From coffee cup solutions to Tesla launches: edie's top 10 sustainability stories of 2017

The year has thrown up some truly memorable sustainability success stories from across the world. Here, edie has rounded up 10 of the best stories of 2017.

Take a look back at 10 of the biggest sustainability stories that edie reported on in 2017

Take a look back at 10 of the biggest sustainability stories that edie reported on in 2017

It was a year that saw major policy decisions, big green investments and significant sustainability pledges from businesses small and large. In this top-10 round-up of 2017, edie highlights some of the standout news stories our readers were particularly keen to read and shout about throughout the year.

(Click the headings to read the full stories) 

1) Costa Coffee’s national cup recycling scheme with Veolia

One of edie’s most-read articles of the year, this story exhibited a decision made by one of the UK's biggest coffee chains to enter the war on waste coffee cups, with the rollout of a pioneering cup recycling scheme to more than 2,000 of its stores across the UK.

The announcement, from Whitbread-owned Costa Coffee, came less than a year after the highly complex issue of coffee cup recycling was brought to light by celebrity chef-turned environmental campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his Hugh’s War on Waste TV programme. Costa was singled out by Fearnley-Whittingstall as one of the retailers that had been "misleading" customers when it came to their cups being recyclable.

This partnership between Costa and Veolia soon followed, and is reflective of collaborative efforts now being taken by designers, manufacturers, vendors and consumers to solve the UK’s waste problem (less than 1% of disposable coffee cups recycled in the UK).

This announcement came in the same year as a campaign coordinated by major coffee retailers such as Caffé Nero, Costa and Starbucks in the London Square Mile managed to recycle half a million coffee cups in the capital in one month.

2) Ikea offers home energy systems alongside solar panels

2017 was the year that energy storage officially stamped its mark on the sustainability agenda, following the UK Government's plan to invest £246m in battery technology. The global energy storage market looks to mirror the rapid growth the solar industry experienced between 2000 and 2015, with experts predicting that the market will double six times by 2030.

Energy managers from many major companies have revealed they are exploring the potential of battery storage technologies on their estates. In this particular story, Ikea took the energy storage movement one step further, by offering a new domestic battery storage solution for its consumers.

The new Solar Battery Storage solution from the Swedish furniture retailer is designed to link up with installed solar panels on homes to store surplus renewable energy. Making the announcement at the time, Ikea highlighted that there was no better time for households to take back control of their electricity bills and maximise savings by switching to solar and storage.

3) What can blockchain do for sustainability?

Technology is having a transformative effect and the Fourth Industrial Revolution is driving an era of unprecedented technological change. Early on in the year, PwC went to great lengths to map out the ‘essential eight’ emerging technologies that reflect the development of increasingly autonomous, adaptive and connected machines, all of which can unlock new benefits for business and sustainability.

There is one particular emerging technology that has created a real buzz in the sustainability sphere over the past 12 months – blockchain. Acting as a digital ledger, blockchain creates a verifiable audit trail that can be used for any transaction, and this is where its impact on sustainability begins to take shape. Blockchain can be implemented – and in some cases, is already used – across numerous sectors, from forestry and fisheries to carbon accounting and energy.

A recent survey from edie showed that, perhaps unsurprisingly due to its complex nature, most sustainability professionals are unaware how blockchain works. Despite this lack of understanding, blockchain has been labelled as “revolutionary”, with the World Economic Forum Report stating that around 10% of GDP will be stored on blockchain by 2025. Already, more than $1bn has been funnelled into blockchain start-ups between 2014 and 2016.

Love it, hate it, or still don't understand it, this edie story explored the potential that blockchain could have for the sustainability community. And we can expect to hear plenty more about how blockchain is shaking up the sustainability agenda in 2018...

4) Sustainability megatrends series

What will the world look like in five, 10, 50 or 500 years' time? That was the crucial question underpinning edie's in-depth report into five global megatrends that are shaping the future of corporate sustainability.

The 20-page megatrends report explored the business impact of five global forces of development: climate change; technology and innovation; population growth and social change; urbanisation and smart cities; and economic growth.

Presented at the edie Live 2017 exhibition in April, the report combined a series of thought-leadership articles with an array of key facts and stats, infographics and the results of an audience survey to provide readers with an end-to-end overview of how these megatrends are impacting business, now and in the future.

This was edie's most-read report of 2017, earning it a place on this top-10 list.

5) The Government’s triumvirate of green policy legislation

This point on the list relates to not one, not two, but THREE stories. 

In terms of policy developments affecting the UK’s sustainability movement, we have unquestionably come a long way since the start of 2017, when the watchword on every sustainability professional’s lips was ‘uncertainty’.

Despite numerous delays and widespread concerns about the Government’s commitment to driving the UK towards a green economy, 2017 was the year that ministers eventually made good on promises to establish landmark pieces of legislation to improve the country’s environment and provide clarity for low-carbon, resource-efficient business investments.

First up was the Government’s much-awaited air quality plan published in the summer, which sought to rectify the country’s illegal toxic air levels. The document pleasantly surprised many energy and environment professionals with the inclusion of a pledge to ban all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from British streets by 2040.

The plan was then followed by the Clean Growth and Industrial strategies - sister documents that the Government will utilise to work in tandem to foster the role of clean technology and innovation in boosting the UK's long-term economic prospects.

6) Tesla’s Model 3 launch

What would a list of sustainability stories be without the inclusion of a Tesla car launch? Business magnate and entrepreneur Elon Musk has made great strides this year in his bold vision to revolutionise the transport sector with environmentally-friendly vehicles, through eye-catching new models such as the world’s fastest supercar, which, of course, will be fully electric.  

With the UK Government’s plan to ban all new petrol and diesel cars and vans, all eyes are turning to the likes of Tesla to scale-up EVs as an affordable, mass-market option. Enter the firm's lowest-cost electric vehicle to date: the Model 3. The company officially launched the four-door sedan in July by delivering the first 30 units to employees at the electric-car maker's factory in Fremont, California.

While it is believed that the first few purchases will stick near the $35,000 figure, US carmakers are phased-out of a credit scheme once they sell more than 250,000 vehicles that offer certain incentives such as low-emissions.

With Tesla hoping to finalise locations for at least two new Gigafactories by the end of 2017, production levels of the company's vehicles, including the Model 3, could vastly increase.

7) Interface unveils ‘carbon-negative’ carpet tiles prototype


Interface is renowned for its innovative approach to sustainability research and design. Since 1996, the global flooring manufacturer has reduced its cradle-to-gate carbon emissions from products from an average of 20kg per square metre to around 7kg.

The US-based firm continued its impressive sustainability legacy in emphatic style in June 2017 with the creation of a first-of-its-kind carpet tile with a negative carbon footprint... Yes, carbon-negative. The Proof Positive prototype tiles have a carbon footprint of minus 2kg, meaning that atmospheric emissions are actually reduced after the manufacturing process. 

At the time, Interface noted that while only a prototype, the product could become a “critical solution” to reversing climate change if produced at mass-scale.

8) How to solve the plastics problem: edie's live webinar

The scale of the plastics challenge has been laid bare in 2017: evidence shows that more than eight million tonnes of plastic are seeping into our oceans every year. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 95% of the value of plastic packaging material, worth $80-120bn annually, is lost from the economy and, based on current trajectories, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean (by weight) by 2050.

But the fact remains that plastics are indispensable in our modern world, with demand expected to double in the next 20 years. Clearly, a co-ordinated and collaborative response to this problem is needed, and needed fast.

Earlier this month, edie’s live webinar brought together retailers, manufactures and circular economy experts to discuss how we can achieve a much-needed shift in mindsets to catalyse change in this global material flow and rethink the plastics economy. As Adam Hall, head of sustainability at Surfdome, concluded in the webinar, “every single piece of plastic, in every part of the supply chain, matters.”

This turned out to be edie's most-watched webinar of 2017, with hundreds of sustainability professionals tuning in to hear the thoughts of representatives from Interface, P&G, Surfdome and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. You can watch the full webinar on-demand here.

9) Christiana Figueres exclusive interview

edie has taken a new approach to exclusive interviews in 2017, ensuring that the editorial team delivers first-hand expert insight from at least one high-profile sustainability leader every week. A standout example of these leader interviews is our chat with former UN Climate chief Christiana Figueres, a highly influential figure in structuring the historic climate deal agreed in Paris in December 2015.

Speaking with edie after an event hosted by The Ocean Generation about the immediate effects of climate change back in October, Figueres expressed confidence that the amount of businesses taking a leading stance on the Paris Agreement goals will hit critical mass "pretty soon".

Figueres, who recently launched the Mission 2020 campaign with an aim to "bend the curve" on global emissions in three years, claimed that it is the so-called “middle chunk” of businesses now entering the low-carbon fray that will enable the world to “move the needle” in reducing emissions to keep global warming well below 2C.

Figueres' pearls of wisdom were well-received by the edie audience, and this was in fact one of our most-read stories of 2017.

10) Sustainable Business Covered podcast: Live from edie Live

edie’s highly successful Sustainable Business Covered podcast continued to hit the airwaves in 2017, bringing expert sustainability insights through more than a dozen new episodes, including a brand new interview format for sustainability leaders, known as the green room.

Sustainable Business Covered hit the ground running this year with a special two-part episode broadcast live from the edie Live show floors, incorporating an array of interviews with some of the standout speakers from the event. 

Part one saw the edie team speak with business leaders from the likes of PwC Marks and Spencer, with the two-part episode concluding with insights from Vodafone, BT and Interface.

You can listen to part one below, and subscribe to the edie podcast for FREE on iTunes here.

George Ogleby


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