sustainability trends
Justin Smith, head of business development at WWF South Africa speaking at the AUW2019 conference in Cape Town.

As the global economy recovers from the impact of the pandemic, businesses have an opportunity to re-build with more socially and environmentally sustainable models.

WWF South Africa has identified eight sustainability trends for businesses to watch and focus on in 2021, including energy and climate, circular economy and smart water.

The key trends on the agenda:
 Global leadership
● Youth voices, transparency and trust
● Disruptive technology
● Energy and climate
● Investors exert pressure
● The circular economy
● Water smart
● Global food and biodiversity crisis

Eight sustainability trends to follow

1.    Global leadership

The WEF Global Risk Report, Paris Agreement, Convention on Biological Diversity, UN’s 17 SDGs, and UN’s Climate Conference / COP26 (November 2021) are just some of the key platforms and agreements that will continue to drive global discussions with world leaders – in the public and private sector – about the environment, climate change and sustainable development.

2.    Youth voices, transparency and trust

We expect to see a stronger focus and pressure on human rights and environmental sensitivity in supply chains, with more consumers asking for greater transparency from brands and businesses, as well as an increase in youth activism driven by the ‘Greta Thunberg effect’.

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3.    Disruptive technology

New technologies in mobility, transport, communications, as well as ways of working, will bring much-needed efficiencies to old and outdated systems and processes. A trend towards using remote-working tools like Zoom, a necessity brought on by the pandemic, is one example of a positive opportunity to reduce our combined carbon footprint, provided the IT sector manage their energy usage responsibly.

4.    Energy and climate

Renewables are now the cheapest form of energy generation – a clear incentive to rapidly move away from burning fossil fuels, to a far more sustainable approach for the global energy sector. This cannot happen soon enough, as our window to deal with climate change is shortening all the time. 

5.    Investors exert pressure

A substantial trend towards growth in sustainable investment means that more lenders will walk away from opportunities in fossil fuels in general – and not just coal. Shifting financial flows towards more environmentally and socially responsible investment is critical for dealing with climate and biodiversity challenges.

6.    The circular economy

Opportunities to reduce our dependence on single-use plastics with its environmental consequences, along with legislative shifts in South Africa around extended producer responsibility, will push more companies to develop new models to ensure sustainability. 

7.    Water smart

Concerns regarding water scarcity and quality in South Africa, as well as globally, will continue well into the future. Companies will need to prioritise awareness around water scarcity and water security in their operations and supply chains.

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8.    Global food and biodiversity crisis

Much of the global biodiversity loss is being driven by the current food system, which is driving deforestation and land-use change. We need to produce food more sustainably, shift our diets and reduce food waste. Covid-19 continues to highlight food security issues in South Africa and around the world.

Time to ‘Build Back Better’

WWF South Africa is encouraging public and private sector stakeholders to build back better from the pandemic, and embrace an approach to development that promotes the wellbeing of people and the planet.

“We have a real opportunity to respond to the broader impact of the COVID-19 crisis,  in a manner that delivers systemic change for healthier, more sustainable and resilient societies as well as economies,” says Justin Smith, Head of Business Development at WWF South Africa.