In preparation for a speaking engagement at the recent Best Practices in Romanian CSR Conference 4th edition, I ran a quick and rough analysis into the main sustainability topics of this first half of 2019. It was a fun exercise that reminded me of the work I used to do at IMD Business School on Global Trends.

There were three clear themes, and they are not surprising: carbon, plastic, and circular economy.

The Method

As part of keeping up with the latest in the industry, I follow various websites and keep a collection of articles and research studies. It helps me keep up to date with what different organisations are doing, and it is how I write my blog articles. The collection is not perfect or all-encompassing by any means, but it is a good enough sample for me to feel confident enough in what the output would be.

I took this collection and coded each article into one or two topics or themes. That usually ended up being the sustainability issue (e.g. carbon) or where in the business it was being addressed (e.g. supply chain). This was done in an exploratory way; no pre-determined themes, the article and its content had more influence than the system did.

It emerged pretty quickly that three topics were dominant: carbon and renewables, plastic, and circular economy (which included waste, recycling, and a lot on sustainable packaging).

Carbon

In this themes, I saw business coalitions (like industry pledges, RE100, and Science Based Targets), net zero and even “climate positive” goals, mitigation from complicated scope 3 emissions like shipping and freight, new companies doing carbon offsetting, renewable energy actions (such as certificates and power purchase agreements), and investor pressure to decarbonise.

Plastic

Within this theme, articles covered plastic bags and straws, single-use plastic bans, long-term goals for the eventual plastic material replacement and elimination, inclusion of recycled plastic (see circular economy), investor pressure on plastics, and ocean conservation.

Circular economy

The dominant topic in this theme overlaps with the above trend on plastic: the incorporation of the recycled material into the product or packaging. But other sub-themes came in the form of take-back schemes, biomass reuse, and power generation, among other things.

Implications

The basic implication I presented at the conference was, if you are not prioritising these three issues, then you are behind.

Unfortunately in Romania, the capacity building support for the sustainability industry is just not deep enough yet. Few companies are up to date on these trends, for now. Positively, the conference did showcase some role model corporates, in addition to a growing social entrepreneurship aspect that is starting to fill this need for more support. I am optimistic!

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