Don’t look back in anger: Top sustainability trends in 2017

Some of us might look back on 2017 as another eventful, if somewhat discouraging year for sustainability. 2017 has seen the inauguration of Trump, which has led to the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and more recently, has led to removing climate change from the list of USA national security threats. Meanwhile, closer to home, Brexit brings fears that the 1,100 EU environmental laws will become watered down in the UK among the effort to ensure Britain remains a great trading nation. Amid all this, you would be forgiven for thinking that 2017 has been a dismal year for sustainability.

Don’t look back in anger: Top sustainability trends in 2017

While governments have been languid in protecting us from the damages of climate change and overconsumption, 2017 has been the year that businesses have really helped drive the sustainability agenda forward, and have made some very impressive developments.

Here is our run through of the top sustainability developments that took place in 2017:

1. The widescale integration of the sustainable development goals

The SDGs – the 17 ambitious goals outlined by the United Nations aimed at mobilising efforts to reduce poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change, cover a broad range of sustainability issues. Although developed in 2015, it hasn’t been until this year that businesses have started to realise the benefits of aligning their business strategies with the goals. Corporate giants such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Unilever have led the way in mapping their strategies against the SDGs. As a reassurance, the corporate world is taking SDGs seriously, and a real effort has been made to achieve the goals by 2030.

2. The uptake of virtual batteries and electric vehicles

With an increase in the uptake of renewables in the recent years, it has become more difficult to balance the grid in terms of demand and supply of power. Battery storage is one method to deal with the issue, however is still very costly, and therefore, has not been widely adopted. ‘Virtual’ batteries have become more popular in 2017, which allow for the balancing of supply and demand. Virtual batteries are “smart appliances”, such as thermostats that can be adjusted remotely, fridges that can be run only when there is excess supply of power, or electric vehicles that plug into the grid. These flexible loads are small and diverse, however if scattered all over the grid they can absorb the shocks associated with renewable energy.

The benefit to businesses is clear – virtual batteries allow you to a greater benefit from clean energy by enabling the consumers to use a higher percentage of the renewable energy they generate. However, if your business does not self-generate renewable electricity, you can still benefit by lower energy costs when using virtual batteries

3. The realisation of our plastic planet

We have known for a while now the detrimental impacts of our plastic addiction, however with the recent release of Blue Planet II, and other campaigns such as the huge plastic whale that has toured the country, people are widely realising the huge scale of the problem. Businesses are catching on – Pret has recently introduced reusable water bottles as an alternative to plastic bottles. Some of the large UK banks  are taking more substantial steps, such as one of our clients who set targets to eliminate all single-use plastics across the bank by 2020. Voluntary take back schemes are also being adopted; in which businesses will take back plastic products from customers, to ensure that the plastic products are properly recycled and prevented from being left in the ocean. Looking forward to 2018, the war on plastics will only intensify, and businesses must ensure they are not left behind.

 4. Blockchain technology helping to drive sustainable solutions

It has been impossible to escape the hype of blockchain over the past 12 months – it seems the world has gone crazy for the new technology. In summary, blockchain is a distribution database that continuously updates digital records. There is no centralised administrator, rather a network of synchronised ‘nodes’ or computers. So why has this been important to sustainability?

Blockchain can be used for countless purposes. For example, Wal-Mart has trialled using blockchain to trace ‘at risk’ foods, and a UK based start-up Povenance has developed blockchain to help companies map suppliers, and ensure their products come from sustainable origins. Blockchain technology is also considered for carbon credits, as it will allow for carbon emissions and credits to be tracked transparently and securely. This is just the beginning of blockchain, with many companies now racing to catch up. Blockchain is likely to make a serious impact on the sustainability agenda in 2018, and we encourage all businesses to explore how blockchain technology can benefit them.

How should businesses ensure they keep up with the trends and developments in 2018? The key is to devise a sustainability strategy and set clear, measurable targets that align with the business’s goals. Start looking through your supply chain, or take time to research what others in your sector are doing in the sustainability scene. Doing this, will help you determine the key environmental impacts of your business and identify opportunities to be sustainable and improve the value you can offer to your stakeholders. With your mind set on these key developments, deem how sustainability can help your business in 2018.

Imogen Geddes is an analyst at Carbon Smart

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