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Reports 30 Jan 2020

What’s Next for Sustainable Business?

Trends and Stories to Watch in 2020

By Aiste Brackley, Bron York and Nicola Ledsham

Welcome to SustainAbility’s annual trends report, in which we explore global sustainability issues and trends that will shape the business agenda in 2020.

This year, our report not only looks at the issues and challenges but also highlights some of the most effective emerging solutions.

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SustainAbility has published annual trends forecasts for more than a decade but this is our first set of trends as an ERM Group company. In the last decade, the sustainable business agenda has advanced in many ways but one of the most remarkable shifts has been the growing focus on solutions – not only understanding what issues matter and why but also how the private sector can accelerate change. This year, our report not only looks at the issues and challenges but also highlights some of the most effective emerging solutions.

We are at the start of the “decade of action,” and with just ten years to cut emissions it is no surprise to see the environment dominate this year – from climate and biodiversity to plastics and the circular economy. Climate has long-featured in SustainAbility’s Trends – the emphasis is now on how business is responding to the new reality of a changed climate.

The trends demonstrate the need for companies to identify how these issues interact and the connections between them: the role that biodiversity, especially nurturing soil and forest health, plays in reducing carbon emissions; conservation that increases climate resilience; how the circular economy – keeping materials in use – can reduce emissions and plastic pollution; and the collaboration that is needed to ensure that advances in digital technology yield positive outcomes for all stakeholders.

We have ten years to transform the world – we need every company accelerating and amplifying their positive impact.

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There is a strong focus on the role that business needs to play – through investment and collaboration – in the infrastructure for a more sustainable economy. Whether that is the infrastructure needed to create the secondary markets for a more circular economy or 5G to enable those in underserved markets to access essential products and services.

Change needs to happen deep in supply chains. Technology can play a role in enhancing transparency, enabling access and bringing sustainability into real time. But, beyond a company’s direct operations – whether that is reducing emissions or identifying human rights abuses – is where the real challenge remains. The complexity of global business means if companies are not collaborating with competitors and peers, then it is unlikely they will be able to make the progress needed for a more sustainable economy.

As we move into the next decade we hope to see bolder corporate announcements that are rooted in science and address the legacy of a company’s operations. Such commitments set an expectation for other companies to follow. We have ten years to transform the world – we need every company accelerating and amplifying their positive impact.

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