How You Can Help Accelerate the Sustainable Transition in the New Year

January 11, 2022 EcoVadis ‏‏‎

With the breadth of challenges facing humanity, each new year gives us the collective opportunity to reflect on the progress we’ve made toward creating a more sustainable future for all. And while the pandemic has highlighted the weaknesses of our interconnected global society, it has also reinforced that collaboration is needed across every region, every sector of our economy and every segment of society to address our current problems. But above all, it has shown that we have the capacity to achieve rapid change if we all play our part.

Collaboration around sustainability came in many different forms in 2021: governments and international bodies released an ever-growing cadre of climate-related regulations and standards, investors increasingly signaled that ESG will be central to the future of the financial sector, companies set science-based climate and net-zero targets at a greater pace than ever before, and the general public demanded more focused climate action through growing grassroots movements and protests around the latest Conference of the Parties (COP) in Glasgow.

Progress is being made on many fronts, but the pace of change needs to significantly accelerate if we are to meet increasingly ambitious targets and build a world that puts the well-being of people, and our planet, first. While those most responsible for climate change (re: large, industrialized nations and corporations) must lead the way, it is becoming abundantly clear that we all must do our part within our own spheres of influence if we are to rapidly scale the sustainable transition.

With that in mind, here are a few ways you can help drive the transition in 2022.

1)  Help Grow the Circular Economy

According to the 2021 Circularity Gap Report, the global economy churns through a staggering 100 billion tonnes of materials annually. Only 8.6% of this total is utilized again in some form, a bleak statistic that implies a profound range of negative consequences for global ecosystems and communities. Enhancing circularity across key sectors, such as food, plastics and steel, could not only reduce emissions by up to 3.7 billion tons by 2050 but yield $4.5 trillion in economic opportunity.

As an individual:
Supporting the circular economy as a consumer requires a fundamental shift in the way you view products and their lifecycles. Consuming less is still crucial but buying from companies that are rolling out innovative circularity approaches (like Patagonia’s repair and take-back program or IKEA’s furniture buy-back scheme) is the next best option and will ultimately encourage more companies to follow suit.

As a business leader:
Virtually every company, regardless of size or sector, is capable of contributing to the circularity transformation. And with “circular economy” ranking as one of the fastest-growing skills among professionals on LinkedIn in 2019, it’s clear that the capacity to make strategic decisions through a strategic circularity lens is more widespread than ever. The recently launched Circularity Gap Reporting initiative’s toolkit is a good starting point for your company.

2)  Rethink How You Travel and Work

In 2020, COVID-19 caused global air travel to grind to a relative halt, with flights down by two-thirds relative to the previous year. While 2021 has seen a significant uptick in air travel, the ongoing pandemic is continuing to reshape the industry. Contributing to this industry transformation are growing discussions around the ethics of carbon-intensive travel – like the “flight shame” movement that has gained ground in Sweden – and the rise of remote working.

As an individual:
When you do decide to travel, curb your emissions by embracing “slow travel”. In contrast to frenetic tourism to a number of destinations, this concept emphasizes spending more time in fewer locations and goes hand-in-hand with less carbon-intensive modes of transportation. The new remote-working options that many companies are offering will help facilitate this switch.

As a business leader:
The pandemic has decisively ushered in the age of virtual business. Weighing the factors of cost, environmental impact and employee demand for greater flexibility, companies are redirecting funds previously earmarked for business travel toward technology that enables greater remote connectivity. In particular, developing new models of work that can be sustained even beyond the pandemic will be crucial for attracting and retaining top talent in the future.

3)  Engage and Communicate With Your Peers

The fundamental ingredient in the sustainability transition is collaboration – engaging and communicating with your peers is essential to the success of any efforts related to not only climate action but also the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Such collaboration must take place at every level, from the smallest of grassroots movements to the C-suites of the largest multinational companies.

As an individual:
Building a critical mass of people who deeply care about and are engaged on sustainability issues is vital to accelerating the transition. Research has found that a 25% societal threshold is typically needed to significantly influence the opinion and behavior of the majority. The researchers concluded that “the power of small groups comes not from their authority or wealth, but from their commitment to the cause”. In 2022, it’s important to find new ways to communicate this commitment among your peers and encourage more to join the movement.

As a business leader:
“Every job is a climate job now” – this sentiment captures the mindset that business leaders should bring into the new year. No matter your industry, there is scope to engage in actions that positively impact both the climate and communities around the globe. In particular, with COP26 highlighting the need for the private sector to accelerate net-zero efforts, it is crucial for companies to develop science-based targets and strategies around decarbonization. The EcoVadis Carbon Action Module, which provides a comprehensive toolkit to prioritize, engage and drive emissions reductions, can help you work toward this in 2022.

4)  Reframe Your Perspective and Scale Your Impact

While sustainability has been steadily moving up the corporate agenda in recent years, many companies still view it through a “risk” lens rather than an “impact” one. However, this is rapidly changing as more companies realize that taking decisive action on sustainability issues can yield myriad benefits across the value chain, from building resilience to unlocking new opportunities and generating revenue (explored further in our 2021 Barometer report).

As an individual:
Scale your personal impact by ensuring that your investments are aligned with environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria. Investment in sustainable assets has soared since the pandemic to a total of $35 trillion. This fundamental shift in capital is set to continue as more governments roll out ESG-related regulations and evidence shows that investment in ESG assets helps reduce portfolio risk and increase returns.

As a business leader:
By shifting your organization’s focus from risk mitigation to scaling impact, you can unlock opportunities throughout your value chain and positively impact a range of sustainability issues. Collaboration, both internal and external, is crucial to this reframing. As a starting point, engage and rally your executive team around an impact approach and identify champions in all departments – from procurement to sales to finance – that can help drive holistic sustainable change. Once you have achieved this, focus on scaling your impact by collaborating with industry peers and joining emerging initiatives that focus on addressing global and sector-specific sustainability challenges.

Driving change throughout your supply chain is crucial to scaling positive impact. If you do not already have a sustainable procurement program – or you need to upgrade your existing one – now is the time to get started. The EcoVadis solution, underpinned by a powerful technology platform and the Sustainability Intelligence Suite, can provide you with the insights you need to move from maintaining compliance to achieving impact at scale in the new year.

Looking Forward

As the global pandemic stretches into its third year, the vulnerabilities of our interconnected society have never been more apparent. However, in the face of all obstacles, it appears we may have reached a key inflection point in the fight against climate change. The new year presents an opportunity for us – in both our personal and professional lives – to push for a more equitable and sustainable future for all.

 

About the Author

EcoVadis ‏‏‎

EcoVadis is the world’s most trusted provider of business sustainability ratings, intelligence and collaborative performance improvement tools for global supply chains. Backed by a powerful technology platform and a global team of domain experts, EcoVadis’ easy-to-use and actionable sustainability scorecards provide detailed insight into environmental, social and ethical risks across 200+ purchasing categories and 160+ countries.

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