GreenBiz has released its annual report on the state of sustainability in business. The report, a collaborative effort with Trucost, gives an overall view of CSR and sustainability progress in the private sector and outlines some key trends to watch for in 2016.
The report reflects on the success of 2015, a year defined by landmark action like the COP21 agreement and a substantial increase in sustainability investment. Private sector progress reached new levels as companies announced ambitious pledges for action. While this action was clearly inspired in part by the COP21 and other government actions, this paper asserts that “the business world didn’t even need a U.N. climate conference to spur progress.” It takes the view that sustainability in business is in the process of turning a corner, regardless of public sector action.
According to the authors, this private sector progress is in large part due to the increasing integration of Circular Economy thinking into mainstream business strategy. As they point out, the Circular Economy requires a complete rethink of procurement, product end-of-life, and other business areas. As they put it, “the circular economy involves a fundamental rethinking of products, materials and systems of commerce. It is not simply next-gen recycling.” In the more basic form of corporate social responsibility, business’s focus on one area, or one change, at a time. Circular Economy thinking requires more of a holistic altering of the ways in which a business operates. As Peter Lacy, global managing director at Accenture Strategy, put it, the circular economy could be “the biggest economic revolution in 250 years.” The GreenBiz report agrees, and emphasizes that 2016 will bring further circular economy integration.
The report correctly strikes a cautious tone at times. Weather patterns were alarming in 2015 and 2016 is likely to bring more worrying signs that the effects of global warming are already upon us. The question, are we acting fast enough, is central. Nevertheless, private sector sustainability progress, accelerated by governmental action, is likely to make 2016 and exciting year of change. As the report states, companies that have still failed to begin their sustainability journey will increasingly find themselves in the minority.