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What is the future of sustainability as we welcome the next decade?

Sustainability can mean different things to different people. Its concept has been developing from not doing harm to the environment, to include other aspects too. And it is still developing.

As the world’s third most sustainable company*, Neste has successfully transformed itself from a local crude oil refining company to a global leader in renewable fuels and user of waste and residue feedstocks all within a decade. The future will see even more low carbon circular solutions for consumers and industries like aviation and polymers and chemicals.

As we welcome 2020 and beyond, we believe organisations and communities will also pay attention to the social and economic aspects of sustainability topics, such as sustainable talent pool, community engagement, sustainable supply chain and the sourcing of sustainable products.

I have identified 6 sustainability trends as we welcome the next decade:

1. Sustainability as a way of doing business

With the climate crisis dawning on us, and the definition of sustainability evolving, expectations towards organizations will increase.

Companies are expected to be able to answer questions like ‘what is your impact on climate over the whole value chain’ and ‘how can you improve your impact on the environment, people, atmosphere’. Reducing carbon emissions, making sure that people are taken into account and that there is a positive impact on the society remain high on the agenda.

Leading companies are building up capabilities and competencies to respond to these expectations. In the coming ten years, sustainability will become an important part of business models across the entire value chain, from sourcing and supply chain to the production line and products’ end life. In addition, companies will not only pay attention to their direct suppliers, but will also influence partners of their direct suppliers to join a bigger ecosystem.

2. Embracing accountability and the importance of being transparent

When organisations start to embrace sustainability as a part of their business, accountability for one’s product from the start of sourcing for raw materials to the end-of-life will also be part of the equation. Organizations need to consider how their business will impact the climate and environment at every stage, and proactively find solutions to reduce their negative impact.

As the climate crisis gets more and more complex, customers will also be more cautious about their own carbon footprint and will question if a product is sustainably sourced or produced.

Organizations will also need to embrace transparency in sustainability-related topics. This would have to be the default approach moving forward, helping guide business decisions and building trust among all stakeholders.

3. Education is key in building awareness

Being transparent also means that organizations are willing to share their beliefs and sustainability approach with other stakeholders. This will mean greater awareness of the issues faced by different parties involved (local communities, non-profit organizations, private sector, government and regional institutions), increased dialogue and understanding between them and more collaboration opportunities to make change on the ground.

4. Collaboration between the public and private

The private sector will play an increasing role as a change-maker. Governments and societies start being aware of the important role the private sector can play in fighting climate change. This will lead to a wide range of collaboration between the public and private sectors.

5. Innovation is imperative

Besides implementing policies and having partnerships in place, innovation is still a key component in shifting the needle. With companies increasingly taking action to ensure that they are socially responsible through innovative means, such as turning different types of waste and residues into high-quality end products, new policies like carbon taxes will complement existing efforts.

Companies will be continuously motivated to come up with more green solutions to reduce climate emissions.

6. Rise of the circular economy

With the global increase in population, resources become increasingly scarce. There is a growing trend, where people are more aware about the needs to eliminate waste, which gives rise to the circular economy. This promotes re-usage of energy, which has already proven available to a number of businesses globally.

The idea of a circular economy should also not be limited to just individual company processes. New partnerships between various industries can be formed to ensure that one person's waste can be another's resource - such as how we use fish fat derived from fish processing waste to produce renewable diesel. It is an opportunity for all companies to review their existing value chains and restructure how we think about the economy.

* According to the Corporate Knights 2019 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations list