If we take a look back at 2022, we’ll notice a clearly distinguishable trend related to sustainability – more and more regulations and new frameworks are published. The rules by which the business should manage its impacts on environment have suddenly increased and affect more companies than ever before, especially in Europe. Biodiversity has come to the surface – political leaders have set goals to preserve it which will pass through the business directly. At this fast pace of change, it is only logical to ask: what comes next?
There are a few topics that stand out from the rest and it is likely that global solutions will be sought for them. Here’s what you should be prepared for:
Yes, they are everywhere. In the cities, in the mountains, even in the deepest parts of the ocean. However, what is more concerning is that they are also present inside our bodies – according to multiple surveys we ingest tiny pieces of plastic on a weekly basis. It is unknown how it affects our health yet. But we know where they are coming from – mainly from industry and production, use and disposal of plastic products. It has been proven that they can carry pollutants and toxins and the expectation is that their prevalence will only continue to rise.
The topic has become increasingly relevant. It is set to be the next major challenge after climate change and biodiversity loss. What happens to them? They have become a field for the deployment of regulations varying in number and strength. It is only a matter of time before more serious measures are put in place at the national and European levels to monitor how businesses handle the issue of microplastics. Many major initiatives related to the topic have been launched. For instance, there is an ongoing discussion for regulations that would oblige washing machine manufacturers to make equipment that does not allow microplastics to leak in and out when doing laundry, so as to not pollute water bodies from wastewater. Just like the case with ESG and decarbonization, companies become familiar with the issue and plan their approach on time, will gain a competitive advantage over others.
At this stage, microplastics cannot be completely prevented. They can only be reduced or limited. Progress will require major changes in our lifestyle and consumption patterns. Possible solutions lie in the wider application of circular economy principles in industry and households. For example, sustainable consumption and choice of textiles, which is one of the main sources of microplastics.
Is becoming increasingly polluted. Unfortunately, the benefits of clean and well- maintained soil have only been recognized as serious problems have arisen. It is a vital component of life on earth. In recent years, there have been, several persistent trends and developments in soil degradation around the world. For example, droughts are causing environmental disasters in some regions which leaves serious economic and social consequences. Another issue is the pollution with chemicals, metals, and plastics. And the impoverishment of soil in general, the depletion of its microelements, the need for more fertilizers and pesticides, which completes the cycle of pollution.
How is this relevant to the business? The state of soil is of fundamental importance to entire industries – food, textiles, wood, and manufacturing, etc. In fact, almost every business is directly or indirectly affected by waste management. Every process has its residual product that cannot always be reused even though the world is striving towards effective circular economy. Landfilling is polluting soil and is no longer just recommended but is part of European Union directives. Soil protection is one of the problems that businesses will have to address when working on their waste recovery hierarchy. Stopping the erosion is a slow and lengthy process. Realistically, even before ‘saving’ soil becomes a global mantra, some companies will start to take action (and some already are doing so) because they are aware of their own dependency and inevitability.
Rivers and freshwater bodies in Europe, and not only, are becoming filled with industrial and household chemicals. Here we are including even the most trivial things in our daily lives such as cosmetics and hygiene products. The European Environment Agency reports that most rivers in Europe are polluted. Most of the pollution comes from agriculture and industry, but also from households – where do you think the chemicals that you use to clean your home end up? In most cases – from sewage into rivers. The result is: biodiversity loss and economic consequences. The balance between the use of rivers for transport, tourism, electricity generation (renewable energy or floating solar panels) and their natural functions, is fragile. All of this is further complicated by the problem of dried-up rivers that we have seen these past summers. The Loire in France, the Rhine in Germany and the Danube have become like deserts in several places, which is the result not only of heat waves but also of water exploitation.
In fact, there are many examples. Pollution is transferred onto products. This process has been going on for a long time now and it is evident that the chemicals commonly utilized in consumer and industrial goods have a negative impact on our health. With increasing awareness, more and more people are concerned about the safety and eco-friendliness of the materials that make up a product and this has become a successful business model. The next step is paying special attention to the details – such as chemical additives.
Whether these are the topics that the business should focus on in the near future to be sustainable now remains to be seen. We try to read between the lines and follow the trends. And they clearly show that if there is an ongoing problem, fixing it globally goes right through the business. There are and there will continue to be companies that ask – why should I do this and that? The answer is quite simple and short – for them to exist. Because doing sustainable business is no longer a matter of choice. But you can choose how you want to manage your impacts without hindering your success.