The sustainability trends for 2023 that we expect to see are:
- Increased transparency and disclosure
- Growth of the circular economy to deliver on people’s needs without breaching safe planetary boundaries
- Leadership closing the gap between our efforts and the world’s problems
- New legislation on sustainability reporting
1. Increased Transparency and Disclosure
The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) believes that companies are exaggerating their green credentials (‘green washing’) to attract climate conscious consumers. After an initial focus 12 months ago on bringing fast fashion companies to account for greenwashing, the CMA has announced a review of the claims made by food, drink, and toiletries sectors, together worth £130 billion p.a. Major players in this sector include Unilever, Nestle, Coca-Cola and Proctor & Gamble as well as manufacturers of supermarket own-brand goods.
The 2021 UK government Green claims code: making environmental claims – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) helps businesses understand and comply with their obligations under consumer protection law when making environmental claims. The code details six principles which claims must comply with: truthful and accurate, clear and unambiguous, not omit or hide important relevant information, comparisons must be fair and meaningful, consider the full life cycle of the product or service, and substantiated.
The EU Initiative on substantiating green claims – Environment – European Commission (europa.eu) and the US Green Guides | Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov) have adopted similar guidelines to prevent companies giving a misleading impression of their environmental impact or benefits.
The Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) has released a new Commitment Compliance Policy. The SBTi is devoted to ensuring that companies and financial institutions deliver on their commitments to develop science-based emissions reductions targets in line with the latest climate science. The policy, which came into effect on 31 January 2023, specifies that companies and financial institutions that have failed to submit their targets for validation within 24 months will be highlighted on the SBTi’s website target dashboard.
Related to increasing transparency and disclosure, the British Standards Institution, in conjunction with JLL, KPMG, Anglian Water, and the UK government, has published PAS 808:2022 setting out what it means to be a purpose-driven organisation, providing a basis for aligning purpose with decision-making across an organisation to deliver sustainability.
2. Circular Economy
The 2023 Circularity Gap Report was launched at the World Economic Forum at Davos, reporting that the global economy is only 7.2% circular, down from 9.1% in 2018. It notes that not only is circularity reducing, but material extraction is rising, exceeding the planet’s safe environmental limits, and damaging eco-systems.
Over the past 6 years the global economy has extracted almost as many materials as during the whole of the 20th century. A global circular economy would fulfil the population’s needs with only 70% of the materials currently extracted, moving human activity back within safe limits.
The report identifies circular solutions across four key systems: Agrifood, Mobility & Transport, Manufactured Goods & Consumables, and the Built Environment. Together, these systems are responsible for breaching many safe planetary boundaries. By implementing these circular solutions, businesses, cities, and nations can cut materials use and environmental impacts like GHG emissions while upholding high standards of living.
We have previously written about how the circular economy will challenge the linear economy using the example of the office furniture sector in Transition to 2050: The Rise of the Circular Economy (rypeoffice.com)
The recent article by Paul Polman (former CEO of Unilever) 2023: Can leadership levels rise faster than sea levels? (linkedin.com) describes how courageous leadership can close the gap between our efforts and the world’s problems, the biggest being climate change and inequality.
His message for business is not that 2023 is going to be challenging – we already know that. Instead, he notes that, if we can create a critical mass of the right kind of leadership, this could be the year we begin turning things around.
If we fast-forward twelve months, what do we want to look back and say we achieved? Let it be that humanity stopped trailing behind our biggest problems and finally took control. Let 2023 be the year we find our courage.
4. Legislation on Sustainability Reporting
2023 is expected to be a year of legislation changes, here we highlight new rules to increase the level of reporting on sustainability issues, bringing sustainability reporting in line with financial reporting.
On January 5th the European Corporate sustainability reporting (europa.eu) Directive (CSRD) came into force. EU law now requires all large and listed companies to disclose information on their risks and opportunities arising from social and environmental issues, and on the impacts of their activities on people and the environment – a principle known as “double materiality”. This helps investors, civil society organisations, consumers and other stakeholders to evaluate the sustainability performance of companies, as part of the European green deal which is a set of proposals to make the EU’s climate, energy, transport and taxation policies fit for reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.
Companies subject to CSRD will have to apply the new reporting rules for the first time in the financial year 2024 for reports published in 2025.
CSRD makes climate reporting standard practice, companies play a part in taking tangible climate action, prove their plans are based on science-based parameters and track their implementation.
The Carbon Trust has published a guide on CSRD including who needs to comply, reporting requirements, how to prepare, and the potential benefits.
Although the UK is no longer part of the EU, it has its own sustainability reporting requirements Climate-related reporting requirements | FCA, which are compulsory for annual reporting for over 1,300 of the UK’s largest companies.
The UK Sustainability Disclosure Requirements (SDR) | FCA are expected to be finalised in 2023 as the UK’s sustainability reporting standard combining SECR, TCFD and ESOS, including reporting on scope 3 emissions, non-climate related sustainability targets and a detailed path to net zero emissions.
For creating a path to net zero emissions, see Rype Office’s recently published How to Write a Net Zero Transition Plan.