2021 megatrends: sustainability
Sustainability is on many business leaders’ agendas, as a way to ensure their organisations operate in a way that doesn’t harm the ecological, social and economic environment. Such strategies foster company longevity and help to alleviate rising public concerns about climate change.
During the 2020 pandemic, global emissions fell by 7% – the biggest annual fall since the Second World War. Yet, even by June 2020, while unpolluted blue skies in locked-down Europe provided a tantalising vision of a lower carbon future, air pollution in China had already returned to pre-pandemic levels, despite a 38% drop in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and 34% reduction in fine particles (PM2.5) at the height of Covid-19 in China.
Sustainability in 2021
Still, there are good reasons why sustainability – and the environment in particular – will be at the top of the business, political and social agenda this year.
Under the Biden Presidency, the United States is expected to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050, while the European Green Deal aims to make the EU the world’s first climate-neutral bloc by 2050. The UK, meanwhile, has announced a ban on fossil-fuelled cars from 2030 as part of a Green Industrial Revolution. There’s increasing consumer pressure too – with the public now as concerned about climate change as they are of a future pandemic.
Businesses too are making the changes required to reduce carbon emissions and many of the world’s largest brands – such as Siemens, Unilever, and Toyota – have ambitious commitments in place. Many are already delivering against these: in September 2020 Google claimed to be the first major company to effectively eliminate its entire carbon footprint, a goal it set back in 2007.
Rising to expectations – and regulations
While organisations will continue to embrace the ‘E’ in ESG, sustainability and governance are also on their agenda, in response to growing consumer demand – particularly among millennials – as well as the concerns of stakeholders such as employees, and society at large.
In some respects, corporate interest in these issues reflects increasing regulatory scrutiny in areas such as big tech, chemicals and pharmaceutical pricing, so investment in ESG is not only the right thing to do but, for many, the smart thing to do. Ultimately, however, ESG’s climb up the business agenda addresses a notable shift in investment strategy: PWC expects 57% of mutual fund assets in Europe to be held in funds that consider ESG factors by 2025, up from 15% at the end of 2019.
How marketing must adapt
For marketers, the stakes are now raised – all marketing activity must meet heightened consumer expectations around environmental, sustainability and governance issues. In other words, every marketing activity requires greater consideration of its sustainability and spam is definitely not the answer to today’s marketing needs. Neither is throwaway material masquerading as meaningful and engaging content.
Messaging must align with, and emphasise, an organisation’s ESG commitment and footprint. There mustn’t be a gap between what’s claimed and what’s reality. Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy at spotting ‘greenwashing’.
Marketers who rise to the occasion, with sustainable activities and a commitment to the environment, society, and the economy, will see long-term benefits. Not just in ensuring the longevity of their organisation (and the planet) but also in greater customer loyalty and a stronger brand reputation.
More like this: 2021 Megatrends – Resilience
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The Henley Group is a B2B integrated communications agency, based in Henley-on-Thames, UK. We specialise in public relations, content marketing, corporate communications and strategic consulting for clients in the UK and overseas. We advise, plan, produce and deliver engaging communication programmes for clients across a range of B2B sectors.