Top Business Sustainability Trends for 2017

Sustainability Best Practice Trends Include Big Data and Internet of Things

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Trying to achieve sustainability in business operations has become more of a requirement than just an option due to increased global concerns about climate change and the impact of non-sustainable business practices. Based on the developments of various sustainable initiatives that businesses took in 2016 and the recent changes in the policies, following are the top business sustainability trends I forecast for 2017:

It Will Be Difficult for Business to Avoid Sustainability

We already have reached the point where it is difficult for companies to bury their heads in the sand on the sustainability issue. The ratification of Paris Agreement by USA and China — the two largest countries reluctant to make sustainability commitments, has made a huge difference in creating this tipping point. With this event, all of the powerful actors are now on board. Expect 2017 to be the year that many business players can ill afford not to act if they have not yet made a serious commitment, It is more about not being left behind than getting ahead of the pack. The good news is that with ever increasing opportunities for the procurement of green products and services, it will be easier than ever to make noticeable progress.

Businesses Will Leverage the Internet of Things

An anticipated 50 billion interconnected devices will be deployed by 2020.

The automotive industry is a leader in this area. Watch for companies to increasingly leverage Internet of Things (IOT) solutions to improve business operations, and at the same time, make dramatic sustainability gains. Surgere, one provider to the automotive supply chain tracking technology management, stated that in the first half of the year it had undertaken projects with four OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and eight Tier One automotive part suppliers.

The tracking of assets will enable companies to make gains in a number of areas, such as more accurately reporting inventory in real time, which translates into a more accurate demand for parts and products. This capability will help reduce the need for expedited freight, a practice which adds substantial cost and greenhouse gas emissions.

Big Data Should Yield Big Sustainability Wins

The amount of data being generated by companies continues to grow, especially in conjunction with increased IOT deployment. According to Wikipedia, “Big Data is a term for data sets that are so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate.” It describes Big Data analytics as “the process of examining large data sets to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations, market trends, customer preferences and other useful business information.” Watch for Big Data analytics to become increasingly important in demand planning and the emergence of new insights that can help improve logistics efficiency, while resulting in CO2 reductions.

Collaborative Efforts Will Drive Results

In their 2017 Sustainability Trends list, GreenBiz notes that retailers are entering new partnerships at a rapid clip in order to achieve sustainability aspirations. Examples include the Sustainability Consortium, the Sustainability Apparel Coalition, the Bangladesh Alliance for Worker Safety and the Closed Loop Fund.

GreenBiz notes that such initiatives are shifting the big pronouncements to "get it done" specific efforts.

Investment on Renewable Energy Will Heat Up

Google is the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy. It is leading the clean energy revolution investing in over 22 renewable energy projects till today. In fact, it has the goal of operating 100 percent of its global operations only with the renewable energy. Google has signed 2.5 gigawatts worth of solar and wind energy contracts around the world. The company has already promised to invest another 2.5bn in renewable energy. Already, Google’s data centers use 50 percent less energy than an average data center.

About 30 percent of the electricity required to run over 20 buildings in the headquarters of Google comes from over 9,212 installed photovoltaic panels.

These units supply 1.6 megawatts of electricity. IKEA, Amazon, Cisco Systems and Berkshire Hathaway are other major companies making enormous investments in renewable energy. IKEA has made a commitment to be completely energy independent in all its stores by 2020. It is investing over $680 million over the next 5 years to make it happen. So, it is understandable that more major companies will invest in renewable energy than ever before in the coming years. Even smaller businesses can take advantage of alternative energy solutions.

Forbes’s article forecasts that Renewable energy sector will do fine under the new US President, Donald Trump. Many believe he will turn green to make U.S. more self-sufficient and independent in the energy sector. It is anticipated that new energy policies will continue to support renewable energy use in businesses.

Companies Will Look to Make Price Resistance a Competitive Advantage

Survey results continue to show that consumers support sustainable goods and services in principle, but are much less willing to pay extra to support those products. Look for producers to continue to find innovative ways to offer sustainable goods at pricing comparable to conventional items. They will do this through increasing economies of scale, improved logistics through technologies such as IOT, and reduced damage through innovations such as RPCs and reusable packaging.

Companies Will Innovate and Experiment

Sustainability is all about innovation. As businesses are interested in incorporating sustainability into their businesses, they will invest their time and money to experiment and innovate best methods of attaining their sustainable goals. While many large companies have developed sustainability best practices, medium and small businesses are yet to do so. So, it’s time for them to look for new approaches. Amazon’s Frustration-Free Packaging and Puma’s clever little bag are two good examples of innovation that results in packaging reduction. Another prediction, watch for smaller businesses to embrace new cloud-based technologies such as logistics tracking and routing that were previously available only to larger players. The result will be greater efficiency and a reduction of carbon emissions. 

The Gap Between Leaders and Ladders May Widen

Even as smaller companies make gains through the wider availability of sustainable products and services at competitive prices as well as from scalable cloud-based technologies that can help them improve operational efficiencies and improve their overall sustainability performance, they may still fall behind. Early adaptors have already established comprehensive programs and built corporate cultures that support sustainability performance improvement and innovation. As change accelerates, the leaders may be quicker to invest and implement, widening the gap between themselves and laggards.