Four sustainability predictions for 2022
As we reflect on the impact of Covid-19 and the outcomes of COP26, the year 2022 is an important one. Forward momentum is critical, as is explained by James Robey of Capgemini.
Will companies successfully move towards decarbonisation? How will businesses adapt to our changing climate?
I look ahead to what I see as four key predictions for sustainable business in the coming year, reflecting on my own experiences of these trends.
Systems thinking continues to spread
Think back over the last two years and a common theme has been supply chain disruption. The pandemic spotlighted the interdependencies between organisations. I believe these independencies – this interconnectedness – will be integral as companies plan how to function within lower carbon parameters. Systems thinking places emphasis on the network of relationships between different actors. It’s not new, but pre-pandemic most corporate sustainability planning remained linear in nature, for instance with a focus on the value chain.
I predict that industry will increasingly apply systems thinking to sustainability planning in 2022. One example would be to shift from a focus on the value chain, to a focus on the value network. By recognising a company’s wider network of relationships – and the relationships that multiple actors in a value chain share – complex challenges that are too large for individual businesses can start to be addressed.
Corporates face increased scrutiny
When it comes to carbon-neutral or net-zero commitments, I’ve been vocal about the lack of transparency in many of the carbon claims and targets set in recent years. While scrutiny of corporate pledges is not something new, I predict that 2022 will be a year of closer inspection for climate commitments in terms of absolute carbon reductions and scope. Sectors that previously received little attention will find themselves under the microscope. Credibility will be questioned.
What can business do? Be transparent. Define terms. Have a genuine commitment led from the top. And speak authentically about plans. At Capgemini, we are building on our previously defined net-zero ambition, committing to achieve net-zero emissions well before 2050 as defined by the Science Based Target initiatives’ new Corporate Net-Zero Standard. This is the world’s first framework for net-zero target setting consistent with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. It’s designed to focus on increased decarbonisation goals and to minimise greenwashing.
Adaptation emerges onto the business agenda
The Glasgow Climate Pact holds the door ajar for global warming to be limited to 1.5°C, but only if quick and concerted action is taken to deliver countries’ commitments. Industry is watching what governments do next, mindful that the time to prepare for climate change is now. This is set against a backdrop of volatile energy prices and ever-increasing extreme weather, underscoring how sudden changes in businesses’ operating environments can be.
I predict that due to this uncertainty, businesses will place greater focus on climate adaptation strategies in 2022. This will be bolstered by the growing requirements for companies to gather and share understanding of their exposure to climate risks and mitigation actions, through reporting requirements such as the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations and the European Union’s Taxonomy. This isn’t to say that corporate carbon reduction commitments won’t remain a priority; rather that adaptation planning will emerge onto the agenda for business.
Companies will seek innovations that solve immediate critical issues, for example flood risks. Innovations will also be sought to address longer term challenges, such as tackling potential global food shortages through initiatives like Project FARM – where small-scale farmers can use artificial intelligence to improve agricultural efficiency.
Companies innovate and invest to tackle the sustainability skills shortage
Many industries face a skills shortage – technology, engineering and health services to name a few relevant to the UK. Businesses now also face a sustainability skills shortage. Without appropriate sustainability knowledge, companies will struggle to meet climate mitigation and adaptation plans.
To change this, businesses will need to innovate and invest in developing sustainability skills. I predict this will be an important focus for companies in 2022. Businesses will look to strengthen the sustainability knowledge of existing employees, as appropriate for their jobs. Everyone needs to understand how their role fits into their company’s sustainability ambitions, but some roles will require a more detailed understanding. This knowledge base will be complemented by buying in specialised skills. For example, organisations would more likely seek support in applying technologies like artificial intelligence to help cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Looking beyond our own specialised sustainability team members, we kickstarted our internal transformation at Capgemini in 2020 with a new sustainability learning platform accessible by all of our 300,000 employees. Last year, we also accelerated employee mobilisation through a global, idea-sharing campaign called Climate Circles. From my perspective, the strong commitment from the top, including our CEO, has been central to creating a culture of sustainability learning that leads to action – one that is set to last well beyond 2022. By unleashing the understanding and energy of people across our business, we’ll make possible the systemic change needed to address sustainability challenges.
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