Sustainable Standard

The sustainability conversation is evolving as the intersecting crises of the past year–a global pandemic, supply chain disruptions, a climate breakdown, and more–unfold. In a recent Wunderman Thompson report, 85% of respondents say people must be prepared to rethink the way they live and spend if we are to tackle climate change. In addition, 80% believe that sustainability is inextricably linked with problems like poverty, inequality and social justice, and 86% now expect businesses to play a part in solving big challenges like climate change or social justice. This shift in consumer sentiment highlights the importance of innovation and intersectionality in our fight against climate change.

People have become more aware of the environmental impact of tourism and are making travel choices that better align with their values. According to a recent studyby travel company Virtuoso, four in five people (82%) said the pandemic has made them want to travel more responsibly in the future. Almost three-quarters (72%) said travel should support local communities and economies, preserve destinations’ cultural heritage, and protect the planet. A luxury conservation-based resort in Australia is putting climate restoration on the guest itinerary. After bushfires in 2019 wiped out most of the property’s 7,000 acres, Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley reopened in 2020 with a slate of activities that invite guests to help restore the local ecosystem.

Beyond the travel industry, brands and consumers are pushing for more innovative solutions to the climate crisis. A report by The Future Laboratory notes that the cosmetics industry creates 120 billion units of packaging a year. In an effort to reduce this impact, a number of beauty brands are using innovative biomaterial alternatives. Beauty brand Hæckels won a Wallpaper Design Award in 2020 for its boxes made from fungi and agricultural waste, with product information printed on recycled paper studded with seeds. Google recently shifted its focus to sustainable fashion. In partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, the tech giant created the Global Fibre Impact Explorer to help brands make more sustainable sourcing decisions. Educational platforms like WaterBear and Slow Factor also rely on technology to get their message out. Using storytelling to make a difference, WaterBear is the first interactive streaming platform dedicated to the future of our planet. Slow Factory prepares historically marginalized people to become climate leaders through open education, workshops, seminars, and partnerships between businesses and scientists.

While technology becomes more integral in our fight against climate change, it’s important to consider the carbon footprint of that very technology. According to a March 2019 report by the Shift Project, the carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet, and the systems supporting them account for about 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions, similar to the amount produced by the airline industry globally. These emissions are predicted to double by 2025. “Until quite recently, the environmental impact of the internet wasn’t something that people really thought about,” Vineeta Greenwood, account director at design agency Wholegrain Digital, told Wired. “However, we are in a state of climate emergency, and creating a sustainable internet is just one action that we can and must take.” A sustainable internet starts with the way websites and apps are designed. Amsterdam-based design studio Formafantasma is leading by example with a website that implements best practices for the environment–lots of white space, few images, and only two typefaces. The entire site can also be viewed in dark mode to reduce screen brightness and energy consumption. In an increasingly online world–one in which remote work, online shopping, and gaming can thrive–the environmental implications of data usage are more significant than ever. As users, we can alter our internet use to better support the environment, and designers can do even more, but the most impactful solutions will have to come from within the tech industry itself.

This idea of industry-wide solutions is crucial if we want to see widespread, meaningful change. In the food industry, regenerative agriculture offers a potential solution. Referring to farming practices that restore the biodiversity of soil and vastly improve the land’s capacity to sequester carbon, regenerative agriculture practices are already being implemented by large corporations. In April 2021, PepsiCo announced a new, impact-driven Positive Agriculture ambition, anchored by a goal to spread regenerative farming practices across 7 million acres. The company estimates the effort will eliminate at least 3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by the end of the decade. In the fashion industry, circularity offers a similar systemic approach to climate concerns. “If we can get to an economic model that is restorative regenerative, which creates without waste and pollution and keeps materials and products in rotation and regenerates natural systems, we have an economy that can run forever,” Ellen MacArthur, sustainable leader and founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, told Vogue. According to McKinsey, circular business models, including re-commerce, could enable the industry to cut around 143 million tonnes (~315B lbs) of GHG emissions in 2030.

Micro Trends

1. R(eco)nnection

Natural surroundings aside, people are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of tourism. A luxury conservation-based resort in Australia is putting climate restoration on the guest itinerary. After bushfires in 2019 wiped out most of the property’s 7,000 acres, Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley reopened in 2020 with a slate of activities that invite guests to help restore the local ecosystem. Guests can plant trees, accompany trained field guides as they do wildlife and habitat assessments, or join educational clubs to learn how to protect and regenerate local flora and fauna. More sustainable tourism also means less air travel, more road trips, and more trains. Eco-friendly transportation is becoming a priority for consumers as they push to decarbonize air travel.

2. Eco Innovation

As we work towards a more sustainable future, we must rely on technology to help us get there. A report by The Future Laboratory notes that the cosmetics industry creates 120 billion units of packaging a year and predicts that by 2050, the beauty industry will have contributed up to 12 billion tonnes of plastic to landfill. In an effort to reduce this impact, a number of brands are making changes to their formulations, packaging, and overall missions.

3. Digital Sustainability

As the climate crisis becomes more urgent and people search for solutions, not many think about the environmental impact of those very searches. According to a March 2019 report by the Shift Project, the carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet, and the systems supporting them account for about 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions, similar to the amount produced by the airline industry globally. These emissions are predicted to double by 2025. While awareness about internet pollution is growing, there is still a way to go. “Until quite recently, the environmental impact of the internet wasn’t something that people really thought about,” Vineeta Greenwood, account director at design agency Wholegrain Digital, told Wired. “However, we are in a state of climate emergency, and creating a sustainable internet is just one action that we can and must take.”

4. Systemic Solutions

While consumer sentiment continues to shift in favor of sustainability, experts and activists alike are realizing that the proposed solutions do not match the magnitude of the problem. When you consider that 100 active fossil fuel producers have been linked to 71% of industrial greenhouse gas emissions, choosing to switch to cardboard straws or buy organic produce seem like insignificant, if not completely futile, efforts in the fight against climate change. In order to see meaningful, widespread change, we need to zoom out, recognize the interconnected nature of the problem, and search for solutions at the systemic, rather than individual, level.

By The Numbers

Sustainable Standard Data


If you’re interested in the full Sustainable Standard report or want to learn more about trends that are growing — and dying, please contact [email protected]