The COVID pandemic, horrific because it’s been, has been fairly variety to the worlds of sustainable enterprise and local weather tech. Each enter 2022 on an upward, even hockey-stick progress trajectory, largely the results of occasions and commitments which have taken place because the pandemic started in early 2020.
And but, such progress will be elusive, misplaced amid the day by day drumbeat of disheartening and discouraging information.
Certainly, the substances for negativity are all too considerable: a persistent, shapeshifting virus; political stalemates that thwart local weather motion; rising social and financial inequality; pushback by the anti-science crowd and their media enablers. Toss in a dollop of company greenwashing, a minimum of in keeping with critics, and you’ve got a recipe for despair.
However despair not, expensive reader. Our time has lastly arrived. The world is coming to us — all of us — searching for steerage and options on how, and the way shortly, we are able to remodel merchandise, processes, methods and enterprise fashions to reach an more and more warming and wobbly world. Local weather, biodiversity, plastic waste, poisonous air pollution and all the opposite environmental challenges have conjoined with social points — institutional racism; financial inequity; the shortage of fresh water, sanitation, inexpensive meals, vitality, housing and mobility for much too a lot of our fellow people — to place the work of sustainability professionals within the heart ring, now not a mere sideshow.
The COVID pandemic, horrific because it’s been, has been fairly variety to the worlds of sustainable enterprise and local weather tech.
There’s sufficient progress to show even probably the most hardbitten sustainability skeptic optimistic. Issues that not way back appeared an environmentalist’s pipe dream — net-zero provide chains! low cost vitality storage! decarbonized aviation and transport! round worth chains! enlightened buyers! — now appear not solely doable, however inevitable. Local weather tech is doing what expertise typically does: changing into cheaper and extra environment friendly, leveraging economies of scale, community results, international tendencies and aggressive pressures.
However, as I mentioned, it may be laborious to see all this progress amid the fog of dismal day by day headlines.
To assist, as I’ve finished every December for greater than a decade, I’ve plumbed the 1,400 or so tales, columns and analyses we’ve printed on GreenBiz.com because the clock struck 2021 some 12 months in the past, searching for indicators of progress and hope. These are among the many developments that can propel us into 2022 and past.
Right here, in no explicit order, are 5 storylines — after which some — that I discovered encouraging throughout the yr simply ending. (All hyperlinks are to tales printed on GreenBiz.com throughout 2021.) What would you add to the record? Be at liberty to weigh in.
1. Demand for sustainability professionals outstripped provide
Instantly, company sustainability of us are spending much less time within the shadows and extra within the limelight — or, a minimum of, being invited onto the primary stage. And the demand for his or her providers has develop into practically insatiable. That’s a sea change from the previous and has led to an unfamiliar downside: a surfeit of jobs for sustainability professionals however not sufficient certified people to fill them.
The inevitable consequence: A battle for expertise, particularly for these with expertise in ESG information and reporting, though “ESG” appears to have develop into synonymous with “sustainability” inside many firms, so it isn’t at all times simple to grok what a specific job entails. Nonetheless, ESG is rewriting CSO job descriptions at some firms.
It’s not simply ESG. Round financial system professionals are additionally in rising demand as that subject matures inside firms. And, after all, these skilled in clear vitality programs, from implementing effectivity measures to constructing EV charging networks to rethinking and retooling electrical energy grids. There are rising alternatives for rising professionals, these in entry-level positions, consultants, even the previously incarcerated.
Will the demand maintain in 2022? Doubtless sure. Actually, the alternatives ought to develop throughout sectors as extra firms tackle more and more daring measures in response to the calls for of shoppers, buyers, workers and others. Time to shine your resumé.
2. ‘Exhausting to abate’ bought simpler
For years, it was assumed that sure industries — aviation, trans-ocean transport, manufacturing metal and concrete, and different so-called “hard-to-abate” sectors — could be practically inconceivable to decarbonize. For instance, the concept that a passenger jet may journey with out utilizing petroleum appeared — properly, a flight of fancy.
The previous yr noticed some exceptional advances that will properly convey that and different fanciful notions in for a clean touchdown.
At fall’s G20 and COP26 conferences, nations got here collectively to announce plans to collectively help the event of “inexperienced metal,” made utilizing hydrogen or renewable vitality. Volvo and Mercedes, for instance, each embraced low-carbon metal in constructing autos. A clean-steel manufacturing plant opened in Sweden whereas steelmaking large ArcelorMittal introduced plans to chop its carbon depth by 1 / 4, backed by $10 billion funding to help its transition away from fossil fuels.
Related efforts are happening in concrete, one other carbon-intensive materials. Carbon-sequestering concrete is gaining consideration and funding from startups and buyers. California, New Jersey and New York have enacted payments to provide procurement choice to low-carbon concrete, a probably important demand driver.
In the meantime, improvement of cleaner aviation and transport fuels is shifting alongside properly. A Sustainable Aviation Gas Certificates system was launched to drive company demand for jet gasoline by way of the sale and buy of credit. Amazon funded Infinium, which makes low-carbon biofuel to be used in airplanes, ships and huge vehicles, of which the web retailer has loads. Boeing launched plans to provide business plane able to flying totally on sustainable aviation gasoline. Delta, JetBlue and United all introduced billion-dollar investments or commitments to ramp up their use of sustainable fuels. And transport large Maersk mentioned it could buy eight container vessels that may run on clear methanol as an alternative of soiled bunker gasoline.
For these sectors, the journey to decarbonization will little doubt be lengthy. However all of the sudden, these actions now not appear fairly so “laborious to abate.”
3. Nature and biodiversity met the underside line
With simply over half of the $80 trillion international financial system reliant on nature’s providers, the position of biodiversity grew to become a bottom-line challenge. One massive purpose: Because the local weather disaster wreaks havoc on some ecosystems, accelerating species extinction, it’s threatening meals, fiber, fisheries, forests and different important elements of our international financial engine. Furthermore, the biodiversity and local weather crises are inextricably linked, which means that fixing one might help resolve the opposite. (Contemplate the transcendent position of the lowly fungus, for instance.)
Indicators of engagement abound. Traders, eyeing the inherent dangers, are weighing in, with some institutional buyers dropping firms linked to things like deforestation and overfishing. A UN-sponsored biodiversity summit garnered company curiosity, maybe for the primary time. Governments are searching for to stem biodiversity loss by growing robust environmental authorized frameworks and eliminating dangerous incentives and subsidies. A brand new Taskforce on Nature-related Monetary Disclosures goals to assist firms report and act on nature-related dangers, though placing a financial worth on such dangers can be difficult. Nonetheless, firms in sectors as assorted as meals, textiles and cosmetics are taking motion. Might changing into “nature constructive” develop into the subsequent massive factor?
4. ESG points hit the mainstream
Corporations have been grappling for years with find out how to adequately report on environmental, social and governance points to buyers and different events. In 2021, these simmering points reached a boil. One spotlight was the launch of the Worldwide Sustainability Requirements Board, with the purpose of making comparable, constant and dependable disclosure requirements on local weather and different points.
It’s sorely wanted. Though the standard is bettering, ESG reporting and metrics proceed to be a Wild West, with uneven, inconsistent and incomplete information inhibiting consistency throughout firms, sectors and borders. The rise of greenwash costs amongst critics is approaching worrisome ranges. Certainly, regardless of its promise, there’s a way that the entire ESG ecosystem is big and terribly flawed. Regulators — notably, the U.S. Securities and Trade Fee — are eyeing new ESG governance guidelines, anticipated early in 2022, incontrovertible proof that ESG points are materials to mainstream buyers.
Authorities intervention however, the rise of ESG is altering administration methods, because the C-suite acknowledges that reporting these metrics is just the start of a continuous-improvement course of. ESG scores are starting to have an effect on firms’ price of credit score, which is garnering the eye of company boards, though most nonetheless lack ESG experience.
Nonetheless, the die is solid: ESG points have develop into a part of the brand new regular, a recognition that company sustainability has moved properly past mere virtue-signaling.
5. Decarbonization grew to become a meme
You’ll be able to see it clearly on Google Traits: “Decarbonization,” which sputtered alongside feebly as a search time period the previous dozen or so years, all of the sudden surged in 2021. One purpose: It’s develop into a catchall time period for myriad initiatives and techniques to wring out the carbon depth of merchandise, processes and locations, from cities to the round financial system (and round cities).
It’s not that decarbonization is a brand new factor; as Google Traits reveals, it had a earlier, milder surge of curiosity within the mid-2000s. However this time decarbonization is greater than a pattern: It has develop into the Holy Grail for firms and international locations alike.
One purpose for the time period’s recognition is that it encompasses a variety of front-burner points, equivalent to the expansion of renewable vitality, the rise of net-zero commitments, nations’ pledges underneath the 2015 Paris Settlement, the maturing of carbon elimination applied sciences and markets, and the market uptake of a number of applied sciences collectively described as local weather tech.
Regardless of the motivation, decarbonization is now a part of mainstream discourse. And because it continues to tell all the pieces from industrial processes to building tasks to transportation networks, it has embedded itself within the pantheon of company sustainability targets and techniques, and all the worth creation therein.
And (a few of) the remainder
Heaps extra inspiration the place these got here from: the expansion of applied sciences to show down the environmental impacts of chilly chains … the continued transformation of transportation and mobility programs … buyers’ recognition of the hyperlinks between infrastructure and local weather resilience … the tantalizing smorgasbord of sustainable meals startups.
And in the event you’re one way or the other nonetheless hungry for extra, right here, in alphabetical order, are a baker’s dozen of different encouraging company sustainability headlines we ran in 2021:
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