For people who are into self-development, the end of January is an important time for reflection. Some of us will use the time to judge how well we’ve progressed, or in my case, how much more effort is needed to shed the holiday weight gain… For others, it may a chance to change direction and adopt a new approach to accomplish our goals.
When it comes to progress towards sustainability in our society, it’s also important that we take stock and reflect on the challenges that lie ahead. With the 2010s turning out to be the warmest decade on record and extreme weather events such as the recent Australian wildfires increasing faster than predicted, the need for action has never been greater.
Here’s a look at our progress to date and what we should aspire to work towards in 2020 and the new decade.
Taking stock of Sustainability Action
Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals
Here’s the situation: if we’re to ensure sustainable social, environmental and economic progress outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we have just ten years to complete the transformative action required.
And so far, progress to date hasn’t been the best.
According to key findings from the 2019 SDG Report, while progress has been made in areas such as extreme poverty reduction, widespread immunization and decreasing child mortality rates, levels of climate change are rising, with carbon dioxide concentration and ocean acidity levels increasing drastically. As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres urges, “it’s abundantly clear that we need a much deeper, faster global and more ambitious response…to unleash the social and economic transformation needed to achieve [the] 2030 goals.”
Thankfully, a surge in public demand for sustainable development is causing a global awakening. With greater concerns for sustainability issues from Millennials and increasing examples of climate change activism led by Greta Thunberg and other inspiring figures, there has been a better opportunity for action.
Businesses’ Sustainability Performance
The business world has also started to wake up to sustainability issues. As a key driver in the push for the sustainable transformation of the global economy, leadership and engagement from business are essential to accomplishing the SDGs. However, according to the 2019 UN Global Compact Progress Report, contributions from businesses towards the SDGs are currently not enough, with roughly 48% of member companies implementing sustainability practices into their operations. It’s clear that businesses need to make a dramatic shift to their approach to corporate sustainability by raising ambitions within their own companies through responsible leadership and honest and transparent communication to deliver tangible and sustainable impacts.
‘The Decade of Action’
Coined by the UN Global Compact at the World Economic Forum at Davos last week, ‘The Decade of Action’ couldn’t be more a more accurate reflection for what’s needed from sustainability efforts in the future. If we are to accomplish the SDGs set for 2030, 2020 needs to become a tipping point for large-scale commitment to sustainable business. Here’s a brief look at what we can expect for 2020.
Trends for the 2020s
While unsustainable trends such as increased fracking from fossil fuel companies and large-scale deforestation from food companies continue, there are also plenty of sustainable trends that are on the rise and give us reasons to be optimistic about our future. The State of Green Business 2020 report released earlier this month details just some of the exiting business trends expected for 2020. From the rise of employee sustainability activism to the number of companies issuing sustainability reports, the business world can expect a sustainability shakeup in the next decade. We predict to see a lot of activities in these areas from businesses looking to lead and capture interest from sustainability stakeholders over the next few years.
Circularity goes Mainstream
Once considered a theoretical approach to business management, circular models are likely to become the core strategy for value-chains. By taking a innovate approach to material flows throughout business’ operations, the increase of circular business will allow for reduced numbers of raw material extractions and reduce the amount of end-use waste generated by products and services. IKEA’s goal to become a fully circular business by 2030 recognises of the intrinsic value that circular methods can offer business. With increasing circular opportunities identified through strategy frameworks and life-cycle assessments (LCAs), we believe we’ll see a shift towards closing material loops, for good.
Sustainability for the SME
As sustainability criteria impact mainstream business decisions for larger companies, smaller companies and members of larger supply chains can also expect increased sustainability requirements in the future. While we should applaud sustainable efforts from larger companies to date, we should also encourage other smaller enterprises to follow in their footsteps and drive progress forward. With more and more SMEs and entrepreneurial start-ups using innovative solutions to solve current sustainability issues, we expect an explosion of SME interest in sustainability.
Ten years to transform
We’ve made a start, but we need more commitment from business leaders today if we’re to deliver on the SDGs. And we need it now. There’s still time to mobilise solutions to the world’s sustainability issues, but we need purposeful leadership, ambitious targets and transparent commitments to progress. Here’s to the 2020s and to ushering in a new era of sustainable ambition.