What's next for sustainable business? 2021 trends report
Photo credit: The SustainAbility Institute by ERM
This report explores which long-term sustainability trends were cresting and why, considers the influence of these trends on business, and outlines what the private sector could do in response to advance the sustainable development agenda.
SustainAbility has produced this report for two decades. In October 2020, the SustainAbility Institute by ERM (the Institute) launched, and this is the first trends report produced by the Institute. The 2021 effort is true to the past work of SustainAbility, again shining a spotlight on the most dynamic issues influencing corporate sustainability and explaining what companies are doing to address them – but it also represents an evolution. ERM celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Over five decades, the firm has built a leading reputation for excellence in operationalizing sustainability, which to us means bringing corporate sustainability strategy, commitments and policy to life in every part of an organization, or “from boots to boardroom.”
Given the accumulated knowledge and experience existing in the field today, we felt a shift in emphasis in trends analysis was due, and we have rebalanced our approach. Beginning this year, we plan to work with a constant set of sustainability trends until 2025, then evolve the list mid-decade and every few years thereafter.
The ten trends we have identified will be familiar to sustainability practitioners. We spend less time defining themes than in the past, and more time on what is being done in response. With each trend, we reflect briefly on what is most dynamic about it at this moment in time. We then focus on what the trend demands from the private sector for pandemic recovery to "build back better" and for the current "decade of action" to position society to achieve both the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change by mid-century. This work is urgent, truly the cause of our lifetimes. We believe emphasizing how the greatest number of companies can operationalize sustainability in every facet of their organizations is the best way for the Institute and ERM to catalyze the creation of the just and sustainable society we hope to see.