2019 in review: Top 3 corporate sustainability trends

Link to the original article by Daniel Hill on EDF+Business.

Earlier this year, I identified the top 3 corporate sustainability trends that all business leaders should be watching in 2019. Those trends were: mobility projects gaining popularity as a strategy to reduce emissions, longstanding sustainability champions being joined by the majority and greater industry diversity for Science-Based Targets.

I’m revisiting those trends to give an update on where they stand as the year comes to an end, using real-world company examples to back up my insights.

Trend 1: Mobility projects will gain popularity as a strategy to reduce emissions

Mobility became one of the biggest buzzwords this year. The number of companies trying to reduce transportation-related emissions through electrification, intermodal distribution and employee commuting programs surged. On top of that, more mobility-as-a-service companies (think Lyft, Uber, Bird) began assessing the cradle-to-cradle impact of their vehicles, including scooters.

While this uptake was impressive, it didn’t come at a surprise. Last year we saw a huge jump in the number of companies that were quantifying their Scope 3 emissions – all indirect emissions associated with upstream or downstream supply chain activities – and in most cases, transportation was identified as the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Which is why in 2019, it was critical to see companies taking a deep-dive assessment into transportation emissions and begin to implement strategies to reduce the environmental impact.

Case in point: Last year, ridesharing company Lyft launched a bikes and scooters division as part of its sustainability efforts. But quantifying how its rideables reduce emissions required complete life-cycle visibility. So Lyft examined how environmental impacts can be minimized across the cradle-to-cradle bike and scooter supply chain, including tactics like more efficient sourcing, shipping, rebalancing, battery charging, maintenance, and end-of-life practices.

See more examples: Bird develops life-cycle assessment and reduction strategy. Dartmouth rebuilds transportation system.

Trend 2: Longstanding sustainability champions will be joined by the majority

A decade ago, few companies had sustainability on their radar. Not anymore. Pressure from investors, employees and customers has ushered in a new wave of businesses standing up on sustainability. But those who are just beginning this journey are playing a bit of catch up. And in some cases, those companies are constrained by smaller budgets and fewer resources to work with compared to their longstanding sustainability-champion counterparts.

Rather than building a new sustainability team in charge of leading these efforts, a greater number of companies are integrating sustainability programs throughout various departments so that it becomes part of everyone’s job description.

Case in point: HALO Branded Solutions formalized their corporate sustainability strategy and prepared their first comprehensive Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) report. This roadmap will drive short- and long-term business and sustainability initiatives, as well as map out the staff and data management infrastructure in place to manage its new sustainability program and pursue expanded efforts in evaluating its entire value chain.

See more examples: RLG develops sustainability framework to build formal program. Immucor creates a sustainability guide book to scale initiatives.

Trend 3: Science-Based Targets will see greater diversity from industries

Over the last year and a half, the number of companies that have set or committed to set a science-based target has tripled. Within that growth, we have seen a roughly 30% increase in the industries represented, from aerospace to banks to consumer products. But setting the target is just the first step. In the majority of cases, for companies to reach the level of reduction needed to hit their climate goals, they will need to implement emissions reduction strategies across their entire supply chain.

Case in point: Crowley, a marine solutions, transportation and logistics company, conducted Science-Based Targets modeling across their entire supply chain to develop targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This analysis allowed them to compare a range of reduction strategies that would best align with their objectives, especially those targeting activities related to ports, warehouses and intermodal freight transportation.

See more examples: Citizens Bank benchmarked against peers to develop targets.

In the past eight months, we’ve seen these trends become the foundation for the next phase of corporate sustainability.

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