Authors: Andrew Angle, Aiste Brackley, Justin Nelson, Laura Street, Mark Lee 

Before we discuss the 2022 sustainability trends, we wanted to begin by reflecting on our 2021 edition and take stock of how our predictions played out.

In that publication, we suggested 2021 would bring significant changes in the employer-employee relationship, sharp acceleration in the uptake of net zero targets, more focus on nature-based solutions as a key tool in the fight against climate change, and a deepening of companies’ approaches to managing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). These forecasts did all to some extent ‘come true’ as the year unfolded, but action on them is far from ‘job done.’ Expectations around what corporate actors need to do around these topics continue to evolve, meaning that actions that were once deemed groundbreaking are coming to be seen as the norm for responsible businesses. The rapid uptake of net zero targets is just one example of the exception quickly becoming more common.

Some of the circumstances we examined a year ago continue to influence the landscape today.

The biggest shaping influence of 2021 was the global pandemic and associated efforts around protection of lives and well-being, vaccination, and economic recovery. While we might wish otherwise, this is extremely likely to be true in 2022 also, with the Omicron variant, which emerged while we were finalizing this report, reminding us of the virus’s dynamism and unpredictability. As a result, the 2022 trends refer frequently to pandemic-related impacts, including how COVID-19 continues to shape the workplace as well as its impacts on supply chain disruption and human rights. But as much as possible this report focuses on the sustainability long game, exploring key trends and how they are helping – and demanding! – the corporate world to focus attention on sustainable development challenges even while the world navigates COVID-19 and works to a better future where the virus is under control.

Another topic as prevalent in this year’s report as last is ambition and action around net zero. While we applaud the growing number of net zero targets, we also highlight backlash and growing scrutiny regarding what it will take for companies to deliver their net zero ambition. Likewise, we continue to refer to the ongoing integration of ESG into investor strategies, including the vocal debate that occurred in 2021 around whether ESG is merely a smokescreen that businesses might use to distract from a lack of real progress on critical societal issues. Finally, while we comment on welcome advances in the realm of protecting the natural world, including its link to climate action, we also highlight biodiversity threats like the fact that deforestation in the Amazon is at its highest rate ever, and we suggest that companies need to act with more urgency, commitment, and intent.

We are releasing this year’s trends report as COP26 and the mixed reactions to its outcomes are still fresh and raw. Unsurprisingly, COP26, its fallout, and what this means for business feature strongly this year, as we explore how business and other stakeholders will respond to increasingly strident calls for climate action.

We hope you enjoy the report, and we welcome any feedback you might provide on our perceptions of these trends as a means to sharpen our own understanding of these complex topics.