The theme for World Environment Day on 5 June 2021 is ecosystem restoration. The day will also celebrate the launch of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. The past 18 months have been the most challenging to society, industry and commerce. As we embark on the path to recovery, the broad consensus is to build back better, stronger and, most importantly, greener. This presents an opportunity for the current generation to catalyse change for environmental restoration, with an even greater urgency to tackle the climate crisis, beginning with much-needed changes in society, industry and commerce. These changes will have a significant role in limiting the damage to our environment and supporting the efforts of various organisations involved in restoring our ecosystems.
The top 5 trends we are witnessing in 2021 related to Environment and Sustainability will both shape and transform growth and innovation prospects for stakeholders:
- Decarbonisation will rise across industry, transport and buildings segments, supported by innovative technologies
The recently published International Energy Agency (IEA) report, Net Zero by 2050, estimated the total CO2 emissions in 2020 to be 33.9 Gt, with the power segment accounting for 13.5 Gt, industry at 8.5 Gt, transport at 7.2 Gt and buildings at 2.9 Gt. To achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the report based its scenarios on the key pillars of decarbonisation: energy efficiency, behavioural change, electrification, renewables, hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels, bio-energy, and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS). In the industry segment, CCUS and hydrogen will account for half of the emission reductions by 2050; however, this will rely on the successful progression of innovative technologies, which are still in the early stages of development. In the aviation sector of the transport segment, the decarbonisation efforts will rely on hydrogen-based fuels and biofuels. Decarbonisation for the buildings segment relies on two key milestones: all new builds will be zero-carbon ready by 2030, and all existing buildings will be retrofitted to meet standards of zero-carbon-ready building codes.
- Customer awareness and activism are pushing the environment, social and governance (ESG) agenda
Our recent research analysing key drivers for sustainability in the European manufacturing and built environment sectors highlighted that the most important influencers are not investors or leadership but customers and employees within organisations. The increasing environmental awareness and influence of millennials—as an important customer group with influential roles in organisations—are shaping this transformative change. Millennials and the investment community have driven ESG to be the most strategic priority for organisations.
- Digital sustainability is shaping the resilience of water utilities and reducing carbon emissions in sectors such as water and resource recycling
Digital sustainability is driving much-needed operational efficiency improvements in key sectors such as water services, waste management, and recycling. Digital Twins is emerging as one of the fastest-growing market opportunities in the water sector as we witness an increasing number of use cases across a range of assets from networks to treatment plants. These projects highlight the value of digital twins in enhancing the resilience of water utilities while offering an attractive return on investment. By driving operational efficiency, they are also supporting carbon emission reduction. Digital transformation in waste recycling is also witnessing rapid growth, driven by the deployment of monitoring and metering solutions as well as advanced sensors coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) for better sorting and waste segregation. Cloud-based data platforms for better decision support facilitate a truly circular approach.
- Design for environment and supply chain sustainability with an emphasis on the Scope 3 decarbonisation strategy
The decarbonisation strategy for many organisations is rapidly evolving. In recent years, some have also achieved carbon-neutral status for Scope 1 and 2 emissions. However, in most cases, more than three-quarters of carbon emissions are in Scope 3, covering the supply chain upstream and downstream and involving big challenges in complexity and number of stakeholders. This presents an opportunity focussed on the environment, with life cycle analysis and greater scrutiny of material selection based on sustainability credentials. The expansive nature and coverage of scope 3 will drive the rapid growth of supply chain sustainability software solutions and services to provide an integrated, end-to-end solution covering upstream sourcing to downstream recycling.
- Sustainability as a service is emerging as a strong business model to drive behavioural change and provide purpose-driven outcomes for customers
Behavioural change is one of the key pillars of decarbonisation. In many customer-focussed sectors, digital platform-based solutions in the form of Sustainability as a Service business models provide a much better understanding of customers. They drive cross-sector collaboration and partnerships to deliver tangible, purpose-driven outcomes of products and services for customers. This will be particularly significant in the business-to-business and business-to-government segments, with the customers looking to suppliers for partnerships and support for their decarbonisation efforts.