In the spirit of looking ahead to 2019, we’ve identified three important societal trends for 2019, relating to sustainability in business:
1. Shifting global recycling mindsets and circular economy
China’s restrictions in early 2018 (and subsequent 25 per cent tariffs) on the import of recyclables have led to a pileup of recycled materials and forced changes in North American attitudes towards recycling.
While certain municipalities are responding by pushing for more efficient recycling programs with improved automation (including through automated curbside pickup services), consumers are further calling for the need to reduce consumption.
Advocates for circular economy see an opportunity to rethink domestic recycling and to stimulate job growth in a global market. The International Resource Panel (backed by the UN Environment Programme) suggested that wiser use of resources could add $2trn to the global economy by 2050, and a report by McKinsey stated that employment gains resulting from the effects of a circular economy could be anywhere between 9mln and 25mln new jobs.
Wise businesses seeking to establish new markets will increasingly leverage post-consumer materials as valuable commodities. In some cases, new online marketplaces have been created for buying and selling recovered materials. As the number of new materials produced by modern economies continues to increase, so too does the opportunity to repurpose those materials.
2. Partnerships and open collaboration for impactful change
Open collaboration with varying stakeholders is necessary for impactful environmental footprint reduction in business contexts. The first challenge in enabling supply-chain wide sustainability, according to Harvard Business Review, is to “understand the wider system you’re in”’ and the second is to “learn to work with people you haven’t worked with before”.
While consumers increasingly pressure corporate leaders to take on sustainability mandates, powerful global brands have launched social impact programs with third-party organizations internationally. Microsoft recently teamed up with the Earthwatch institute international environmental charity to measure the impact of its operations on the environment and understand how to reduce energy usage. Similarly, Rolland has long leveraged biogas as a main energy source, partnering with a local landfill to recover methane to power 93 per cent of its operations since 2004. According to the Economist, this trend is only set to rise, with biogas plants within the European Union growing by nearly 200% between 2009 and 2015.
In the consumer space, Starbucks has always focused its energies on enabling supply chain-wide sustainability. The NextGen Cup Challenge, set to unearth top ideas in February 2019, counts Starbucks, McDonalds and Coca Cola among its participants, and involves Closed Loop Partners (an investment organization focused on recycling infrastructure and developing a circular economy) to crowdsource solutions for designing the next global single-use coffee cup alternative. Accordingly, Starbucks recently partnered with Rolland’s sister company Sustana Fiber in the Cup to Cup collaboration, to prove that single-use coffee cups could be recycled efficiently, effectively and at scale.
3. Measurement and widespread efforts to quantify impact
In October 2018, Rolland was proud to attend three inspiring sustainability-focused conferences—Bloomberg’s Sustainable Business Summit, Commit Forum by 3BL Media and Sustainable Brands – New Metrics. These events were united by the common theme of the importance of measurement and reporting in sustainable business – and revealed that the way in which businesses are achieving this is evolving.
Increasingly, environmental impact measurement will not only be a means of competitive advantage, but will become a necessary requirement for organizations to even remain competitive.
Social and environmental impact measurement can support organizational growth. James Dymond of SAP revealed at Sustainable Brands – New Metrics that organizations integrated with ESG objectives record higher employee retention, in turn minimizing risk for institutional investors.
Institutions such as BNP Paribas offer innovative “Sustainable Financing” solutions, including loan discounts linked to companies’ meeting Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) objectives, incentivizing more and more organizations to expand their positive impact.
Furthermore, enabling measurement of environmental impact can create long-term customer value for organizations pursuing strategic sustainability and can command a price premium for products.
Brands like Unilever, Starbucks and Patagonia increasingly restore their commitments to working with sustainable suppliers (for sustainably-farmed vegetables, ethically-sourced coffee beans, or organically-grown fibers) to meet consumer demand to study, quantify, manage and reduce environmental impact.
More and more businesses in 2019 will proactively seek to capitalize on a growing market of consumers and businesses demanding environmentally responsible products and services.