13 Sustainability Trends for 2015

Guest Blog by Richard Mazzola, CEO/Founder, KarmaConnect

2015 will be a critical year for the progression of sustainability movements. As the United States prepares for a Presidential election in 2016, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) disseminates their Fifth assessment report and the United Nations urges new austerity measures for emissions we will see a significant shift in the way we talk about sustainability:

1.     The Sustainable Shopper

Over the past 5 years consumers have increasingly become aware of a brand’s sustainability. But rising retail prices, high unemployment and uneasiness over their personal finances have made price point a top purchasing decision. As the US economy continues to rebound and brands begin to use sustainability as a competitive advantage, 2015 will be the year that the sustainability of a product erodes the importance of price point.

2.     The Circular Economy

Pioneered by Ellen Macarthur, the circular economy takes the linear model of ‘take, make, dispose’ and transforms it by allowing retailers and manufactures to retain ownership of their products thus acting as service providers. They then sell the use of their products which allows them to dissemble and refurbish on an ongoing basis. The circular economy will flourish in 2015 as accessible resources needed for a linear model of production become increasingly scarce.

3.     Transparency in Data

Cotton Incorporated states, “The bombardment of "green" marketing terms and products claiming to be organic, environmentally friendly, sustainable and eco-friendly has primed the consumer for disillusionment”. Brands will be pressured to publish raw data to validate their sustainability claims based on increased speculation amongst consumers. GiveDirectly, a nonprofit that specializes in unconditional cash transfers, has pioneered this approach in the social innovation sector.

4.     Sustainability Manager

After a botched Climate Change Convention in 2009 in Copenhagen the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made material progress in 2014 after the release of Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the most sobering report to date, was released. Expect that global pressure placed on big business in 2015 will result in a booming job market for Sustainability Managers as C – Level executives look to off load the burden.

5.     Value Chain vs. Supply Chain

A supply chain is the sequence of processes involved in the production and distribution of a Product. A value chain is the process by which a company adds value to that product including advertising, sales, support and maintenance. The main difference between the two is the value added. In 2015 organizations (See Unilever) will look at how they add value to a product or service and whether or not that practice is scalable in the context of sustainability.

6.     Social Responsibility as a Revenue Generator

In a recent study on Global Organizations, Grant Thornton found that 67% of executives stated that the number one reason they are socially and environmentally conscious is for ‘cost management’ reasons. In 2015 executives will use corporate social responsibility programs as a new route to market with the goal of revenue generation. Amazon Smile has made a splash with this strategy in 2014.

7.     Public Awareness

The IPCC report mentioned above states that, “Climate Change is irreversible, even if humans ended CO2 emissions today.” As the reality hits the mainstream population that climate focus is on adaptation of environment rather than prevention of climate warming, expect wide stream awareness of specific data surrounding climate change.

8.     Employee-driven Sustainability  

C level executives are beginning to realize there is a real return on investment from employee driven sustainability causes; from increased retention rates to bottom line growth, top companies will rely on employees to drive the innovation strategy around sustainability in 2015. 

9.      The Sustainable Entrepreneur

As millennial’s begin to graduate business school their dream jobs are no longer in the consulting and banking industries. Social entrepreneurship weaves innovation, technology and sustainability to attract the top academic scholars. 2015 will see social businesses receiving more Venture Capital (VC) funding than ever before.  Learn how Entrepreneurs are turning CO2 into revenue.

10.   Innovation in the Aviation Industry

Inhabitat.com estimates that the aviation industry creates somewhere between 2% and 2.5% of the world’s carbon emissions, and those figures are expected to increase substantially over the next few decades. Airlines will invest heavily in R&D in 2015 to solve this, as the first carrier to do so stands to make a lot of money (and positive press).

11.  Voters Decide What’s Important (2016 election)

Politicians will be forced to cater to voter preference with the upcoming 2016 election. It will be up to each and every citizen to make their voice heard and decide how important sustainability is to them, and what candidate is doing the most to support it. Remember, the future’s the only place we all have to live.

12.   The CFO’s Role in Sustainability

As shareholders begin to connect a company’s financial performance to its social and environmental impact the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) will growingly become involved in the measurement and management of sustainability programs.

13.   Communication of  Sustainability Strategy

Organizations will be expected to define, communicate and execute a sustainability strategy just as they would a product development strategy in a new fiscal year. This shift will represent consumer’s holding companies more accountable for their claims and achievements in sustainability.

Richard Mazzola is the CEO and Founder of KarmaConnect, a platform that rewards individuals who volunteer with discounts on major brands' goods and services.