22 New Year's resolutions for sustainability professionals in 2022 and beyond
From impeached Presidents to billionaire space races, 2021 will be remembered for the bizarre, but also for the growing climate movement that delivered a new 'climate pact' at COP26. But what does 2022 hold for sustainability professionals? Here, edie outlines climate 22 goals for 2022.
After such a hectic and landmark year, many of us in the sustainable business space will have taken time to wind down and take stock of 2021 over the winter break.
But it's clear to see from the headlines and our LinkedIn feeds that the work never truly stops, from misinformation around the energy price crisis, to calls for more joined-up green policymaking as the economic recovery from Covid-19 continues.
With this in mind, edie has highlighted 22 aspirational new goals that professionals can work towards to help drive business prosperity while alleviating some key environmental and planetary concerns.
1) Set out a plan to reach net-zero…
Since the UK legislated for net-zero by 2050 in 2019, the conversation is widely regarded as having moved past target-setting and into a phase of detailed planning and delivery. After all, there are now just eight years left to halve global net emissions in line with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Speaking at edie's recent SPARK! Workshop event, Mullaley's director of sustainability and corporate governance Peter Sharman said his main professional goal is to set out a "very clear roadmap" to net-zero.
2) … and make sure your organisation’s net-zero approach is collaborative
Speaking to edie shortly before the festive break, National Grid’s chief sustainability officer Duncan Burt said he will – and others should – place “significant focus” on “leveraging the momentum of COP26 through collaboration with government, industry and business to deliver zero-carbon energy, accelerate the transition and seize the chance to keep 1.5C in sight”.
After a two-year lead-up to Glasgow and a whirlwind of a summit, it would be all too easy to rest on our laurels. But by forging meaningful partnerships and effective communications, professionals can lean on each other’s strengths and maximise their impact.
3) Properly consider your role in delivering a just transition
From 2023, large businesses in some high-emitting sectors will be mandated, by the UK Government, to publish net-zero transition plans with details on how workers and communities will be supported. In other words, the talk of the green recovery that was so loud during 2020 and early 2021 may be quieter, but policymakers are now taking steps to push the transition from theory to reality.
There is, of course, more at stake than simple fines for non-compliance with regulation. As the World Benchmarking Alliance’s social transformation lead Dan Neale explained to edie in a recent interview, businesses with poor just transition plans will likely lose out financially sooner than they are expecting. Potential risks include issues recruiting and retaining talent; loss of investor support and physical risks to assets.
4) Avoid carbon tunnel vision
IEMA recently invited edie’s senior reporter Sarah George to chair a virtual panel on net-zero strategy and delivery, featuring experts from National Grid, Kew Gardens, the NHS, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
Several questions came in from the thousands of audience members on how sustainability professionals can, in 2022 and beyond, avoid seeing net-zero as the be-all and end-all, making decisions that factor in all parts of environmental sustainability. For example, a poorly planned renewable energy array can harm biodiversity, as can biomass.
There was a general agreement that awareness is the first step, followed by robust materiality assessments and forecasting, then good communications.
5) Upskill your organisation on sustainability topics
edie's Business Barometer, which polled 161 CSR and sustainability managers in summer 2021, found that 85% believe engagement and behaviour change is an important short-term priority on the road to net-zero.
Judging by how busy the workshop relating to these topics at the SPARK! Workshops were, this focus is continuing into 2022. Turner & Townsend's principal sustainability consultant Maria Spyrou, who chaired this workshop, said her resolution is to gather information on how well team members understand sustainability and deliver tailored education from this baseline.
6) Engage the public with decarbonisation
Also speaking at SPARK! was One Home's chief executive Angela Terry. After delivering an impassioned panel speech on how recent policy decisions have sent "mixed messages" on the environment to the UK public and UK Plc, she told us of a professional resolution to help the public better understand carbon jargon - and to not conflate the low-carbon transition with a higher cost of living.
7) Take a more joined-up approach to nature
When edie called Wonderoom’s founder Mairead Cahill for a catch-up, she said she would like to see more of her peers resolving to “harness the full power and opportunity that Nature-Based Solutions present to deliver biodiversity, climate, people and business benefits”.
Cahill said: “Go beyond looking attree-planting and offsets, and into a rounded view on where and how your business can generate most impact and value – from investing in strategically aligned nature-based solutions, to purchasing the ecosystem services they provide; to engaging your people in projects that also create learning and development opportunities, and to exploring broader assets you have that may be useful in supporting Nature-based solutions”.
8) Get to grips with Scope 3 emissions…
According to CDP, the average large business will have indirect (Scope 3) emissions some 11.4 times greater than its direct emissions. Properly addressing Scope 3 is, therefore, key to delivering a credible net-zero approach.
Speaking to edie at SPARK!, Arcus' environment and sustainability lead Kathryn Ebrey said measuring and reducing emissions across the whole value chain will be a focus for 2022.
9) … And properly support your suppliers
For most firms, purchased goods and services will account for a sizeable proportion of Scope 3 emissions. So, tying back to the points on net-zero strategy, delivery will not be possible without properly collaborating with suppliers.
Larger suppliers may well be facing the same regulatory and reputational pressures as your organisation, and also have the finance and skills in-house to undertake activities like emissions accounting and target setting. But there is a growing body of research highlighting how many SMEs will not operate in this context and will need extra support.
Simply pressuring suppliers, especially smaller firms, to set and deliver science-based emissions cuts, is not likely to be enough. Taking a more context-based and holistic approach would be a good resolution for 2022.
10) Explore how your organisation’s products and services can help the wider net-zero transition
During a recent SustyTalk video discussion, Virgin Media O2's head of corporate responsibility and sustainability Tracey Herald outlined how the company was planning to explore how its technology services and solutions could help with the UK’s wider net-zero transition.
11) Become an activist investor
In 2021, campaigns like Make My Money Matter (MMM) directed attention to how moving your money or engaging with your bank, insurance and pensions providers can significantly lower your personal carbon footprint. MMM claims that greening your pension could save 21 times more carbon than going vegetarian, switching to renewable energy domestically and quitting flying.
It is clear to see, then, how the value of helping your organisation’s finance team assess pensions and investment could multiply this effect.
There was, at the same time, an uptick in climate-related shareholder resolutions being filed at finance and fossil fuel giants. In a personal capacity, you may wish to invest in polluting companies purely to support activist investor resolutions for the 2022 AGM season.
12) Be a better ally
An often-quoted statistic on diversity in environmental professions comes from the NUS, which found in 2018 that more than 95% of UK-based professionals are white, compared to 87% of the population. This makes the sector one of the least racially diverse in the country, and that is before intersections with class, disability and the LGBTQ+ community are considered.
For the recent Christmas Special of edie's podcast, Diversity in Sustainability's co-founder Heather Mak dialled in from Canada to provide some practical steps on how professionals can better support peers from marginalised groups and advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion in their organisation and beyond.
Mak highlighted the importance of teams "turning the spotlight on themselves" and assessing how business models and team processes could be upholding old barriers. Diversity in Sustainability's recent report also lists more recommendations in depth.
13) Grow your team
The ILO estimates that there will be 24 million green-collar jobs created between 2021 and 2030, and the likelihood is that your LinkedIn feed over the past year or so will have been filled with adverts for new roles, as businesses seek to deliver net-zero.
With pressure for sustainable business coming from the top-down and bottom-up, and more C-suites now realising the pressing need to de-silo sustainability and deliver true culture change, now is a prime moment to pitch for additions to your team. This handy explainer from MIT Sloan, on trends in sustainability jobs, may help your case.
14) Become a mentor and/or mentee
Tying in to point 13, 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.
15) Prepare for TCFD requirements
The UK Government confirmed, just before COP26, that large companies will be mandated to disclose information in alignment with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) from April 2022. Spring 2023 was also floated as a date but, ultimately, the quicker course of action was chosen.
edie's recent edie Explains guide on TCFD reporting, published in association with Inspired Energy, can help your organisation prepare for this new requirement.
16) Evolve your approach to the green recovery
Throughout 2020 and early 2021, edie evolved its ongoing 'Mission Possible' campaign to focus on the need to create a green recovery from Covid-19, providing sector-specific snapshots and resources.
In the months to have followed, it's clear that most investment from nations has been flowing into a 'business-as-usual' recovery rather than a green one. The Covid-19 situation itself has also changed, with vaccine rollouts accelerating in some geographies and stalling in others as Omicron spreads. Now would be a prime time to properly reassess your organisation's plans for pairing positive social, environmental and financial outcomes at this moment in time.
17) Scale-up circular business models
Circle Economy's annual report this time last year revealed that 39% of global annual emissions could be mitigated by a global circular economy shift. Awareness of the links between materials and climate has been growing ever since.
The logistics of refill, reuse, repairing and sharing have been hard during the pandemic, but many businesses and projects in these fields have continued to receive strong backing from investors. With investors and consumers increasingly aware of how many larger brands are under-investing in these offerings, you can explain to your board that they may well look elsewhere, to more innovative firms, unless you make the change.
18) Build in board-level accountability
The importance of having board-level buy-in has been emphasised many times by sustainability professionals. But in the digital age, where greenwashing and poor environmental performance face enhanced scrutiny from investors and the public, board-level accountability is becoming increasingly important.
Recent PwC research found that around two-thirds of FTSE100 firms now link executive pay to at least one ESG metric, up from less than one-half in 2020. Building in accountability using this approach, or similar, may be on your to-do list for 2022.
19) Keep pushing for policy changes
2021 was, undeniably, a major year for green policy changes. COP26 saw top-level commitments on decarbonisation, climate adaptation and cleantech made by several nations and, here in the UK, the long-term net-zero goal was fleshed out with moves like the Sixth Carbon Budget, Heat and Buildings Strategy and Transport Decarbonisation Plan.
But there is clearly still a lot of work to be done. Pledges made at COP26 will put the world on track for 1.8C - 2.4C of warming (depending on which forecast you read) - but this isn't enough to safeguard the most exposed nations and communities. Moreover, unless the pledges are delivered in full, we will face a far warmer world.
Businesses and people, working in collaboration, have effected green policy change several times in recent months, and this will likely continue into 2022. Case studies include the moving of the UK's petrol and diesel car ban forward to 2030. Policies on the horizon include the Agriculture Bill and Resources and Waste Strategy.
Many sustainability professionals and businesses are also, at present, campaigning for amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. In its current form, it will drastically reduce the right to peaceful protest on all topics, including climate.
20) Open yourself to dialogue with youth
September 2019 saw the largest Climate Strike in Europe to date taking place in London. While previous events have mainly attracted crowds of youth activists, this event saw businesses marching in solidarity in considerable numbers, including architects and engineers.
Some leading businesses and individual professionals alike have continued to support youth sustainability work going forward, but it's still been far more common to see social media posts of admiration, or one-off donations, than actual dialogue.
At COP26, edie caught up with Natura & Co's chief brand, innovation, international and sustainability officer Andrea Alvares. She spoke on the podcast about the importance of listening to challenges from activists authentically, ahead of an event featuring the Body Shop's 'youth council'. Click here for the council members' takes on what youth activists expect from businesses claiming to be sustainable.
21) Get others to ‘look up’
The movie Don’t Look Up arrived on Netflix over the festive period and despite its satirical nature, it provides a bizarre sense of accuracy for those playing their part in attempting to respond to the climate crisis.
The film is based on astronomers who discover a planet-ending comet and are cast into the world of mainstream media mockery and political denial, feats that are alarmingly close to the response to the climate crisis to date. During the film, a movement emerges calling on society to “look up” and watch as the comet approaches earth.
Efforts to reach net-zero by 2050 at the latest still seem like a long way off and can therefore be dismissed by some members of society as a long-term endeavor rather than an urgent shift in behaviours that are required today. As such, the role of sustainability professionals, experts and activists is to get others to “look up” by embracing everyday changes that can make a difference in combatting the climate crisis. In short, getting others to look up requires sustainability professionals to become agents of change.
22) Acknowledge your successes
Delivering truly transformational approaches to sustainability can feel like swimming against a tide – one filled to the brim with fossil fuel subsidies, short-term business models and environmental trade-offs.
Yet some businesses really are striving for change across the sustainability spectrum, and for every negative headline that is splashed across the news sites it is important to recap the successes you’ve helped deliver to date, or to get inspired by others.
edie’s Sustainability Leaders Awards and Forum will take place in February and acts as the ideal platform to get insight from corporate leaders and celebrate the best projects, initiatives and strategies that are aimed at combatting the climate crisis.
Find out more information about the Forum here, or read up on last year’s award winners to see if you feel your achievements should be acknowledged when entries for our awards reopen later in the year.