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Sustainability Trends to Watch in 2020

The sustainability landscape has changed dramatically over the last 30 years.

We've seen the idea of "sustainability" evolve from a fringe concept embraced by scientists and environmentalists, to a global imperative. We've watched as the world's leaders hotly debated the climate crisis. Many of us have witnessed first-hand the devastating impacts of global warming, including hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. Sustainability has gradually become part of our daily routines, from carpooling to recycling to carrying our own reusable coffee cups. Businesses, too, have made strides toward a more sustainable future.

As a new year — and a new decade — dawns, we wondered: What's new and next in sustainability in 2020? And which trends will drive innovation this year?

Here's a look at seven sustainability trends you can expect to see in the coming year:

1. More organizations will set science-based targets

According to the Science Based Targets Initiative, today 799 companies are taking science-based action to reduce emissions and limit climate change. Another 333 companies have approved science-based targets. These companies represent a broad range of industries, from utilities to banks to building products and apparel.

As the shift toward a low-carbon economy continues, we can expect to see more companies setting emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement goal to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. We’ll also see more companies announcing net zero emissions targets in the coming year.

2. Environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) investing will influence corporate decision-making

As global concerns about climate change grow, investors are weighing climate risk when deciding which stocks to add to their portfolios. Why? In a low-carbon economy, companies with strong sustainability programs represent a safer investment and a potential for higher returns. This scenario is putting pressure on C-level executives to do the right thing despite deregulation. Going forward, the challenge for organizations will be not only to improve their environmental performance and reduce climate-related risks, but also to measure and report on their efforts in a meaningful way.

3. More companies will pursue ISO 14001 certification

As we said above, companies of all sizes are feeling the pressure from consumers and investors to step up their sustainability efforts. As such, ISO 14001 has become a popular way for companies to measure and communicate their environmental performance to stakeholders.

Today, the additional step of pursuing ISO 14001 certification is more relevant than ever. The number of certifications worldwide has grown steadily in recent years. A whopping 307,059 organizations were certified to the standard as of 2018 — compared to just 128,211 in 2006. Certification provides a way for organizations to signal their commitment to responsible stewardship to the public and stakeholders.

4. Renewable energy will continue to grow

Investments in renewable energy sources like wind and solar have soared in recent years. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2019 report states that renewable energy investment exceeded $2.5 trillion over the last decade. Corporate renewable procurement has skyrocketed, with businesses investing in green energy to reduce their carbon footprint and lower costs. This puts pressure on utilities to expand access to renewable power.

5. Fleet adoption of electric vehicles will rise

This year, we’ll see more organizations phasing out conventional cars and trucks in favor of electric vehicles (EVs). Electric vehicles offer many benefits for corporate fleets, including lower fuel and maintenance costs. They also produce fewer emissions than gas or diesel vehicles, which can help companies meet their carbon reduction targets. However, EV adoption is not without its challenges — including a lack of EV supply to meet demand and a need for better charging infrastructure. Companies that go the EV route will also have to adapt to new maintenance and end-of-life considerations.

6. Businesses will embrace a circular economy

This was a big buzzword in 2019, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Circular economy refers to eliminating waste by reusing or recycling materials in a closed loop. For example, an automaker might reuse aluminum and steel to make components for new vehicles. An electronics company might collect and recycle spent batteries into materials for new batteries.

A 2019 ING survey found that most U.S. companies are planning to transition to a circular economy. But despite growing interest, companies are still struggling to understand how to unlock the full potential of circular business models.

7. EHS software remains an essential tool for sustainability management

Climate change has altered so many things in EHS management. One of the biggest shifts is that "success" is less about maintaining compliance with a clear set of rules and regulations. Instead, it's about predicting and responding to business risks and sustainability opportunities as they arise — which is far more challenging.

The good news is that EHS software is a great way to know where your company stands in terms of environmental performance at any given time. That's true no matter how big or small your organization is, or what industry you're in.

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That’s it for our 2020 sustainability predictions. As always, we’ll keep you up to date on our newest findings and changes in the industry as the year goes on. Click here to subscribe to our EHS blog for weekly updates.

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