Last week, GreenBiz held its seventh annual webinar on the State of Green Business. The webinar presented the top ten sustainable business trends of 2014. These trends represent what the GreenBiz team has identified as the most important factors that will shape corporate sustainability this year. A full report of the webinar can be found here.
1. “Collaboration Becomes An Accelerator”
GreenBiz has recognized business-to-business collaboration as one of the most important trends for 2014. As stated in the GreenBiz webinar report, company collaboration is “proving to be a potent tool for accelerating change within a sector, and particularly within a supply chain.” Collaboration will continue to be used as a central tool as businesses pursue greater sustainability.
“Chemical Transparency Creates a Window of Opportunity”
Several factors are coming together to accelerate corporate action on hazardous chemicals. California’s Green Chemistry Initiative represents a big leap in the regulatory sector. This law is forcing companies that sell goods in the state to take a closer look at the chemicals in their products, and replace harmful ones. Some large retailers, particularly Walmart and Target, are also driving change by independently responding to a growing number of studies and increasing public concern about chemicals by demanding that their suppliers disclose the ingredients they use or promise to cut out dangerous substances. These combined factors are breaking down the business-as-usual approach and providing an opportunity for the growth of green chemistry.
3. “Water Rises as a Risk Factor”
Water is absolutely essential to people and, in fact, to many companies. Water shortages in the supply chain can be disastrous. In recent years it has become one of the biggest global risk factors. GreenBiz asserts that companies increasingly have to compete with households and agriculture for the valuable commodity. Some corporations are being used as scapegoats for shortages and contamination incidents. GreenBiz also points out that the risks associated with water are not only to do with physical access, but also regulatory and reputational. Managing the risks associated with water will continue to be a top priority for many companies in 2014.
4. “Shadow Pricing Steps into the Limelight”
A growing number of companies are putting an estimated price on carbon emissions, water use, and land conservation, as part of “shadow pricing” initiatives. Often companies do this as part of long-term risk management strategies. It allows them to internally analyze sustainability issues using the financial value system that business understands. A growing and diverse group of companies are using the tactic, including companies in the utility, energy, technology, airlines, consumer brands, financial and retail, industries.
5. “The People Side of Sustainability Gets Legs”
Social issues are finally gaining the appropriate level of attention in many companies. The social side of sustainability has generally been overshadowed by environmental concerns. In 2013, news outlets were full of social labor rights stories, particularly in the apparel and technology industries. These industries, and the corporate world in general, will be paying much more attention to managing social risk and exploring potential opportunities in 2014.
6. “Food Sustainability Gets a Seat at the Table”
A growing global population and the rising demand for meat and protein in the developing world are creating more demand for food worldwide. At the same time, climate change, erosion and water shortages are limiting the availability of arable land. 2014 will see a focus on these issues.
7. “Employee Engagement Becomes Strategic”
Employee engagement has been part of corporate sustainability for years. However, recently, companies are switching gears and making it a much more strategic part of their sustainability plans. This is happening in part because there is a growing body of research on how best to engage employees in sustainability. Furthermore, more companies are realizing that engaging their workforce in sustainability can increase their productivity and workplace satisfaction.
8. “Energy Storage Becomes a Game-Changer”
Advances in battery technology are only now making the storage of renewable energy truly financially viable. 2014 will see a dramatic increase in the deployment of new technology that will help businesses move towards a low-carbon energy future.
9. “Cities Become Hotbeds of Promise”
Cities look set to continue to be the great hotbeds of sustainability innovation. “Smart city” technology is changing the way metropolitan areas function. The business world will find opportunity and chances to share innovations in the urban world.
10. “Buildings and Companies Go Positive”
“Net-Positive” has emerged as a new way of thinking in sustainability circles. Rather than companies trying to merely avoid doing harm, some are attempting to give back to society and the environment, leaving them better off than they were before. Coca-Cola and Pepsi, for example, are endeavoring to be water positive by giving back more water than they take with a variety of initiatives. This same principle is also being applied to buildings and will be an important facet of corporate sustainability in 2014.