• sustainability initiatives
  • Circular Economy
  • Emissions Reductions
  • Supply Chain

Three Sustainability Trends and Insights for 2020

Matthew Banks
Jan 24, 2020


This blog was coauthored by Kevin Foley, Rodrigo Leal, and Caitlin McHose

In 2019, we saw more attention on transitions in sustainability and business than ever. Major brand (and some municipal) sustainability teams will likely experience three intriguing shifts in 2020.

Sustainability Teams Must Engage Their Supply Chain to Meet GHG Targets

Our sense is these teams may feel a little powerless. Sustainability teams face new pressures from climate initiatives to cut emissions upstream and downstream. This means brands are looking to mobilize their suppliers to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in a bid to match their ambitions. In some restaurant and hospitality sector cases, councils of suppliers that provide logistics support and protein are stepping up to set targets to start decarbonizing global supply chains. However, most sustainability teams received approval for a goal that they do not yet know how to implement with procurement personnel. Guidehouse, a Guidehouse company, sees big opportunities to tackle logistics, packaging, agriculture, and contract manufacturing by working with other like-minded brands to address best practices in these four zones. The era of climate compliant supply chains has arrived as major foundations also make this topic a priority.

Interest Increases in Implementing Circular Economy Measures, Starting with Waste

Food waste costs the US $218 billion dollars each year. The value of waste streams is an important frontier that will make headway in 2020. Circularity measures unlock GHG emissions savings and also realize economic opportunity. Reducing waste saves money, and some waste streams have intrinsic value when it comes to recycling. The West Coast Voluntary Agreement on Wasted Food provides a good example. Food retailers and their supply chain partners are joining the agreement to reduce and prevent wasted food 50% by 2030. Food waste is one of the largest contributors to global warming. Of all US and Canadian GHG emissions, 2.6% come from food loss and waste. Waste is the first place to begin taking a circular approach to reduce cost.

Organizations Continue Taking a Firmer Stance on Equity Issues

Equity is a rising priority and organizations are taking steps to invest in and develop methods to address climate in an equitable, inclusive way. The climate action plan for San Antonio, Texas, has a focus on climate equity issues and Denver, Colorado’s EV Plan considers the impacts of EV adoption and infrastructure on vulnerable groups. The Coca-Cola Company is investing in community resilience projects as part of its global climate goals. Meanwhile, the US Green Building Council made social equity and resilience issues the focus areas of Greenbuild 2019 programming. The National Adaptation Forum brought together sustainability practitioners, government officials, and community organizers to discuss equitable approaches to community climate planning and engagement. Reinforcing the importance of equity, in January 2020, protestors interrupted Governor Scott’s (Vermont) and Governor Polis’ (Colorado) State of the State addresses calling for climate equity in plans at the state level.

In the Months Ahead

These shifts point to things to come, including the following possibilities:

  • Efforts to galvanize suppliers to cut emissions by imitating the goals of the Fortune 250 will move forward, particularly in the wake of the dismantling of national environmental regulations.
  • Attention from industry will emerge to address waste streams with economic value. Food, plastics, and textiles were hot areas in the 2010s. The 2020s might see increased focus on e-waste or commercial and consumer goods packaging.
  • Advocacy by groups like Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion, and legislation like the Green New Deal, will push equity issues and justice into discussions around the next frontiers for organizations on climate and sustainability.

Supply chain, circularity measures, and climate equity are three categories to watch in 2020. Hopefully these trends will bring the decade closer to net-zero GHGs, less waste, and justice. Time to go for it!