New This WeekNewsNewsletterSustainable Design

2021: The Year Sustainability Went Mainstream

This year, sustainability became the norm.

According to Harvard Business Review, this past year, sustainability in just about ever sector became normalized. The discussion around what most now call “ESG” (environmental, social, and governance) has become far more common than I’ve ever seen in my 20 years in the field. It’s now ubiquitous, and some data backs that up. Virtually all of the world’s largest companies now issue a sustainability report and set goals; more than 2,000 companies have set a science-based carbon target; and about one-third of Europe’s largest public companies have pledged to reach net zero by 2050. On the social side of the agenda, companies have been expanding diversity and inclusion efforts, committing funds to fight racial inequity, and speaking out on societal issues they used to avoid.

None of this equates with actual action to reduce emissions or tackle inequality, but it’s clearly not fringe anymore (which fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil found out when activist investors forced it to take on sustainability-friendly board members). To me, we’ve reached the end of the beginning. No business leaders seriously doubt that sustainability should be on the agenda, and companies are moving from incremental improvements to bolder, systemic approaches that create a net positive impact on the world.

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