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Future Proofing Your Brand: The 2019 Sustainability Trends You Need to Know

By Ruth Lee, Vice President of Sustainable Business Consulting

Hall of Famers

Sustainable Business Consulting has been in the sustainability business for about 14 years, and our work has allowed us to see and experience it all: the good, the greenwashed, and the ugly (consulting with 141+ different clients in 41 industries will do that to you!) As we shared at the University of Washington-Tacoma’s Milgard Corporate Social Responsibility Business Conference, here is why and how to future proof your brand for long-lasting sustainability solutions.

Gameday Jitters: “The Separation is in the Preparation”

We’ve seen clients in full panic mode because they have nothing planned for Earth Day or investors sending ESG questionnaires that they don’t know how to answer. This puts them in a reactive mode, where they can only put out fires and do the bare minimum.

Then, there are those who come to SBC because it makes good business sense and they’re anticipating employee and consumer expectations for sustainability and green business standards. As our fearless leader, Russell Wilson always says, “the separation is in the preparation.”

Companies are being required to act as corporate responsibility activists, challenge all assumptions and think long-term about sustainability. Future proofing your company helps you protect and grow your brand.

The Blitz – Sustainability Trends You Need to Know

Circular Economy

While not a new concept, the circular economy has been trending in corporate responsibility recently and was the theme for this year’s GreenBiz conference. It is an effective and simple mechanism to minimize waste and use resources wisely within a closed loop cycle.

  • Apple’s iPhone disassembly robot, Daisy, can dismantle an iPhone in 11 seconds and has captured 61 million pounds of material reusable materials to date!

Consumer Choice, Citizen Voice

Millennials and Gen Z are leading the climate action movement and want to support sustainable businesses that are socially and environmentally minded. In fact, 62% of consumers say companies should take positions on sustainability and corporate sustainability.

Automation Risks

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2018 identified cybersecurity breaches as the third greatest risks to humanity. The movement to automate and go digital requires increased security.

  • Large companies including FacebookGoogle+British AirwaysMarriott and T Mobile have faced cyber-attacks on their data. As more and more organizations track and collect sustainability data, the importance of securing customer data increases.

New Leadership

Trust in national governments has significantly declined, whether its Brexit, polarization in the US, or inadequate responses to climate in Russia, Australia and Latin America. Cities, states, and business have taken the lead on issues instead, with trust in local US governments at its highest since 2008.

  • Seattle and California recently made sustainable commitments for 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2045.
  • 20+ cities including London, Los Angeles, Paris, Mexico City, Seoul and Tokyo have pledged to ensure a significant area of each city is zero emissions by 2030.
  • Through RE100, 150 companies have committed to 100% renewable energy and through EV100, 23 have committed to zero emission vehicles .

Radical Transparency

Reporting frameworks, RFPs, sustainability and corporate responsibility assessments, and customer expectations for sustainability are becoming more mature and refined. The bar for gaining consumer trust is forever rising, and artificial intelligence and blockchain will only increase pressure-testing supply chains.

  • Starbucks is set to release a QR code on their coffee bags for a farm-to-cup tracking system.
  • Hanes owns 70% of its manufacturing facilities and spent two years researching economies and interviewing workers to provide a living wage in Latin America and Vietnam.
  • Ben & Jerry’s is utilizing blockchain to empower customers to carbon offset every individual scoop of ice cream – could be very expensive for some, no?   

X’s and O’s

Rather than scrambling to check the boxes, this year do something bold. Plan ahead and consider these trends in sustainability to establish yourself as a leader in this field and set yourself apart from the pack.