2013 in Retrospect and a Look to the Year Ahead

The beginning of each New Year is often full of promise and optimism. It is a time to reflect on the good (and the bad) of the year past and to forge ahead with the lessons learned – often a little wiser and more assured than the year before.

2013 turned out to be a big one for environmental news as greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise, exceeding 400 parts per million for the first time in more than 55 years of measurement. Extreme weather events intensified, as heat waves and heavy flooding dominated the news, and research by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed that “high temperatures, such as those experienced in the U.S. in 2012, are now likely to occur four times as frequently due to ­human-induced climate change”.

Fortunately, 2013 also saw several of the globe’s largest corporations work to notably enhance their sustainability efforts, and a recent survey by Accenture (of 1,000 CEOs across 27 industries) found that 84% of CEOs “believe that business should lead efforts to define and deliver sustainable development goals”.

Walmart is an example of a large corporation who led the charge in 2013 to reduce its carbon footprint, as the company committed to produce or procure “7 billion kWh of renewable energy globally every year, a 600 percent increase over 2010 levels”. Coca-Cola offers another example, as the company committed to reduce the carbon footprint of its entire value chain by 25%, per drink, by 2020 and to replenish 100% of the water it uses. Other companies like Dell, Lego, and McDonald’s also set strong sustainability goals in 2013. For more information, the following website hosts a database of the sustainability goals set by all of the Fortune Global 500 companies.

Looking ahead to 2014, it is hoped that we can build upon the progress we made in 2013 and the goals that have been set by business leaders.

As Life Cycle Assessments and Environmental Product Declarations grow in popularity, businesses are beginning to better understand the complete impact of their product and are recognizing both the economic and environmental benefits of developing a closed-loop systems model. It is hoped that 2014 will see more companies recognize and embrace the inherent value of their product throughout its entire life cycle, and will look to start recovering their product “waste” for incorporation back into the production chain.

2014 also holds promise for the state of the carbon market. The recent linking of California’s emissions trading scheme with Quebec’s sets the precedent as the first North American agreement “that allows for the trading of greenhouse gas emissions across borders”. Changes to the European Union’s carbon trading system may also see the price of emitting carbon dioxide double by the end of the year.

2014 will also likely see social media continue to be an effective tool for changing consumer behaviour, and may arguably the key to a real societal shift towards sustainable living!

Regardless of what sustainability achievements 2014 may bring on a global scale, I would encourage everyone to take advantage of the clean slate that a New Year offers and set attainable sustainability goals of your own. Whether you are a large or small business, or an individual looking to ‘green’ your daily activities, start by assessing what you’re currently doing.

Identify where you have the greatest impact on the environment, and focus on what you can do to start minimizing the footprint of this activity. Research the opportunities and resources available to you and plan to make continuous improvements throughout the year. Most importantly, enjoy the satisfaction of knowing your efforts are valuable and contributing to a healthier world!