Eight New Year’s Resolutions for sustainability professionals in 2023 and beyond
From the energy crisis, to biodiversity summits, the last 12 months have delivered seismic shifts across the entirety of the sustainability spectrum. But what does 2023 hold for sustainability professionals? Here, edie outlines eight resolutions that readers are setting for the New Year.
After such a busy year, many of us in the sustainable business space will have taken time to wind down and take stock of 2022 over the winter break.
But it’s clear to see from the headlines and our LinkedIn feeds that the work never truly stops, from the ever-evolving responses to the energy price crisis, to the role of responsible business as the cost of living rises, to the need to address the nature crisis as well as the climate crisis.
With this in mind, we asked edie readers for their New Year’s resolutions for 2023. Here are a selection of the commitments they are making, to inspire your own planning for the year ahead.
1) Getting to grips with decarbonising heat
2022 created many struggles for corporate sustainability, but none more so than the escalating energy crisis, which has seen gas prices soar to eye-watering levels and many businesses wondering how to keep finances in check.
Despite UK Government relief arriving (eventually) in the form of the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, this only runs until the end of March 2023 in its current form, so many energy and sustainability professionals will want to explore ways to switch away from gas while tackling the notoriously difficult task of decarbonising heat.
There are numerous case studies and articles on edie that showcase how businesses are installing and investing in heat pumps to tackle these twin challenges. Why not look through the archives to get some inspiration. It also bears noting that, as the energy crisis continues to evolve, so too will the response from national and local governments. One reader told us of their resolution to better assess what financial and practical support is available and how to access these resoruces.
2) Working with marketing to cut out the greenwash
In early February 2022, we predicted in an opinion piece that greenwashing “would not fly” this year. Our forecast was based on the development of the Green Claims Code in the UK, plus all manner of individual greenwashing cases across the world receiving broad coverage in national and international titles beyond specific environmental titles.
Different cogs in the system seemed to be aligning at the same time to put brands’ environmental claims in the spotlight. Consumers were starting to question more prominent labelling with jargon they did not understand. Investors increased their sustainability-related engagement. Regulators began to solidify frameworks for assessing environmental claims.
We can expect this pressure on brands to continue into 2023. Some brands are already responding by ‘greenhushing’. It was reported in September that fashion retailer Asos had removed its ‘responsible edit’ labelling quietly over the summer, to give one example. More broadly, a survey of 1,200 large businesses by South Pole revealed that one in four do not publish information on their science-based climate targets. 2023 is a good time for a more nuanced approach to sustainability-related claims.
Readers interested in sustainability-related communications are encouraged to mark the week beginning 23 January 2023 in their diaries, as edie will be hosting its annual focus week on the topic. Find out more and register for our online sessions on this topic on 25 January here.
3) Embedding your real business purpose
The Covid-19 pandemic has led businesses of all sizes and sectors to pivot. In many cases, this has gone beyond compliance with lockdown restrictions and responding to supply chain disruption, to re-evaluating the purpose of a business beyond making profits for shareholders.
The trend towards purpose-led business has been gaining traction for several years and, despite the global disruptions experienced in 2022, has continued. Our most-read news story this year concerned Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard announcing plans to allocate all profits not re-invested in the company to environmental causes, as part of a major restructure of ownership.
While Patagonia’s announcement caught the headlines, hundreds of other businesses have been strategizing and implementing changes to maximise their purpose for people and planet. The UK’s B Corp community surpassed 1,000 organisations in November, for example, and more than 5,000 Community Interest Companies were set up in the year to August 2022.
There have also been moves inside organisations which certify sustainable businesses. To give but one example, BrewDog lost is B Corp certification this year following accusations of workplace harassment by former staff. As touched on above, we can expect continued crackdowns on perceived instances of ‘purpose-washing’ in the year to come.
4) Deeply exploring nature-based solutions
2022 was a busy year for green economy news until the very end. 19 December saw the conclusion of the 15th UN Biodiversity COP, with nations finally agreeing on a global treaty to halt the destruction and degradation of nature and to restore ecosystems this decade. Given that the treaty came around two years late and that none of the previous international Aichi targets were met, there was something of a collective sigh of relief as the agreement was made. The news was also welcome after the focus on nature-based solutions as necessary for climate adaptation at COP27.
Now comes the hard work – turning global biodiversity commitments into meaningful change on the ground. Many businesses have already made net-positive commitments for nature, or natural resources such as water. We will likely see more of this in 2023, as well as clarification on how these goals will be met following initial projects.
Beyond the treaty itself, a key driver will be key developments in how corporates are able assess and disclose their nature-related impacts and strategies. The Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) will officially launch its framework in 2023, and we can expect WWF and the SBTi to provide more information on its Forest, Land and Agriculture Guidance (FLAG) for climate accounting. These frameworks will be voluntary at first but savvy leaders will be aware of the fact that mandates will be enforced by 2030, as per the UN’s treaty. As such, preparing for – and promoting – nature taking a higher place on the agenda would be a worthy resolution this year.
5) Thinking handprint, not just footprint
During edie’s Net-Zero November 2022, Mike Townsend, founder and chief executive of Earthshine Group and the author of The Quiet Revolution, penned an in-depth feature looking at actionable steps businesses can take to truly shift the needle on sustainability. One suggestion that caught our eye was to look at “handprints” as well as environmental footprints.
“The drive for net-zero and sustainable business is not just about reducing ecological and carbon footprints, and becoming ‘less bad’ at what we do,” Townsend wrote. “Leading players are also finding significant opportunities to amplify their efforts by improving customer sustainability impacts – helping each and every customer in this way delivers a much greater, aggregate impact – known as the ‘handprint’.”
So, make 2023 the year you look at the entire value chain, account for embodied carbon and deliver wider benefits beyond your own four walls.
6) Becoming a mentor and/or mentee
Sustainability professionals often work alone or as part of small teams. This, plus ever-growing to-do lists, can make it hard to meet new people and take the step back you need to expand your perspective and skillset.
Becoming a mentor and/or receiving reverse mentorship is a potential way around these challenges. Joining networks like edie’s Sustainability Leaders Club and Net-Zero Leaders Club can help to set up this kind of partnership.
7) Upskilling your organisation on sustainability topics
Although many organisations are growing their sustainability teams (GreenBiz Group estimates that three in four large businesses have more professionals with related specialisms than they did in 2020), we know that delivering meaningful change requires buy-in, engagement and actions from other parts of the business.
The May 2022 edition of edie’s Net-Zero Business Barometer, which polled 256 professionals, revealed that 146 of them (57%) believe that motivating and empowering others is the most important trait future sustainable business leaders should have. The other most common answers were ‘collaborating, networking and knowledge-sharing’ and ‘communicating, listening and storytelling’.
In short, it’s clear that leveraging expertise and resource across an organisation is a key part of the profession. The start of the new year is a welcome opportunity to take a step back and assess how best to do this.
8) Look beyond net-zero to net-positive
Our 2022 resolutions list opened with a call for business to set a net-zero target. Fortunately, that is now commonplace; more than 11,000 non-state actors are now signed up to the UN’s Race to Zero initiative.
However, as the climate crisis worsens, the urgency in which society needs to respond increases. Net-zero is arguably a pre-requisite to being a responsible business, so why not make 2023 the year your organisation truly goes above and beyond…by looking beyond net-zero.
A handful of businesses aren’t just looking to eliminate their contribution to the climate crisis, but are actively trying to reverse it through net-positive targets. These targets are aimed at going beyond net-zero and becoming restorative by “getting out of the less bad mindset”. So even as you build towards net-zero, maybe its already time to be looking beyond that. Consider whether your climate goals really go beyond incrementalism, and whether you are planning for the economy-wide shift ahead, including investments in changes now plus emerging technologies for the future.
This is before we even mention the need to not get caught up in ‘carbon tunnel vision’, ensuring that your climate approach intersects with the broader range of material topics for your value chain. One of our readers, Heather K Mak, told us that her resolution is to always pause to consider whose voices are not in the room and what can be done to empower these voices to deliver transformational approaches.
Another reader, Landsec’s Jennie Colville, said her focus will be on “progressing towards net-zero, whilst ensuring no one is left behind within our local communities”. Colville added: “I’ll be focused on exploring how we can work in partnership with the Government, our industry and our supply chains to drive a more unified, equitable approach to delivering a low-carbon society.”
Do you have a different sustainability goal for 2023? Let us know in the comments.
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