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2015 Sustainability Trends

Feb. 19, 2015

Learn how businesses are prioritizing the environment.

Want to know which sustainability trends are influencing corporate policy? It’s best to keep tabs on company strategies as green goals often coincide with facilities management. The research firm Verdantix interviewed hundreds of sustainability and environmental health and safety (EH&S) leaders to explore the key green trends that will impact business management in 2015 and beyond.

The report surveyed companies such as 3M, Apple, AT&T, Coca-Cola, Gap, Holcim, Johnson & Johnson, and P&G. The following themes are expected to influence the agendas of sustainability decision-makers.

1) Sustainability strategies will adopt risk-based thinking. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is revamping all of its standards to integrate ISO 31000’s risk-based concepts. This will open the door to a consistent and systematic use in management systems and support the broader trend of increased involvement of sustainability leaders in sustainability risk management: 62% of leaders reported having full or shared sustainability risk management authority, up from 20% in 2012.

2) Supplier sustainability assessments will move beyond checklists. Businesses face continued pressure to account for and rectify sustainability failures within their supply chains or product procurement policies. The realization that it is no longer enough to simply state that a firm has a supplier sustainability questionnaire is pushing firms to seek means to audit and engage suppliers to ensure sustainability performance.

3) Water scarcity concerns will increase corporate investigation of natural capital risks. As water scarcity continues to be a global concern, corporate action is needed to address risks associated between natural capitals such as forests and water. Firms need to pay attention to sustainable agriculture goals, such as reducing cropland soil erosion, safeguarding regional water quality, and improving land use efficiency.

4) Green infrastructure strategies will gain popularity. Corporations are exploring green infrastructure strategies, including transforming impervious land into pervious green spaces, to help manage stormwater run-off and reduce costs associated with water infrastructure maintenance. For example, Washington, D.C. is implementing a Stormwater Retention Credit trading program that allows property owners to generate revenue from voluntarily implementing green infrastructure projects.

5) Non-financial reporting will continue its slow incremental growth. Non-financial reporting for sustainability initiatives has become widespread among large businesses. For instance, interviews with 260 global sustainability leaders in 2014 found that 90% of leaders will publish an annual sustainability report in 2015. Of those surveyed, 45% believe that improving their performance on sustainability reporting over the next 12 months is “very important.”

6) EH&S and sustainability job functions will migrate closer together. A growing number of industries are starting to merge the responsibilities of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) and sustainability managers. Of the 250 EH&S leaders interviewed in 2014, 67% had responsibility for measuring corporate-wide results for sustainability data collection and reporting, while 75% were responsible for setting corporate sustainability data collection and reporting policy.

7) Materiality assessments will be the focus of sustainability strategy reviews. Chief sustainability officers following the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) G3 had been using the “report on everything” approach, but under the new GRI G4, managers will need to think carefully about their firm’s materially relevant sustainability concerns. This means tracking sustainability initiatives that reflect an organization’s significant economic, environmental, and social impacts or substantively influence the assessments and decisions of stakeholders.

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