This week I listened to a fascinating and very comprehensive webinar by Verdantix, an analyst firm specializing in energy, EH&S (environment, health and safety) and sustainability research, on the top trends for sustainability in the coming year. While there weren’t really many surprises, it was interesting to learn that the sustainability trends that have been emerging over the last few years (that we have occasionally written about here) seem to be gaining momentum and traction.
Here are my top 5 takeaways from the session.
- The “social license to operate” or “social return on investment.” Community expectations for sustainable property, particularly in relation to the water, forestry and mining industries will be a driving force in sustainability. Companies are increasingly creating IBA Agreements (impact/benefit) with communities which can become a legally binding document and crucially requires a greater level of transparency from the company. Verdantix noted that the reputational benefits to securing a social license to operate are huge, but once companies get it, they must maintain it.
- Green infrastructure. Driven by water scarcity – which on this hot January afternoon I am reminded of keenly – cities and large corporate campuses are taking steps to ways to address their green infrastructure initiatives such as green spaces for water filtration, green roofs and permeable pavements. The report cited the work of NGOs like the Nature Conservancy which has created partnerships with corporations in the US who might not have the necessary expertise in house to help realize their sustainability goals. This points to another trend, the emergence of a new industry of sustainability experts to come in and plug these knowledge gaps and change behaviors.
- Mandatory financial reporting. I’ve written previously about CFOs taking on, or at least taking greater interest in, the company’s sustainability efforts. This looks to be a continuing trend, with the eventual establishing of industry-specific standards. The barrier to this, of course, is the number of stakeholders involved, though according to the research presented here, the pressure from pioneering companies, NGOs and investors is something that might eventually be achieved.
- Smart cities. At the end of last year, the city of Madrid converted 100% of its street lighting to Philips energy efficient lighting which will produce an energy savings of 44%. This not only points to the monetization of sustainability but also again to social awareness. As Ana Botella, Madrid’s mayor, put it “The new lighting installation allows us to make significant progress towards becoming a smart city, which is more sustainable and, in conclusion, a more livable city.”
- The role of social media in driving sustainability. From a marketing and communications point of view, I’m excited about this and think it really embodies what is so great about the sustainability movement: many thousands of voices and actions coming together to effect real change.
As ever, if you have any comments or questions, please get in touch.