What’s in store for Sustainability in 2017

Given the roller coaster of a year we had and an already exciting start to the New Year, now seems a good time to cast forward and try to predict what the rest of 2017 has in store, by Paul Gosling.

In terms of significant events from 2016 (Brexit, Trump etc) we are yet to really see what their impact will be but 2017 should see more clarity over both the global agenda and the “little local difficulty” of the UK’s divorce from the EU, which has taken a step forwards with the Bill having now passed through both Houses.

When it comes to sustainability, it appears that despite significant headwinds and continued unhelpful commentary from the “turn the clock back” brigade, the basic premise that environmental and sustainability issues need to be front and centre of decision making continues to gain ground.  True, there have been setbacks with uncertainty and reactionary policies seeming to come from far too much of government, particularly regarding their attitude to renewables.

Despite this there is a definite sense that a broader “social responsibility” agenda continues to gain ground and it is very encouraging to see the Corporate world led by the likes of Paul Polman at Unilever picking up this mantle. Indeed, plastics as an environmental pollutant has rapidly become a very big issue and is now firmly established on the media radar.

What is in store for 2017?

With all the caveats associated with crystal ball gazing I have identified some key issues which will define the Environment and Sustainability agenda for 2017:

1.            Government Policy Realignment – It is inevitable that the policy framework governing Environmental and Sustainability issues will change internationally because of a Trump presidency and nationally because of a post Article 50 UK government. At the moment it is impossible to say what this will mean, but there is a great opportunity to keep the good elements and reform the less than useful regulations which EU membership has provided. I am less confident about what will happen in the US as, in the “post-truth” world, the complicated and nuanced issues around the sustainability agenda find it difficult to get a hearing. We shall see!

2.            Natural Capital – The principal that the world around us has a value which needs to be factored into decision making is a concept which has such obvious weight that it should have been incorporated sooner, but with various elements of this agenda coming together in 2016 this should be even higher on the agenda in 2017.

3.            Environmental Social Governance (ESG) – The importance of ESG issues in investment and their value in creating value have been steadily growing in recent years and will become even more mainstream in 2017.

4.            Technology Developments and Data management – The developments in technology are dizzyingly exciting, and there is no doubt that technology will be used to push the environment and sustainability agenda forward in 2017.  Focusing on performance, productivity and people is critical.

5.            Sustainability as a Competitive Advantage – The benefits of organisations of all sizes acting in a sustainable and responsible manner have gained ground year on year since I started in the sector in the mid-90’s.  There is every reason why this will continue, although it may have to fight hard against the naysayers given voice by more negative and backward looking politicians of all hues.  The voice given to the positive benefits argument by the likes of Unilever, M&S etc will no doubt be increasingly important so all power to those leaders willing to stand up and shout about Sustainability.

And finally, one which should be in this list but which seems to be entirely intractable:

6.            Tackle the House-Building Deficit – The chronic lack of houses being built over the last decade and more is a tragedy.  It really needs a concerted approach with significant resources thrown at it.  Unfortunately, and despite good intentions and positive words nothing seems to change and it seems unlikely that this will change in 2017.

I look forward to comments on these and suggestions of other points readers feel I’ve missed!

Paul has an environmental science degree and has spent over 20 years recruiting specialists in this sector. He is the founding Managing Director of Porter Gosling Ltd, a specialist independent recruitment firm providing recruitment services to the Environment and Sustainability sector.

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