4 corporate sustainability trends all business leaders should be watching in 2018

Today marks my one year anniversary of joining EDF Climate Corps, where I’ve spent the last 12 months helping companies think through the strategies for meeting – or setting – their climate goals. What I’ve learned in this short time is that companies are going beyond the “safe bet” to tackling bigger and more impactful projects. In doing so, I’ve identified four important trends in corporate sustainability this year that all business leaders should be watching.

But before we get into these trends, let’s step back and look at how corporate sustainability has evolved. In my previous role as president of Green Impact Campaign, I helped thousands of small businesses get their foot into the sustainability door by investing in energy efficiency. It was a low-risk, reliable way to cut costs and reduce their carbon footprint. Now, with EDF Climate Corps, I’m working with businesses to go beyond implementing the already-proven strategies – like energy efficiency – to setting new trends that others will follow.

Daniel Hill, Project Manager, EDF Climate Corps

Who’s leading the way?

This year’s EDF Climate Corps host application pool hit a record high, with leading companies across the U.S. and China – like Google and BlackRock – spanning 20 industries, including tech, finance and retail, joining the program.

Here are the trends in corporate sustainability I’ve identified by working with this group:

  1. Rapid growth of companies setting Science-Based Targets. Since the decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, companies have stepped up on climate leadership by announcing commitments of their own. A key example of this is the more than 1000 companies that have signed onto the We Are Still In pledge. Under this commitment, businesses are setting ambitious, measurable GHG emission targets that establish them as leaders in innovation, strengthen investor confidence, improve profitability and competitiveness, and most importantly, hold them accountable.

What the data shows: Twenty percent of companies participating in this year’s EDF Climate Corps program are focusing on either creating GHG commitments or setting Science-Based Targets, a 215 percent increase from last year’s applications.

  1. Companies will increasingly look to tackle their supply chain emissions. Gone are the days when corporate sustainability is narrowly focused on improving operations within company walls. Now, it’s grown to focus on building value across entire supply chains. And multi-national companies are taking sustainability, well…multi-national. More companies are engaging with their suppliers abroad to manage emissions across their entire footprint.

What the data shows: This year, 17 percent of EDF Climate Corps hosts are focusing on supply chain sustainability, like IKEA and Pepsico have done in the past, with the goal of reducing scope 3 emissions to create transparent and risk-free business. And, two companies will place fellows in both their U.S. and China offices, like McDonald’s did last year, to collaborate on climate goals from one side of the world to the other.

  1. Tech and internet companies will show that they’re serious about sustainability. The number of employees in a company was once an indicator for a company’s environmental impact. Now, we’ve entered into a new era of business models that have formed around the “shared economy”, in which a company’s footprint now includes factors like number of users, number of drivers, number of searches…you get the point. That’s why the tech and internet sector has stepped up and has started measuring this “complete” carbon footprint by engaging users in their sustainability efforts by designing strategies towards achieving carbon neutrality to offset the complete impact. And this trend is only going to keep growing. Networks like ClimateAction.tech, a community of technology professionals that helps employees improve the carbon footprint of their companies and collaborate with other industry leaders and advocates, are enabling more companies in the industry to take this holistic approach.

What the data shows: This year, we saw a 160 percent increase in tech and internet companies interested in partnering to advance their climate goals.

  1. Environmental innovation is transforming corporate sustainability. Companies are finding new ways to improve both business and environmental performance, and they’re turning to innovation to do so. A new wave of emerging technologies is giving companies the ability to become more productive, measure results more accurately and scale solutions like never before, making them more competitive in their industry. And, we’re seeing this innovation play out in all different forms, from using data to gain insights and drive results, to installing sensors to reduce emissions and protect product.

What the data shows: We’re teaming up with companies of all types and sizes to work on fresh and innovative projects. Take AT&T: For the third year in a row, the company is hiring a fellow to advance its Smart Cities initiative – an effort to pilot the large-scale deployment of Digital Infrastructure as solutions to help cities become cleaner, safer and more connected to their citizens.

I congratulate all of the companies that are reinventing how business can work with the environment. And if you’re a company feeling left out – or behind the curve – EDF Climate Corps can help you join the momentum.

* Infographic: see what this year's EDF Climate Corps hosts are tackling


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