2019 Sustainability Trends: Our Experts’ Top Ten

January 18, 2019

It’s that time of the year, no - not talking about the Holiday season, but those days following, when New Year's resolutions are made, and New Year's trend outlooks help to start after the break with renewed focus. Here, Schneider Electric’s global sustainability experts have listed their 10 Top Trends for sustainability professionals to have a close look at in 2019 to help their organization gaining leadership in sustainability.

#1 TREND Climate-related risk disclosure goes mainstream

Started in 2018, when more than 500 companies expressed support for the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures' (TCFD), finance experts expect that in 2019 climate disclosure will become “mainstream”. Disclosure will become an obligatory part of the integrated annual reports of companies, but also in GRI and other frameworks. As Sustainability today is an important driver for growth and value across a business, many organizations move from standalone sustainability reports to integrated reporting methods, highlighting what is material to their business including climate-related topics.

Contributed by Ekaterina Tsvetkova, Head of Sustainability Consultancy, Budapest (HUN)

#2 TREND Scope 3 focus changing the chains

Large corporations have complex and extensive value chains, often made up of thousands of suppliers around the globe. The rise of Science-based-targets (SBT) adopted by more than 500 organizations in the past years put the spotlight on these corporations’ value chains which often account for the majority of their greenhouse gas emissions. These organizations will have to tackle value chain – scope 3 – emissions, and early adopters like Hewlett Packard demonstrate the multiple impacts that can be achieved across the chains.

Contributed by Gabriel De Malleray, International Energy & Sustainability Consultancy Manager, Paris (FR)

#3 TREND Cleantech is taking over

In the face of mixed green policies, including some roll-backs and cuts on subsidies in the U.S., clean energy thrived in 2018 almost unfazed. First, corporates took the lead on clean energy to fill the void left by governments. The RE100, a global initiative of the most influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity, had the biggest push ever and 161 companies are now members. But it’s not just the need for climate leadership that is powering the boom: clean energy simply makes good economic sense. The cost of electricity from renewables is now at or below the marginal cost of conventional generation in many countries. Corporate buyers have several choices when it comes to using renewable energy with EAC and PPA markets establishing in Europe and other regions. In 2018, U.S. companies signed contracts for more than 6,400 megawatts of renewable energy, an all-time record and more than double the amount companies purchased the year before. It is predicted that these records will be exceeded in 2019, making 2019 another Cleantech Year.

Contributed by Alexander Quarles Van Ufford, Client Development Renewable Energy & Cleantech, Den Haag (NL)

#4 TREND New twists in sustainability compliance 

In 2018, it felt as if the world rotated faster and disruptive political, economic and environmental changes became the new normal. Besides uncertainty that remains on some regulation rollbacks from the U.S. deregulation campaign or the new Brazilian president, from a global perspective, sustainability compliance is only getting more complex. For organizations with operations in the EU, the next wave of the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) energy audit obligation is ahead with 2019 deadlines fast approaching. Another trend is mandatory disclosure on sustainability risks and impacts for businesses, with the EU parliament’s decision to oblige all financial market participants being another accelerator on the sustainability compliance twist.

Contributed by Irina Gilfanova, Senior Sustainability Consultant, Budapest (HUN)

#5 TREND From carbon zero to carbon positive

The 2015 Paris agreement paved the way for the trend towards a low-carbon economy and the 2018 IPCC report was another rude awakening about the urgent need for decarbonization immediately and substantially.  However, some pioneering organizations are entering into a new era of commitment by setting carbon neutral or even carbon positive targets. Unilever, for example, had already made progress on their low carbon route by sourcing energy from renewable sources. Now, the ultimate goal is to eliminate fossil fuels from operations and directly support the generation of more renewable energy than consumed. These organizations will help create a better future while protecting their business with a competitive edge.

Contributed by Erik Mohn, Director, Sustainability Operations (USA)

#6 TREND Renaissance of Carbon Pricing

The idea to put a price on carbon is nothing new, but has recently gained growing momentum among countries and business as a means of bringing down emissions faster. The reform of European Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) is one of a few signs of a carbon trading renaissance. Some 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces already use carbon pricing mechanisms, and carbon taxes are in discussion in many countries. While regulation in still uncertain, companies are already discovering and voluntarily adopting carbon pricing as a management tool to plan for sustainable investments.

Contributed by Frederic Pinglot, Sustainability Consultant, Paris (FR)

#7 TREND Waste and resources moving in circles

If one 2018 sustainability trend is likely to be remembered, “plastics momentum” with the phase-out of single-use plastics will probably get the crown. Awareness of resource use has reached unprecedented levels, and businesses react with focus on zero waste and circular economy. Some organizations, such as Royal Canin, lead and actively promote their achievements in this area. 2019 will see more practical adoption of this trend with focus on eco-design, edible food boxes and other innovations in packaging as only a few of a growing number of new business ideas around circular economy.

Contributed by Jana K. Pataky, Sustainability Consultant, Vienna (AUS)

#8 TREND Electrified transportation breaking through

There are several signs that the time for electric cars has finally come. Driven by air pollution, climate concerns and the reputational loss of Diesel-cars, the emergence of electric as viable technology is hard to miss. Tesla has pioneered large-scale adoption, but “conventional” carmakers are also announcing plans to ramp up EVs, as did governments in Costa Rica, the European Union and some U.S. States, led by California, which constitutes half of the U.S. EV market, primarily due to state policies. The EU’s decision on stricter CO2 emission standards for cars from October 2018 (to emit on average 35% less CO2 compared to current emissions by 2030) gives another push on EV’s breakthrough.

Contributed by Valérie Limague, Sustainability Consultant, Lasne (BE)

#9 TREND Green microgrids upgrading the energy infrastructure

Today’s microgrids are modular, easy to install and use a smaller footprint of available and affordable distributed energy resources (DERs). As the costs of renewable energy and other forms of cleantech continue to fall, the possibility of a decentralized grid supported by many microgrids is now a reality. Global Market Insigits, Inc. projects that microgrid market share will reach $19B (USD) by 2024 - more than 19% growth from 2017 to 2024. Availability of more flexible energy storage solutions boosts this trend towards a decentralized, green and resilient energy supply infrastructure.

Contributed by Nathan Shuler, Sustainability Solutions Architect (USA)

#10 TREND Streamlining Efficiency & Sustainability

The “everything-as-a-service” trend is a logical response of businesses in a time when technology and business at large is accelerating exponentially. This is also true for sustainability or efficiency technology. Some might remember the launch of LED-technology in industrial lighting and the painful decision they had to make about buying too early, too costly or a technology that is replaced by a more efficient successor after a few months. Use-not-buy business models will not only provide more flexibility to take advantage of technological trends but also remove financial constraints, namely the availability of capital to invest in sustainability initiatives.

Contributed by Mike Fraser, Vice President of Sustainability Development (USA)


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