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Predictions 2022: Sustainability

Courtney Holm
27 Jan 2022

The impact of sustainability will outshine COVID-19 in 2022

Courtney Holm, VP Sustainability Solutions shares her thoughts on what we can expect to see in the world of sustainability in the year ahead.

With COVID-19 continuing to be a threat in 2022, we’ve been forced to pay more attention to global issues and the impact we have as humanity on the planet. The pandemic’s negative impact on society has positively opened the doors for major discussions around environmental and social sustainability.

Citizens and business are waking up to the fact that their everyday actions have substantial environmental and social impacts, and they are starting to understand that decisions need to be taken quickly to lessen their environmental footprint. The enlightened few are going beyond doing ‘less bad’ and have pivoted towards doing more good; focusing on being regenerative and leaving the planet, especially their local ecosystems and communities, better off then they found them.

Business prioritising carbon footprint data

The 2021 publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) made it scientifically indisputable, climate change is “widespread, rapid, and intensifying”. In 2021, we witnessed catastrophic weather events around the globe, one after another; everything from fires, floods, powerful hurricanes, and volcanic activity to a locust plague in East Africa. These natural disasters are a direct result of climate change and caused by our lifestyle decisions. We have and are continuing to alter the carbon cycle. So much so that we have forced a new geological age, the Anthropocene, where human activity has profoundly changed the planet and its biodiversity.

My prediction is that in 2022, we’ll see businesses get serious about understanding their role in contributing to the Anthropocene. They will prioritise obtaining actual (as opposed to industry averages) data points across scopes 1, 2 and 3. They will use technology to gather information from their extended supply chains so that they can calculate their real impact on the carbon cycle and how their business activities are causing environmental degradation. Most will calculate their impact at an organisational level in response to legislation, but the advanced will look to calculate and communicate impacts at product and service level with the goal to bring greater awareness and insight action on personal and professional carbon contributions.

Individuals taking responsibility and accountability:

This increased transparency at product and service level will enable all of us to be more aware of our personal carbon footprint and most importantly to do something about it. Individuals will begin to take actions and make lifestyle decisions to minimise their impact on the environment.

In 2022, citizens will strive to understand the science and they will pay attention to the daily atmospheric CO2 readings. These are measured from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii and it is the leading indicator for planetary environmental stability, global economic security and inter-generational sustainability. As of 10 January, the global parts per million (ppm) is 417.91. It is widely agreed that we need to reduce the ppm to below 350 to regain stability.

In response to this urgent need to reduce our atmospheric CO2 levels, individuals will set ambitious personal targets, changing what they buy, eat, what form of transportation to take to work, etc. It will make a difference, but as citizens we will put collective pressure on governments and businesses to drive systemic changes. This will force businesses to take accountability for making it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices. They will not only share information but will begin to account for the real cost of their operations, and in doing drive up the prices of environmentally or sociably unsustainable products and services, making more sustainable products and services less expensive.

The Metaverse

With no sight of the pandemic coming to end anytime soon, we’ll continue to see a blurring of the lines between the real world and the digital one. While I do not predict that society will be immersed in a digital only experience, I do believe that technology will get more sophisticated and that we will see increased community-based platforms and consumption of digital products that replace physical ones, e.g., art. There are potential benefits for our social interactions and to reduce our environmental impact with a more digitally focused life. There is an obvious caveat that the technology must be energy efficient, e.g., not blockchain based.

We’ve already seen the merge between the digital world and the workplace with the introduction of tools like Zoom and Teams allowing personal and professional communication to take place without having to jump on plane, but we will see more technologies emerge that go beyond work, and these could help business communicate and encourage sustainable choices.

Shifting mindsets to promote net positive

While businesses have embraced ESG to monitor environmental and social progress, most of the tools and data capabilities to measure these impacts have not yet been fully embedded into operational and reporting processes. In 2022, we will see businesses begin to shift their mindsets and focus less on what they can get out of the planet and society and more on what they can give back. For example, instead of “we will not support coal or deforestation”, they will shift to “we will not support coal or deforestation and we will invest in projects or funds that accelerate local renewable energy infrastructure and protect and conserve biodiversity”

2022 will be the year we begin to witness an actual step in the right direction for sustainability on a global scale. Both individuals and businesses will have an increased awareness on their influence to the environment, encouraging action towards a more regenerative society. But action needs to be taken now in order to have long-term benefits. Businesses can no longer sit and wait for others to take the first step.

For more information download the Capgemini Research Institute report here,