As businesses continue to interface with the environment at scale, it is becoming clear that they have a big role to play when it comes to environmental sustainability.
Some companies have viewed that role as a burden while others have embraced their responsibility as a core part of their business model. Because of this dynamic, certain companies have gotten ahead while others have slowly but surely fallen behind.
Surely, a lot of effort has gone into reversing the effects of rapid industrialization — a big concern among anyone working in environmental sustainability. But even still, much more still needs to be done to move the needle, particularly in certain areas.
Environmental Sustainability Grazes a Broad Range of Industries
When we consider the “industry” that surrounds environmental sustainability, there really isn’t just one. Whether it’s energy, automobiles, or retail — and for any company big or small — companies that operate in these spaces have significant upside to consider environmental sustainability as a core operating principle.
By doing so, companies are not only making their customers’ lives better; they’re also making sure that everyone else can live comfortably as well. Here are the areas to keep an eye out for.
1. Forging Clean Cities Can Help Citizens Live Better
On the pedestrian scale, concepts of weaving bike lanes, widespread horticulture, and maximized space design could dramatically reduce our carbon footprints. The development of sustainable technologies and building materials to fuel such ambitions has been a priority for policymakers and urban planners alike.
In fact, by 2030, sixty percent of the world population will reside in urban settlements. Low-impact building materials such as timber, which is both cost-effective and renewable, will begin to replace its steel and concrete counterparts.
Japanese company Sumitomo Forestry is planning to build a 70-story wooden skyscraper in Tokyo by 2024. Energy changes will be implemented gradually as well, with solar-powered roofs and microgrids offering an alternative to the traditional grid.
If done right, greener municipalities could greatly diminish carbon emissions.
2. Pivoting Towards Clean Energy Can Be a Powerful Business Imperative
In recent years, investments in fossil fuels have shifted to more future-oriented technologies. Several investing giants like the Chinese state-owned SDIC have made moves to distance themselves from coal.
The rising clean energy industry may soon meet the demands of millions of consumers who are anxiously waiting for emerging technology to take off.
Electric vehicle companies like Tesla and Nissan have already capitalized on the appeals of cleantech. And this rising trend should persist in the 2020s.
Water, wind, and solar power will continue to see its shares grow, yet they face significant hurdles. Renewable energy currently only contributes to an estimated 9% of global electricity generation, meaning it still has a long way to go.
Large hydropower projects face political, economic, and even environmental obstacles as seen with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the Three Gorges Dam in Asia, yet can provide huge utility for energy production.
Offshore wind turbines are expensive and somewhat difficult to construct, but have the potential to power every home and business in the world, according to the International Earth Agency.
3. Managing Plastic Consumption is an Urgent Environmental Sustainability Concern
Plastic straw bans have made headlines, but are only the beginning in combating plastic pollution. Already, more than sixty countries have set goals to phase out single-use plastics.
But will banning plastics be enough? Probably not, but major brands are taking innovative steps to help.
Adidas, Starbucks, and others have taken the circular economy approach. Designed to reduce, reuse, and recycle at scale, the approach is gaining traction.
We may also soon discover what the true consequences of microplastics are. Billions of these small pieces of plastic could take a huge toll on ecosystems and wildlife.
Alarmingly, microplastics have been found everywhere: in our oceans, the food we eat, and even in the air.
4. Mitigating Biodiversity Loss to Safeguard Our Food Supply Chains
From humanity’s agrarian beginnings, agriculture and aquaculture practices have always been critical. The destruction of the world’s many environments to make way for farmland conversion has contributed to decreasing biodiversity on land.
In the oceans, overfishing and chemical spills have wreaked havoc on ecosystems and species. Since 1970, humans have wiped out over 83 percent of all animal populations and half of all plant species.
Besides conservation efforts, fundamental changes to the way food is put on the table need to be made. Agribusiness will need to rethink their strategies and reduce their reliance on pesticides. And perhaps, the industry will make advancements in the field of GMOs too.
The private sector is only beginning to heed attention to ecosystem collapse. From the devastated habitats of the Amazon and Australia to the disappearing coral reefs of the Pacific, it’s clear we don’t have a lot of time to waste.
5. Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions — Technology Can Help Too
And also ten years of increased climate litigation, protests, and employee advocacy. Up-and-coming tech like hydrogen fuel cells will pave the way for a smaller carbon footprint.
Meanwhile, investors are betting billions on “carbontech,” or the transforming carbon into usable, marketable products. At the governmental level, politicians may pass legislation, including carbon taxes, to levy big business’s carbon output.
Nonetheless, we need to do more. The 1987 Montreal Protocol, involved in shrinking the hole in the ozone layer and sequestering global temperatures by as much as 1.1 degrees Celsius, has highlighted the overwhelming potential of environmental sustainability efforts. If we deal with carbon emissions are in a similar manner, there can still be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to and should not be interpreted as financial or investment advice.