10 sustainability and social impact trends that we're watching | Greenbiz (2022)

In so many ways, 2020 was a seismic year for sustainability and social impact. From a global pandemic to raging wildfires and the changing face of both work and wellbeing, the last 12 months will have a legacy that lasts far beyond COVID-19.

Here are 10 trends that came out of 2020 that all sustainability/CSR professionals need to know about.

The threat of climate change has new urgency

First came the bushfires that devastated in Australia. Then a spate of severe storms and tropical cyclones that swept the U.S. and Asia, followed by floods and searing heat. 2020 broke all sorts of unwelcome weather records, destroying properties, businesses and lives. All which gave the threat from climate change a brand new urgency, for both individuals and companies. In fact, 81 percent of Americans accept that the Earth’s temperature is increasing —the highest level since 1996.

Even more significant though, the drastic response to how we lived and worked as a result of COVID-19 demonstrated what truly is possible in the face of a crisis. As one expert said: "The COVID-19 pandemic has been a unique test for how people feel about climate change when faced with a different global crisis."

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Investors have begun to reframe risk

"The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance," wrote Larry Fink, chairman and CEO of BlackRock, in a letter to fellow business leaders in January. In particular, Fink pointed out, there is increasing acknowledgement that climate risk equals investment risk.

This awareness is changing the shape of investments, with environmental, social, governance (ESG) becoming core criteria for many investors, leading to brand new opportunities for people, products and services that provide a boost to the planet, as well as line investor’s pockets.

Consumers expect purpose to outweigh profit

Although the concept of a purpose-led business has been gaining traction for a few years, the rising economic clout of both millennials and Generation Z mean that in 2020 it reached a tipping point. In fact, in 2020 millennials made up 40 percent of all consumers, and 40 percent of this demographic (according to a survey by Deloitte) believe that the goal of business shouldn’t be a healthy bottom line, but contributing to society.

The impact of this consumer demand on how businesses are run, how they make products and deliver services, who they hire and how they define their values is a huge.

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The corporate world looks to lead on climate policy

A combination of consumer demand, plus the very real impact of climate change on supply chains, manufacturing and distribution, has led to a brand-new interest from big business in weighing in on issues of climate policy, both within business and within government public policy.

As of 2020, STBI corporate members represent a combined market value of more than $10 trillion —accounting for more emissions than France and Spain combined.

In October 2019 a group of 200 institutional investors and leading sustainable business organizations even penned an open letter to American CEOs making the business case for climate policy action, calling on business leaders to use their voice and influence policy change at the highest level. This paves the way for brand new roles and opportunities for those skilled in climate policy advocacy.

Targets in sustainability are firmly rooted in science

In 2020 the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI), a partnership between the World Wildlife Find, the CDP, the U.N. and World Resources Institute, welcomed on board its 1,000th member. First set up in 2015, the collaboration aims to celebrate and inspire those companies that commit to targets on greenhouse gas emissions based on leading climate science. As of 2020, their corporate members represent a combined market value of more than $10 trillion —accounting for more emissions than France and Spain combined.

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That kind of clout puts science-based targets firmly in the mainstream, upping the ante for all companies to deliver and report on these targets.

More support than ever around achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

With only nine years until we reach 2030, the deadline for the U.N.’s 17 SDGs, a huge number of resources are out there for both companies and individuals looking to brush up their knowledge of the goals, and advance toward the ambitious targets set.

Top of the list is the SDG Academy, an online platform of free educational resources compiled by some of the world’s leading sustainability experts. Plus, the SDG Action manager, a free tool that walks you through the process of assessing your own performance toward the SDGs, including gaps in performance and suggestions for improvement.

Social justice has shifted to the top of the agenda

According to a survey of 150 executives by top consultancy firm Porter Novelli in 2020, 71 percent said never, in their entire careers, had they felt more pressure to engage with issues of social justice. The Black Lives Matter movement, which gained greater global awareness in 2020 following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, has propelled debate around issues of discrimination, diversity, inclusion and allyship across all sectors. The pandemic too has highlighted vast disparities in access to healthcare across the U.S.

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Although not all corporate responses struck the right chord (take a look at five that worked and five that didn’t), the last year highlighted the need for business leaders to speak up and take action on social justice. As a result, demand for experts in workplace diversity became one of the fasting growing roles recruited for, according to LinkedIn.

The concept of wellbeing took on new meaning

Even prior to the pandemic, a focus on individual health and wellbeingwas set to be a major agenda of 2020. And with the stress and instability created by the pandemic —plus the sudden remoteness of managers from their teams —the duty of care between companies and their employees took on a whole new dimension of importance, especially related to mental health.

… as did the workplace

Although current requirements to work from home may be temporary, the legacy of the pandemic on how and where we work look set to be long lasting. According to one study, 34 percent of roles in the U.S. could plausibly be done remotely, permanently, with major employers, including Nationwide, Nielsen and Salesforce, committing to brand new work-from-home flexibility for the foreseeable future.

For sustainability and social impact, professionals this has the potential to rapidly broaden the scope of opportunities available to them, with geography, cost of living or other accessibility restrictions far less of a barrier.

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Sustainability and social impact experts never have been in more demand

The upshot of all these broader trends? There has never been a better time to be, or become, a sustainability and social impact professional. According to one survey, 88 percent of top executives said they understand that now more than ever, companies must lead with purpose, while three-quarters of sustainability professionals say they’ve seen an increase in responsibilities and expectations from leadership since the pandemic.

In short, there’s never been a better time to accelerate your career in the sustainability and social impact arena.

So, if you’re just getting started, take a look at my blog on "Four ways to launch your career into the impact sector." Or if you’re looking to really take things to the next level in 2021, then why not get in touch for a consultation with me? To book a 30-minute trial session, just click here or to buy my new practical guide book, "Good Work," here.

FAQs

What is the social impact of sustainability? ›

At the same time, actions to achieve social sustainability may unlock new markets, help retain and attract business partners, or be the source for innovation for new product or service lines. Internal morale and employee engagement may rise, while productivity, risk management and company-community conflict improve.

What are the current trends in sustainability? ›

1. Renewables and Nuclear Hold Promise for Net Zero Energy. An infographic based on the latest Climate Watch data highlights that energy usage contributes to 73.2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is far and away the highest contributor, with the second-highest being agriculture, at 18.4%.

What is the importance of social sustainability? ›

Social sustainability is important

For example, employees, suppliers, and partners who feel respected and safe are more loyal and productive. Similarly, businesses generally don't thrive when society struggles: for example, unequal societies dampen long-term economic growth.

What are some examples of social sustainability? ›

In corporations, social sustainability performance issues include human rights, fair labor practices, living conditions, health, safety, wellness, diversity, equity, work-life balance, empowerment, community engagement, philanthropy, volunteerism, and more.

When did sustainability become a trend? ›

In the 1980s the new paradigm of sustainable development was popularized and became more widely used. The term was used in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's World Conservation Strategy (1980), Lester R.

What is one of the main sustainability benefits? ›

Socially, sustainable practices can help strengthen community bonds, improve quality of life and provide hope for a better future. Environmentally, sustainable practices can help protect natural resources, mitigate and adapt to climate change and promote biodiversity.

How can we live a more sustainable life in 2022? ›

13 Ways to Live a More Sustainable way in 2022
  1. Save energy. By using less energy, you can help to reduce carbon emissions. ...
  2. Use reusable alternatives. ...
  3. Go paperless. ...
  4. Use renewable energy. ...
  5. Recycle and reuse. ...
  6. Grow your own produce. ...
  7. Donate unused items. ...
  8. Buy fair trade products.
Jan 1, 2022

What is a good example of sustainability? ›

The foundations of environmental sustainability are: safeguarding water, saving energy, reducing waste, using recyclable packaging, limiting or eliminating the use of plastics, using sustainable transport, reusing paper and protecting flora and fauna.

What are the types of sustainability? ›

The four pillars of sustainability
  • Human sustainability. Human sustainability aims to maintain and improve the human capital in society. ...
  • Social sustainability. ...
  • Economic sustainability. ...
  • Environmental sustainability.

Why is sustainability important for our future? ›

Sustainability is important for many reasons including: Environmental Quality – In order to have healthy communities, we need clean air, natural resources, and a nontoxic environment. Growth – UNTHSC's enrollment continues to grow, so we require more resources such as energy, water, and space.

What are the 5 factors of sustainability? ›

Community Wealth Partners recommends that nonprofit organizations consider how they are performing across five key drivers of sustainability: social impact, focused business strategy, economic viability, adaptability, and capacity to deliver.

What are the 3 types of sustainability? ›

Sustainability is often represented diagrammatically. The figure at the top of this page suggests that there are three pillars of sustainability – economic viability, environmental protection and social equity.

What are the 7 dimensions of sustainable development? ›

Another model suggests humans attempt to achieve all of their needs and aspirations via seven modalities: economy, community, occupational groups, government, environment, culture, and physiology.

How do you write a social impact statement? ›

Top 4 Tips for Impact Statement
  1. Think about your audience when you write the impact statement. ...
  2. Use numbers to describe the impact of your work. ...
  3. Keep the impact statement short and meaningful. ...
  4. Proofread the impact statement, and have someone else proofread it, too to avoid unnoticed mistakes or typos.
Aug 11, 2021

How do you create a positive social impact? ›

Donate a percentage of your profits to a charitable organization. Use your social platform to speak out for a cause you believe in. Donate services or physical goods directly.

What are the impacts of sustainability? ›

It is evident that sustainability embedded in business models and products has the potential to enhance economic growth, return on assets, return on equity, internal rate on return and lead to superior stock market performance.

What are the social principles of sustainability? ›

The proposed principles are that in a socially sustainable society, people are not subject to structural obstacles to: (1) health, (2) influence, (3) competence, (4) impartiality and (5) meaning-making.

What are the social impacts of business? ›

The sustainable business's social impact would include such items as the business's practices and policies related to working conditions, diversity in hiring, opportunities for advancement for women and minorities, lack of discrimination, and the provision of affordable health care and other necessary benefits.

What is the social pillar of sustainability? ›

Social sustainability focuses on maintaining and improving social quality with concepts such as cohesion, reciprocity and honesty and the importance of relationships amongst people. It can be encouraged and supported by laws, information and shared ideas of equality and rights.

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