5 sustainability trends in 2023
Human behavior is constantly changing based on our surroundings and new knowledge. Now 2022 is coming to an end, and we can start to see which patterns and behaviors are shaping us now and into the coming year.
Research has shown an increased awareness amongst consumers regarding sustainability, and retailers and organizations will have to act in accordance with their consumers' needs and wants in order to stay relevant.
As awareness increases and consumers demand more from corporations, brand loyalties may be tested. Consumers want to see brands take action against climate change and make efforts towards sustainability. If big brands can’t show that they are taking action and committing to change, consumers may shop elsewhere.
Here are the top 5 sustainability trends that are likely to continue to grow in the upcoming year. If you’re a retailer or organization, you might want to incorporate these in your business plan for 2023.
1. More circularity – recycling & reusing
According to Greenmatch, recycling is one of the key trends that we will see in 2023. The amount of plastic waste that gets recycled today is less than 10%, but there is a global increase in environmental concern, which indicates that more effort and education around recycling will become more common.
A big contributor will be manufacturers and producers, who will increase efforts to reduce and recycle packaging and encourage consumers to do the same. This will be seen across all sectors, from food to retail production.
According to a report from Smithers, a higher percentage of recycled content used in plastic packaging will be achieved. This is because more and more retail brands are committing to using more recycled materials. The report also noted that governments across the world are setting strict recycling targets, this trend will increase amongst all levels of business.
And it’s not only the estimated higher recycling rate that’s contributing to a more circular economy, we also see a strong rise in the reuse-sector.
Especially in financially tough times, people are finding ways to stretch their dollars, and secondhand shopping is a perfect way to find a bargain. While thrifting is not a new concept, the pandemic caused a sudden surge in the resale market. The economic benefits, combined with increased consumer awareness are causing the resale market to grow even faster than traditional retail. And by 2032, the secondhand market for clothing is predicted to be worth over 282 million USD.
With an ever-increasing, environmentally conscious consumer base, we can expect to see more recycled materials used in packaging, repurposed products and reusable items in 2023.
2. Sustainable transportation
Fossil-fueled transport has been a hot topic in political debates for a while, due to its production of CO2 emissions and accelerating climate change.
In 2020, passenger vehicles accounted for 41% of all the worlds CO2 transport emissions. Following the pandemic, many commuters now have the opportunity to work from home, which has already contributed to a decrease in passenger vehicles.
Other positive news is that actions are being taken to reduce the harmful impact of road vehicles. We see a continuous rise in the market of electric vehicles. The sale of electric cars (including fully electric and plug-in hybrids) doubled in 2021 to a new record of 6.6 million globally. And sales kept rising into 2022, despite strains along global supply chains. This proves that there is a high demand for electric cars and sustainable transportation globally.
The EU aims to be climate neutral by 2050, and to include a strategy to cut out CO2 emissions by phasing out fossil fueled transportation. For this strategy to work, combustion engine cars and trucks must be phased out in the 2030s and the use of fossil fuels cut to zero.
It’s clear that transport is already an area that most countries are trying to improve, but with increased efforts we can expect to see greater developments in this area throughout 2023.
3. Renewable energy
Renewable energy has become increasingly popular in recent years and it’s likely that we will see an increase in the use of renewable energy, and a continuous transition to greener energy alternatives.
The transition away from fossil fuels would increase the uptake of new energy sources, such as renewable power; new energy carriers (such as green hydrogen) and sustainably produced biofuels.
Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysis and has significantly lower carbon emissions than grey hydrogen, which is produced by steam reforming of natural gas. The production of green hydrogen has previously been very expensive, more than twice as expensive as hydrogen produced with fossil fuels. Therefore, the rise of green hydrogen wasn’t expected for another decade, but the skyrocketing cost of natural gas has changed that. The global green hydrogen production market is now growing and projected to reach 225.55 billion USD by 2030, expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 6.4% over the forecast period. Green hydrogen can be used to decarbonize sectors which are hard to electrify, such as steel and cement production, and thus contribute to the EU’s Net Zero 2050 goal.
We also see many homeowners and organizations installing solar panels or heat pumps. Doing so will both significantly reduce environmental impact and contribute to lowering energy bills. Due to the uncertainties in the world regarding the costs of energy, more homeowners and businesses are looking to be self-sufficient with energy by installing their own solar panels.
4. Ethical supply chain
Changing the way business is conducted via an ethical supply chain is another essential aspect of sustainability trends for 2023.
As more consumers gain awareness about issues related to the environment, sustainability and forced labor, they are now demanding that supply chains meet ethical standards related to environmental stewardship, sustainable sourcing, reducing waste, and better worker conditions.
The supply chain used to be a back-office function that consumers never heard of, but over the last decade, it has taken on a more forward-facing role that’s a competitive differentiator and part of the corporate business model.
Technology can offer a great insight to how businesses operate. This can help with supplier recommendations, relationship management and global trade compliance. With the rise of web3 and blockchain technologies, a whole new level of transparency between organizations and suppliers is made possible.
Managing suppliers on a blockchain-based distributed ledger enables purchasing companies to validate the lot, lineage, and provenance of a product, capturing every step in the product lifecycle on a tamper-proof ledger.
Which leads us right into the fifth and final trend for this article.
As mentioned above, customers demand more insight into businesses. This is partly due to the concept of green washing. Consumers do not want to be deceived and demand to see what ethical actions are being taken. Greenwashing is not a new concept, but educated customers, especially younger generations, are not going to swallow the sugarcoated message.
As a result of this growing interest in how products are manufactured, whether the supply chain is ethical, animal welfare practices and what sustainable actions are being taken, more brands are striving to become more transparent.
Transparency from brands is going to become a key part of how the consumer market moves forward in the coming years, not only in keeping customers loyal but also for brands to present, and uphold, an ethical and responsible reputation.