How to make 2021 your year of sustainability
The UK coronavirus lockdown of March 2020 led to decreased air pollution, fewer cars on the road, and the return of the natural world to Cornish beaches and Venetian canals. But the pandemic has also led to an increase in single-use plastics, from masks littering streets to the ban on reusable cups in coffee shops.
As the vaccine rollout continues, we all hope to return to something closer to normality later this year and that means a refocus on issues of global warming, plastic pollution, and the steps we can all take to better look after our world.
Here are three sustainability trends that will be big this year, and how you can play your part.
1. The circular economy
Back in November, the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan reached its first milestone when it passed a proposal to modernise regulations for the production and disposal of batteries.
The circular economy – whose keys tenets are reduce, reuse, recycle – will inform much of what we do this year. A WWF Living Planet Report released in 2020 confirmed that we are currently overusing the Earth’s biocapacity by at least 56%.
Bags for Life, upcycling charity shop purchases, and cutting down on household waste is something we can all do. As communities have come together to support each other during the pandemic, the reduce, reuse, recycle message has led to a slew of sharing apps appearing on the market.
Apps such as OLIO, Too Good to Go, and Karma are looking to address food wastage.
In 2018, a report from Business Strategists, Boston Consulting Group, found that over one-and-half billion tonnes of food are wasted globally each year. That’s a third of the total food produced, and the problem is set to get worse, rising to 2.1 billion tonnes by 2030.
The above apps enable businesses to give away food that would otherwise need to be thrown away. This might include food near (but not past) its sell-by date, freshly baked bread not sold on the day it was baked, or restaurant-prepared food that wasn’t ordered.
2. The beginning of the end for fast fashion
A 2019 report by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) found that UK clothing brands were not sufficiently engaged in sustainability. The worst offenders were Boohoo and Missguided, but JD Sports, Sports Direct, TK Maxx, and Amazon UK also fared poorly.
The report was part of a government inquiry into fast fashion and its business model, which it feared was promoting overconsumption and leading to massive carbon footprints for the businesses involved.
Research from BCG in 2019 showed the beginnings of a turning of the tide. The report found that 38% of consumers have actively switched from their preferred brand to another due to its environmental and social practices.
As consumer preferences change, fashion brands are responding. They are adopting a circular approach, designing, producing, selling, and collecting products that enable the reuse and recycling of fabrics. They are also becoming increasingly transparent regarding their supply chains, something that Boohoo was called out for in the EAC’s report.
Brands like Re/Done repurpose old jeans, making them into fashionable and highly sought-after new items. Other sustainable fashion brands in the UK include Acne Studios, JW Anderson, and BITE Studios (the BITE stands for By Independent Thinkers for Environmental Progress).
The New Cotton Project is looking to convert textile waste into a fabric with the look and feel of cotton. It’s set itself a three-year timetable and Adidas and H&M Group have already signed up to use the new sustainable fabric that will never go to waste.
3. Sustainable tourism: slowing down and staying local
Sustainability will increasingly influence the way we travel in 2021. From flying with the greenest airlines to using public transport or hiring an electric car once you reach your destination, the appetite for eco-friendly travel means you’ll have plenty of options.
Two areas that are set to become travel trends this year are domestic staycations and the concept of slow tourism.
Travel restrictions led to a surge in staycations this year. Trepidation around international travel and a newfound appreciation of what the UK has to offer means the trend will continue.
Local travel is likely to be far better for the environment, and uncovering hidden spots and travelling to locations visited less frequently will help struggling local economies.
Slow tourism has been particularly popular along backpacker routes, such as in South East Asia or Australia, for a long time, but the concept is likely to go mainstream this year.
Slow tourism means extended holiday breaks, with an added emphasis on the process of travelling and a keenness to explore the local communities and cultures you meet along the way. Slowing down can be better for the environment, local economies, and your own travel experience.
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