Since inception about two decades ago, this report was produced by SustainAbility as a boutique, independent consultancy and think tank. Each year, it explored which long-term sustainability trends were cresting and why, considered the trends’ influence on business, and outlined what the private sector could do in response to advance the sustainable development agenda.
SustainAbility was acquired by ERM in 2019. 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 our past work, again shining a spotlight on the most dynamic issues influencing corporate sustainability and explaining what companies are doing to address them. But it represents an evolution also.
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” as we express it internally.
To align with ERM’s approach and expertise, and to help ERM realize its purpose, shaping a sustainable future with the world’s leading organizations, the Institute is designed to produce actionable insight. Our thought leadership and guidance helps our clients and partners understand the evolving sustainability agenda and accelerate the actions they are taking to address sustainable development.
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.
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.
The ten trends we have identified will be familiar to sustainability practitioners. You’ll see policy, climate, equity, supply chains, sustainable consumption, and other megatrends explored and interwoven in the pages that follow.
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.
We are always interested in feedback and partnership. We especially want to know if this report proves as actionable and operational as intended to help you and your business thrive while navigating the disruption that creating a sustainable economy must include. Please be in touch with any questions or suggestions, and best wishes for 2021.