It should be no surprise that sustainability is on the minds and mouths of so many.
Consumers, activists, businesses, politicians, investors and entrepreneurs are all becoming more aware of the concept, each for their own slightly different reasons.
The future of sustainability is changing, and the direction it ultimately takes is unknown. But what we can say with some degree of certainty is that what happens in the next 3-5 years will impact so many of us on a personal level, while also guiding the evolution of many industries across the globe.
Here are 10 of the top trends in sustainability to watch in 2021.
When it comes to eco-designed products - those that have been sustainably produced, packaged and sold - there are two industries expected to see major changes in 2021 and beyond: food and fashion.
With food, expect to see more healthy, locally sourced products with less environmental impact. This will coincide with a rise in organic produce and farming.
It is clear that the biggest positive impact an individual can have on climate change is by eating a sustainable diet with less meat and dairy, less food waste and more vegetables, nuts and legumes.
According to Nielsen, US sales of meat alternatives were up 140% compared to last year, so expect to see more plant-based meat substitutes coming on the market. (Unilever expects to increase its plant-based meat and dairy alternatives sales to €1bn in five to seven years).
On the fashion side of things, we’re expecting a rise in sustainable textiles and the death of fast fashion.
Businesses are responding to consumer demand for recycled goods, so when it comes time to design and manufacture new product lines, global brands such as Adidas are finding ways to extend the life cycle of key ingredients. In fact, by 2024, Adidas aims to use 100% recycled polyester.
We are more conscious of our environmental impacts and how we can make changes to have positive impacts on the world around us, such as working from home, commuting via public transport, and ride-sharing.
Covid-19 has also shown us that much of what we do in our workday can be accomplished while working from anywhere in the world. While flexible hours and remote working has been around for some time, the global pandemic has shown us that being tied to an office is no longer a requirement for so many industries and professions. This shift will lead to a hybrid lifestyle where work and life blend much more, for both good and bad.
Sustainable finance and investment
Data by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) shows more than 150 major global financial institutions now have coal exit policies in place, with 65 banks committing to tighter lending guidelines this year alone.
Pension funds, hedge funds, banks and investors around the world are divesting from fossil fuels, moving their investment portfolios away from companies contributing to climate change. While it is true that banks don’t hold the key to preventing climate change, the old saying that “money talks” rings true and will signal a global shift in how we spend our money, and how we make it work for us. It’s also a sign for large oil and energy companies that future investment will become tougher and tougher.
Tim Buckley, IEEFA director of energy finance studies, said: “At the start of 2020, everyone talked about thermal coal becoming unbankable. At the end of the year, that is almost a given now. Financial markets are acknowledging that the capital flight from fossil fuels is accelerating, and its broadening into oil and gas will be the next big thing.”
Cheaper renewable energy
In the past decade, wind and solar plants have become 70% and 89% cheaper, respectively, and it is predicted that their capacity to generate energy will outstrip coal plants within 5 years. As the production capacity increases, and more countries, particularly wealthy ones, adopt renewable energy sources, the price consumers pay will drop significantly.
Electric cars will become mainstream
General Motors, one of the largest car producers in the world, recently announced that it will have an all-electric lineup by 2035.
What this means for the auto industry remains to be seen (will other big players make the same move?) but it does reflect the shift in consumer demand for electric vehicles. To make this happen, GM are investing US$27B to get a fleet of 30 vehicles on the market by 2025. With this level of investment, it’s hard to see how other manufacturers won’t follow suit and get into the EV market sooner.
For consumers, this means that more and more cars will be electric, as both the design improves as well as the range of uses, including heavy haulage and transport.
Locally made products are going to experience a dramatic increase as we start to come to grips with what the Covid-19 pandemic means for all of us. Global supply chains have been impacted on a scale never before seen, with transport delays from major manufacturing hubs meaning stores are stocking less of our favourite brands, or that the shipping time is forcing consumers to find other alternatives. Cue local brands.
Farmers, craft and other markets will see a big spike in traffic as we not only seek locally produced goods, but also help us support local businesses who have been affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.
Finally, the increase in free time has led many to discover (and for some, to rediscover) new hobbies, some of which have the potential to be monetized. Weekend markets will see new stalls and new shoppers alike.
While we may not be able to visit our favourite Greek island, or wander the vineyards of France and Spain, we do have the opportunity to see much more of our own backyard that we’ve taken for granted for a number of years.
Not only has local travel sort of been forced upon us, it is also a much more sustainable option.
The rise of the circular economy
The concept of reduce, reuse and recycle is not a new one, but it has definitely gained traction in recent years. As more consumers are becoming aware of the impact the take, make and dispose approach has on our planet, more of us are looking at ways we can keep materials in the economy for longer. A perfect example is our glass bottle refill scheme, available at select stockists.
Waste collection technology
As more businesses, investors and entrepreneurs are realising the opportunities around waste management, new technologies will emerge that will help capture waste and find new, valuable uses for it.
In Australia, a government initiative has earmarked almost $250m for investment in the country’s waste and recycling capacity, signalling an opportunity for savvy businesses to get involved in an industry that could be about to boom.
The emergence of green collar workers
In May 2020, South Korea announced a plan to transition works from traditional sectors to more sustainable ones. A US$10b.5 investment over the next two years looks to create more than 100,000 green jobs, remodel public buildings, create urban forests and establish a centre for new and renewable energy.
It’s likely that, in the coming years, more jobs in the green sector will become available, both public and private.
What the future looks like for us and our children depends so much on what we do today. By keeping an eye on the major trends, we can all start to see where we can have the greatest impact - from where we decide to shop, to how we run our businesses, to what we do with our free time.