating in isolation to address their own challenges.  Waste minimisation is a particular case in point for the wine industry with working groups focussed on sharing strategies on challenges such as grape marc and packaging.

Similarly we are seeing companies embracing a vision of sustainability that recognises their role in the community and that their actions have implications that go well beyond their own boundaries.”

Geoff Ensor, Director Commercial Partnerships, Department of Conservation

“Across New Zealand, many businesses are helping restore nature; their contribution is significant and appreciated.”

“Contributions include volunteer days, admin support for community groups, trapping of predators, planting of native trees and direct funding for conservation activity.   But in the coming year, as businesses adopt sustainable practices en masse, I believe we will see the restoration of our unique biodiversity become central to sustainability action.  Not only is it urgent, it also presents an opportunity for New Zealand to take practical action that addresses our climate and biodiversity challenges ‘as one’.

It’s a very exciting to be working with businesses and I predict this spirit of working together towards a win/win outcome will rapidly increase and become ‘just the way we work’. New Zealand can set a blueprint for the world from our approach.  And SBN will just get bigger, stronger and more crucial to helping us all adopt a different way!”

Alastair Rhodes, Chief Executive, BayTrust

“2020 is the year where I believe investors in NZ will start to catch up with trends that we see happening offshore in relation to purpose led investing.” 

“Investors will be increasingly looking to invest into organisations/products that are looking to achieve social or environmental solutions, alongside financially acceptable returns.  It’s becoming more evident that investing with purpose not only benefits our communities and the environment, but also, for long term investors, will drive the best financial returns. I see this trend and the evidential support behind it only intensifying in 2020.

The other trend I see happening in NZ, is that large philanthropic investors will begin to actively diversify their investments away from carbon. The potential for having distressed carbon investments, coupled with a much better understanding of the long term environmental impacts of carbon, is becoming much better known. Pressure from their beneficiaries, and the desire to better align investments with their mission, will likely drive this change sooner than many will expect.”

Brittany Rymer, Community Services, Sustainable Food Network, Wellington City Council

“In 2020 Wellington residents are continuing to galvanise behind the climate change movement, pushing for organisations and government to keep up with citizen demands.”

“We’ll see the younger generations continue to grow and lead this movement. Zooming in to sustainable food efforts, we’ll see more food being produced within the Wellington city limits, the popularity of plant-based diets will continue to grow, and consumers will increasingly want to know where their food comes from and how it is produced.”

Cathy Robinson, Director Investment Portfolio in Agriculture and Investment Services, Ministry for Primary Industries

“In 2020, I predict the upsurge in interest around sustainability will keep rising, and fast!”

“I think we’ll see a move to more sustainable land use practices which will create even more opportunities to help our farmers and growers make informed land use choices. They will also get better access to relevant data and decision-making tools in 2020 as technology continues to improve.

Sustainability is one of the four pillars in our MPI Strategic Plan and I expect to see sustainable development goals becoming more embedded in frameworks across Aotearoa, and sustainability as an integral part of every business decision.

I believe we’ll continue to see more innovations that will address the impacts of climate change, and will provide us with the progress and hope we need for the future.”

Doug Leeder, Chairman, Bay of Plenty Regional Council

“I predict that 2020 will be a year defined by making progress through partnerships, courageous conversations, and focusing on the ‘we’.”

“Sharing, listening and clarifying will be vital.  In order to do this relationships and partnerships are going to be essential in 2020; as a community we will need to draw on those relationships to drive a healthy environment, safe and resilient communities and a vibrant region. One of these relationships will be establishing how we better engage with Māori and understand their aspirations for the region, and how to support building Māori capability and capacity across the region. Transport and growth planning will be a key area for making progress through partnerships; there will also be a focus on freshwater management and giving effect to Central Government direction. Exploring ideas and sharing information and knowledge is paramount in order to rapidly innovate to meet climate challenges. We will continue to implement our Climate Change action plan and to resolve what wider roles we take.”

Becky Lloyd, Chief Executive Officer, Toitū Envirocare

“This year the broader trend for sustainability will continue to sharpen into a consumer demand for urgent climate change action.”

“Travel will come under more scrutiny – with no obvious tech solution and the rise of the “no fly” movement, businesses will need to take steps to reduce unnecessary travel and find innovative ways to collaborate online. Consumers will ask companies to take responsibility for the full lifecycle of their product, including where and how raw materials are sourced, what happens at the end of the product life and any unintended side effects, either social or environmental. Finally, businesses are going to be increasingly tasked with taking a leadership role in their own procurement and supply chains, and work together across industry lines to reduce carbon emissions and environmental impacts, both up and downstream”.