Green Sky Thinking: A quick guide to 10 trends in sustainability

Date posted: January 23, 2013

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by Colwyn Elder (@colwynelder) It’s that time again; time for old year round-ups and wrap-ups followed by new year forecasts and resolutions.

Soon after 1 January 2013, a friend dropped me off at the furthermost point of Groot Paternoster nature reserve on the west coast, leaving me to the long walk home. “It’s a great thing to do at the start of the year”, she said. Nothing like a solitary hour and a half walk alongside a restless ocean to clear one’s head and bring clarity to the year ahead! But I soon realised I wasn’t solitary at all. In fact, I interrupted a young seal sunning itself on the beach, before heading back to play in the waves where he could watch me walk with curiosity and from a safe distance.

Seeing animals in their natural habitat is extraordinary, especially after living in London where “wild” life refers to squirrels that eat from colwyn elderyour  hand and urban foxes caught in a city that has grown around them. I felt immediately de-positioned from explorer to interloper, a humbling reminder that we are but a small part in a much greater more complex system, as well as recognising our very necessary role in holding this system together.

And so, back to round-ups and forecasts; Following are 10 trends in sustainability that we can expect to be guided by throughout 2013.

1) From trend to paradigm. Sustainability is not a trend, it’s here to stay and will only become ever more prevalent. If your business isn’t paying attention, it ought to. And if you’re not ahead of the game, you will need to do something in order to compete as it becomes normal.

2) From Corporate Social Responsibility to 21st century business model. As sustainability becomes integrated and more pervasive, the conversation will continue to shift from redressing wrongs or creating less harm; towards better ways of doing business that both benefit society and ensure your business will be around for the long haul.

3) From carbon footprint to water footprint. More than one in eight people in the world do not have access to clean water, and the scarcity of water as a business resource is also on the rise. Business will pay more attention to efficiencies in water use, and as customers become more aware of embedded water (ie. water used in production of food/non food products), they will call on business to make changes. If you’re interested to know more, click on “water we eat” for a wonderful visual representation of the amount of water embedded in food production.

4) From finance crisis to food crisis. The UN predicts there could be an extra three billion people to feed by the end of the century, which means an increasing pressure on the resources necessary to produce food, such as land, water and energy. Bronwen Rohland, Director Marketing and Sustainability at Pick n Pay says that addressing the issue of food security is critical as well as key to socio-political stability; “with rising food prices and commodity price volatility, retailers around the world have a heightened sense of the vital need to address food security”. The recently published fact that

worldwide “30%-50% of all food produced never makes it on to a plate” suggests a pressing need to deal with the issue of waste alongside resource efficiency and rising prices.

5) From corporate claims to external endorsements. We’ll continue to see independent third party verifications and ‘stamps of approval’, such as Fair trade, Rainforest alliance and SASSI; as well as partnerships for good between private business and public NGO’s e.g. McDonald’s and Greenpeace, Coca-Cola and WWF.

6) From traditional job search to entrepreneurial solutions.  More young people are pursuing entrepreneurial ventures than ever before and embedding responsibility along the way. This has been fuelled by recession and rising unemployment, but in many cases is also a choice. Entrepreneurship is fast becoming an integral part of taught curricula and we are seeing an increase in business sponsoring social enterprise and small business incubators.

7) From adding on to designing in. The design industry is tackling sustainability head-on by literally building it in. For example the GravityLight provides cheap, safe and environmentally friendly light for those people with poor access to electricity. While solar panels can be expensive and rely on sunlight and batteries to work, the GravityLight is connected to a bag that can be filled with sand – or other weight – and converts the energy when the weight is lifted. To learn more, click on

8) From transparency to ‘naked and proud’. According to “As total transparency becomes a hygiene factor, consumers will expect brands to provetheir ethical and environmental credentials to those that care.” In other words, we will see brands move from ‘having nothing to hide’ to pro-actively showing and proving they have nothing to hide.

9) From selling product to creating shared value.  Interestingly, all of Springwise’s top 10 business ideas and opportunities for 2013 is a demonstration of creating utility and value for customers. Likewise, from a sustainability perspective the conversation around business creating shared value for society as a whole, will continue to grow.

10) New life inside. And finally, a ‘small, sign-of-the-times eco-mini-trend’ from refers to those products and services that give back by quite literally containing new life inside. Chopsticks that can be planted and grown, rather than discarded or recycled; pencils you can sprout when they become too short to use; and even plantable beer coasters.

New year. New life. I’ll drink to that!

Y&R strategy director Colwyn Elder (@colwynelder) has 17 years of experience in strategic planning, together with specific credentials in sustainability communications, social marketing, corporate social responsibility and cause-related marketing. She contributes the monthly “Green Sky Thinking” column on sustainability issues to MarkLives.

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