The last two years have been significant for sustainable and socially responsible people. While the effects of climate change have become more tangible and emissions have remained dangerously high, individuals, communities and businesses are working hard to reduce their impact. There’s a greater awareness of sustainability issues and our impact on our environment. There seems to be a greater willingness to do something about it.
Gazing into the crystal ball is always interesting. It appears the groundswell of interest in sustainability is translating into firm commitments and changes in behaviour.
More sustainable consumer goods
Fashion has been battling publicly with social responsibility issues for over a decade. Attention is now turning to other consumer goods, forcing manufacturers to review and rework their supply chains. Forcing this change has moved beyond “voting with wallets”, a tactic that largely hasn’t worked in the past. Instead, more direct forms of action are being used, from flooding social media accounts with noise to sending non-recyclable crisp packets to head offices.
Consumer activism will increase in 2019, with more inventive forms of protest being evolved as the press tires of repeats of the last stunt. This will be linked with shareholder activism as institutional investors face pressure to introduce “impact investment funds” across a broader range of their customers.
Less plastic pollution
Scenes from the BBC’s “Blue Planet II” of the impact of plastic on our oceans caused public outrage. Though stories about this have been circulating for years, it took broadcast images of individuals creatures being harmed to create widespread interest.
Reducing plastic pollution had been on many social responsibility lists for some time, only 2019 is the year we’re likely to see an acceleration of effort. Some low hanging fruit has already been plucked, such as replacing plastic straws and cups with paper ones, and the war on plastic bags. Plastic reduction elsewhere is also on the cards, with firms that have “non-plastic” alternatives likely to see business increase.
Storing renewable energy
Generating renewable energy gathered pace in 2018. More experience with these technologies has brought the need to smooth supply to the fore. This is placing pressure on the battery industry, not only to create new and more efficient batteries but also in their recycling.
Finding convenient, sustainable and cost-effect ways of storing energy will see focus in 2019. It won’t just be about traditional batteries, although reducing our dependence on scarce ore will be a key action area. Alternative methods and technologies will get attention.
Connecting together micro-grids
Another solution to the problem of smoothing energy supply could the micro grid. This approach is being used in less developed areas of the world, allowing communities to share in the power they create in a fairer way. Micro-grid solutions should find their place in the developed world too, particularly as planners turn their attention to mandating “net-zero” development.
Driving proactive change
A lot of the commitments coming out of firms have been because they are genuine early adopters of the social responsibility cause, or they’ve been pressured into it. “Corporate social responsibility” was a buzzword that hung around for a while in some boardrooms before vanishing behind a veneer of “charity commitments” that were little more than window dressing.
2019 should see more of the new breed of senior decision makers come through who have a genuine commitment. Rather than reactive changes, these firms will proactively commit to reduce their impact throughout their supply chains and operations out of a belief it is the right thing. They are likely to find support from impact investors who may trade short-term financial returns for longer-term social ones.
Going around politicians
One lesson emerging from the US is that politicians can be sidelined. While Federal Government has made no secret of its distrust of climate change, individual states and corporations have acted as if nothing happened. Local communities and small businesses are taking up the slack and committing to drive down their impact, regardless of what the GOP says.
This behaviour may have been limited in the past to a few isolated “green” communities or activists, but the message coming out of a wider proportion of the population is change will happen, regardless of the message from the centre.
2019 looks set to be a year of growth for a more sustainable environment. A greater awareness of issues and willingness to take action will see small changes in our behaviours that will have lasting impacts. Business is being driven to change supply chains and operations to be more sustainable, both by consumer demand and a new generation of leaders who understand the need to do something different.
Hopefully the coming twelve months will be a very good year for sustainability.
Image credit: Ross A Hall