***UPDATE: Check out our 2022 EHS Trend Predictions!***
In a normal year, predicting the trends that will shape the EHS industry is no small feat. Of course, 2021 was no normal year.
Beyond the usual factors that influence EHS priorities — politics, regulatory changes, the economy — the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered how companies approach health and safety issues.
Add to that a year of record-breaking wildfires, droughts, and hurricanes, and accurately predicting the future seems like an improbable task.
Even so, our trend predictions for 2021 were pretty spot on. Let’s take a closer look at what we got right, what we got wrong, and where we’re headed in the future:
Prediction 1: Environmental management will take center stage
Back in February, we predicted that companies would place a greater emphasis on environmental management in 2021: “The renewed interest in environmental management stems from a combination of regulatory pressure and voluntary efforts.”
Indeed, we have seen an increase in environmental regulations and enforcement under the new administration. But the biggest push has come from investors, whose demand for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) funds and investments has outpaced supply. So great was the interest in environmentally responsible “green bonds” that some companies, like Verizon, have opted to issue a second or third round of green bonds after their initial offerings were significantly oversubscribed.
Prediction 2: More companies will make bold climate commitments
Along the same lines, we predicted that 2021 would see more companies pledging to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. “The number of net zero commitments from businesses and local governments doubled in the last year,” we wrote — and that trend has continued. As one example, Amazon’s Climate Pledge now has over 200 signatories — compared to just over 30 at the end of 2020.
We also predicted an increase in the number of small- and mid-size enterprises adopting net zero targets. For proof, look no further than the SME Climate Hub, a global network of thousands of small businesses that have committed to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions before 2050.
Prediction 3: Climate risk management will be a driver for organizational success
We also predicted that climate risk management would “become a part of nearly every organization’s overall risk management strategy”. And while we are seeing more companies addressing climate impacts, a new analysis by the World Resources Institute shows that companies may still have climate risk blind spots.
One major roadblock, according to the authors, is that corporate disclosure initiatives like CDP, GRI, and SASB don’t cover the full spectrum of physical risks — something we hope that integrated reporting standards like ISSB will soon address.
Prediction 4: Corporations will transition to EV fleets
As we predicted, 2020 saw “more companies trading in conventional vehicles for electric vehicle (EV) fleets” and “more companies providing electric vehicle charging stations and dedicated EV-only parking spaces”.
One thing we didn’t see coming was the number of automotive manufacturers that would jump on the EV bandwagon. In 2021, GM became the first US automaker to commit to an all-electric future. Ford Motor Company quickly followed suit, as did Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler).
Prediction 5: Companies will invest in clean power
In 2021, we expected to see more companies investing in clean power — and we were not disappointed. The American Clean Power Association (ACP) Q3 Market Report shows that the US clean energy industry installed 15,317 MW of new capacity in the first three quarters — a 23% increase compared to 2020.
Also? “We’re likely to see federal incentives that will make adoption of renewable energy more attractive for both energy suppliers and consumers alike.” If passed by Congress, the Build Back Better Act would provide roughly roughly $235 billion in clean energy subsidies for renewables like wind, solar, and green hydrogen.
Prediction 6: Organizations will prioritize diversity and inclusion in health & safety practices
After protests over police brutality in 2020, we predicted that companies would “prioritize diversity and inclusion in health & safety practices” in 2021. While it’s difficult to say how much progress has been made on this front, it does seem that the movement has lost momentum since the start of the year.
On a positive note, we are seeing more conversations around diversity and inclusion within the safety community. For example, ISHN wrote in July that “OHS professionals have an active role in diversity and inclusion within workplaces”. However, there is still too little diversity among health and safety leaders, and too many disparities in workplace safety outcomes for minorities, so it’s vitally important that we don’t lose sight of why diversity and inclusion matters in safety in the first place.
Prediction 7: EHS will have a seat at the table
In 2021, we predicted that the pandemic would give EHS a permanent seat at the table. “Employees are concerned about going back to work,” we wrote, “and leadership is worried about safety in ways we’ve never seen before.”
That hasn’t changed. With the ongoing pandemic and new vaccine mandates, strong health and safety leadership continues to be more critical than ever.
Prediction 8: Remote work will be the new normal
“This year will push safety professionals to rethink their practices and explore new opportunities for connection and collaboration,” we wrote back in February.
Indeed, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) training saw a huge pandemic-driven boost this year. VIAR360 notes that “savvy companies are discovering the value of using immersive game technologies” to teach workers about safety best practices. In fact, this is now the largest segment of the total VR industry.
Virtual inspections have also taken off, with auditors using cell phones and tablets to complete walkthroughs without a site visit. Even OSHA conducted some inspections virtually during the pandemic, although the agency is now back to inspecting sites in-person.
Prediction 9: The EHS digital transformation will continue
As we predicted, IT spending — and specifically, spending on EHS software — has exploded in 2021. COVID-19 drove spending to a peak, with the global EHS software market expected to hit $6.3 billion in 2021. More than a third (36%) of corporate EHS leaders said that the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of their EHS initiatives.
However, digital transformation will remain a top strategic priority for businesses as they face increased scrutiny from regulators to improve workplace safety and be more environmentally responsible. Going forward, the EHS software market is forecast to reach $8.9 billion by 2026. If this happens, it would represent a growth rate of 7.4%.
Prediction 10: The increase in connected worker solutions will accelerate the need for analytics investments
Connected worker solutions took off during the early days of the pandemic, but we haven’t heard as much about them in 2021. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that companies are focused on other aspects of workplace safety, such as getting employees vaccinated and back to work.
However, we are seeing “more companies investing in self-service analytics tools that provide full visibility into safety and health and enable proactive decision making” like we predicted. These tools enable companies to monitor worker safety and keep tabs on regulatory compliance, meaning fewer opportunities for critical issues to slip through the cracks.
What’s next for 2022?
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