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Top trends that will shape sustainability in 2021

Sustainability Trends 2023

Published on Jan 24, 2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted normalcy for mankind and caused an economic tailspin across the globe in 2020, businesses and policymakers abandoned most of their initial expectations and projections for the year. While not all projections were imprecise, certainly the life-threatening pandemic has accelerated a few trends like shift to low-carbon energy, growth of plant-based protein, etc.

From green jobs to banks discouraging dirty energy, there are a host of emerging trends that can reshape business and society as the world in general enters a post-COVID era. This write-up briefly discusses the trends that will redefine sustainability in 2021.

Lenders will stop focusing on fossil fuels and not just coal

Lenders will move away from dirty energy, including natural gas, and hit oil – and this will accelerate in 2021.

According to the data provided by IEEFA – Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, over 150 major global financial institutions have stipulated coal exit policies currently. At present, the future seems dreary for the world’s filthiest fossil fuel. The future of gas and oil isn’t very hunky-dory as well.

Further, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has induced fears that the demand for oil could drop drastically in the near future, leading to cuts in long-term price forecasts. On the other hand, the increasing evidence of the emission of massive amounts of hazardous methane by the gas industry has been a warning sign for financial markets.

The leading banks of North America no longer support Arctic drilling, while 53 lenders worldwide have sworn to streamline their operations according to the Paris climate deal. Oil majors like ExxonMobil and BP have lost almost half of their market value in 2020 (Eco Business).

IEEFA director of energy finance studies, Tim Buckley, stated that “At the dawn of 2020, everyone was discussing about thermal coal becoming unbankable. The assumption became a reality before the end of the year. Financial markets have begun to acknowledge that the capital flight from fuels is increasing, and its broadening into gas and oil will be the next hot topic.”

Green-collar workers will increase

Though many governments did not have the capital for a green recovery from the current crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been strong signs of a shift towards green jobs. In the context of its Green New Deal revealed in May, South Korea will set up a Regional Energy Transition Centre to support employees as they shift to sectors that are more sustainable. An initial parliamentary proposal aims to raise funds to the tune of $10.5 billion in the next two years and create nearly 33,000 jobs. The plan includes creating urban forests, remodeling public buildings, setting up a foundation for new as well as renewable energy, and building low-carbon industrial complexes to reduce the dependency on fossil fuels.

Even Singapore is trying to create jobs in the sustainability discipline. Grace Fu, the sustainability and environment minister of Singapore, said that climate engineers, scientists, technicians, and food scientists would be required as the city-state is increasing its capabilities in climate adaptation and mitigation.

In a similar vein, the United Kingdom, as part of its net-zero plan, has promised to invest more than $5 billion in creating 2,50,000 fresh green jobs.

Carbon markets

Carbon markets will be a major sustainability trend in 2021. This is primarily due to the Taskforce for Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets established in September 2020. As nations of the world are planning net-zero carbon emissions, the relevance of carbon markets will rapidly increase in the coming years. A uniform, single, and transparent carbon market can help companies and countries build a carbon-neutral world.


Carbon emissions, along with increased consumption of resources are negatively impacting biodiversity – all forms of life present on the planet. As per WWF’s Living Planet Report, the population of birds, mammals, reptiles, fishes, and amphibians has dropped by an average of 68% since 1970. Biodiversity will continue to be a topic of greater importance in 2021 and the years ahead as a result of increased concentration on carbon transition and the repercussions of slow progress.

The circular economy

Waste reduction, in a way, helps the environment. The core concepts of the circular economy are ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’. Circular economy mainly focuses on reducing carbon emissions and pollution significantly.

Another central aspect of the circular economy is to moderate consumption to help conserve resources.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has reported that China and Indian markets have potential circular economy opportunities. In January 2021, Slovenia, a small country in Europe, pledged to become a fully circular economy. Other markets might follow in Slovenia’s footsteps in 2021.

Oceans and the blue economy

Water occupies nearly 70% of the earth’s surface and plays a major role in helping mankind prosper. However, natural water resources like oceans must be protected by reducing overfishing and pollution. As a matter of fact, the 14 markets that constitute the Ocean Panel, including Canada, Australia, and Japan, have pledged to sustainably manage 100% of the ocean area according to the national jurisdiction by 2025. If these markets stick to their commitment, then nearly 6 times more food can be produced from oceans, 40 times more renewable energy can be generated, and millions of people can be relieved from poverty.

Has the time for sustainable healthcare finally arrived?

The healthcare industry is becoming increasingly eco-conscious in recent times.

According to Paeng Lopez, Healthcare without Harm – a group that strives to mitigate the environmental footprint of healthcare across the globe, “Healthcare is setting the example for sustainability, right from sustainable procurement methods to cost-efficiency. This meaningful participation of the healthcare industry in addressing global problems is likely to go viral in 2021 and the coming years.”

Lopez also emphasized the increased use of solar rooftops for healthcare facilities. Healthcare facilities fall under the category of largest energy consumers, yet over a billion people across the globe do not have access to healthcare facilities with reliable power supplies. According to WHO (World Health Organization), this puts basic care at risk.

Lopez, further stated that hospitals will focus on managing and limiting medical waste effectively.

In fact, even the minor healthcare facilities in Southeast Asia are integrating scalable waste reduction solutions.

St. Paul’s Hospital in the Philippines manufactures its own reusable personal protective equipment to reduce waste. Similarly, Taichung Tzu Chi Hospital in Taiwan has built a sealed barrier with a pair of rubber gloves that allows healthcare professionals to safely conduct several nasal swab tests with few single-use types of equipment, as advised by WHO.

Will the planet’s last frontier get destroyed due to deep-sea mining?

Precious metals like nickel, cobalt, and copper, that are needed for making solar panels and batteries are vital for a low-carbon future. However, certain mining firms argue that this is the primary reason for environmental damage due to extractive activities.

Pro-miners are currently arguing that deep-sea mining is necessary for the energy transition. In fact, the International Seabed Authority is expected to approve ocean mining in international waters by 2021. However, some environmentalists are against this idea and claim that mining of the seabed could ruin the entire habitat. They also state that there are enough resources on the land, particularly when firms are exploring ways to reduce the need for raw materials by recovering metals from clean energy waste streams.

Only the future holds the answer to whether the miners will succeed, or the environmentalists will prevent the destruction of one of the planet’s last fundamental frontiers.