STRATEGY – 10 global sustainability trends for 2017

14 February 2017

Get up to speed on the latest global sustainability issues. We’ve digested a new report from SustainAbility to bring you up to date.

Here are the top issues that have the greatest sustainability influence right now, according to SustainAbility in What’s Next for Business? Sustainability Trends for 2017, released this month:

  1. Globalisation under pressure

No surprises here. We’re already seeing the rise of trade protectionism and nationalism in the US and Europe. The World Trade Organisation estimates that global trade grew by just 1.7% in 2016, its slowest rate since the financial crisis of 2009. Analysts warn that some companies are already scaling back international operations.

  1. Cybercrime epidemic

Cybersecurity attacks are growing in scale and sophistication. This is putting businesses and individuals at increasing risk. The sectors at greatest risk are ICT, energy utilities and the automotive industry.

The cost of cybercrime could reach $6 trillion annually by 2021. The costs include loss of data, theft of intellectual property, disruption of business operations and reputational damage.  Businesses beware!

  1. Climate leadership shake-up

Just when the Paris Agreement on climate change was ratified and hope was on the horizon, everything changed. With the Trump administration threatening to pull out, the role of business and local government is more important than ever.

We’re seeing increased business activity, such as emission reduction goals and ambitious renewable energy targets. Cities are making significant climate commitments too. And political leadership could even come from China, which is leading global investment in renewable energy.

  1. Uncertainty for SDGs

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were announced in 2015 with considerable fanfare. Some companies have committed to ambitious targets as a result. But widespread commitment from businesses is noticeable by its absence.

While 81 per cent of millennials believe business has a key role to play in achieving the Goals, only 32% of CEOs surveyed were familiar with the SDGs and 23% planning a response.

  1. The growth of fake news

The power of technology companies to influence public opinion has big implications for business and government. Fake news stories on social media affected the US election – with 62% of American adults getting their news via social media.

Businesses are waking up to the threat false data could have on their brand reputation. Both Pepsi and New Balance are dealing with boycotts after fake news articles misquoted senior executives went viral.

  1. Feeding the future

As wealth in middle income countries rises, diseases of affluence – like Type 2 diabetes and obesity – are surging. They are largely fuelled by greater sugar and meat consumption. Animal protein in particular is under fire for its negative health impacts and large carbon footprint.

Food and beverage companies are under increasing pressure to address health and climate challenges. Plant-based protein is forecast to be a major food trend for 2017 as people pay greater attention to health.

  1. Investors paying more attention to sustainability

Companies are facing pressure from investors to be more transparent about sustainability risks and performance. And many regulators and standard-setting bodies are working on new disclosure guidelines. This will push companies to be more transparent.

  1. Antibiotics and pandemics

Pharmaceutical companies need to invest in solutions to antibiotic resistance and pandemics. Ebola and Zika took the world by surprise, underscoring the lack of preparedness to deal with pandemics. More than 2 billion people still lack access to medicines. And more than 700,000 people are estimated to die each year from drug-resistant infections.

  1. Consumption, consumption, consumption

Increased prosperity and population growth in China and developing markets means growing consumption and resource use. In the car industry alone, sales are growing at an annual rate of more than 10% in China.

This is causing problems for waste management, and human and ecosystem health. Companies working in emerging markets have an opportunity to partner with local communities to tackle these challenges.

  1. A jobless future?

Advances in artificial intelligence and robotics are having big impacts on jobs and the economy. Global giants such as Amazon, which provides jobs for millions of people, are increasingly automating their operations, replacing humans with machines. The future workforce is likely to shrink and the nature of jobs will change.

Robots are forecast to take over 6% of US jobs by 2021, starting with customer services and taxi and truck drivers. Meanwhile, Amazon is piloting a check-out free shop in Seattle, which allows people to walk in, take what they need and walk out. Their accounts are charged automatically. No check-out operators required.

Want to know what the trends are for New Zealand this year? Check out 14 predictions for sustainable business in 2017 from business leaders across our network.