Katharina Cavano l Palladium - Jan 04 2021
3 Corporate Sustainability Trends to Watch in 2021

Credit: Paula Prekopova

Sustainability is the new norm, and as society and consumers continue to demand that organisations contribute beyond their bottom line, some corporations and executives are stepping up to meet this new standard.

While COVID-19 created a massive setback across sectors and industries in 2020, Palladium Head of Commercial Innovation Christina Shim shares her thoughts on how the pandemic may, in fact, accelerate corporate sustainability, and what she anticipates we will see in 2021.

Taking Stock and Partnering Up

It would be difficult to look forward to 2021 without acknowledging the effect that COVID-19 has had on 2020 and will continue to have on sustainability practices moving forward. For many, COVID-19 required companies to make quick and reactive decisions, and as Shim says, “strategic thinking flew out the window.” But with time, it pushed many executives to take stock of their businesses and plans moving forward.

“On the plus side, from a strategic perspective, it’s forced a lot of companies to stop and think about the current environment, global dynamics, and how they fit in. I think we’ll see this reflected in corporate strategies in 2021.”

She adds that many large corporations are stepping up with recent environmental and climate commitments. “Just this year, we’ve seen big names like United Airlines and Amazon go public with their sustainability commitments. But the real testament to change and follow-through will be how they plan to integrate these commitments into their core strategy and operations.”

Shim notes that many executives may also be coming to the realisation that tackling these global issues will require partnerships.
“It will become increasingly clear that innovative partnerships and reaching across the table – sometimes even to competitors – will be the strong and long-term way to ensure viability and success across all areas,” she says.

Diversity & Inclusion

2020 was a banner year for many reasons, and despite the setbacks, in some cases it also caused intense acceleration. In the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement influenced an increase in Diversity & Inclusion initiatives across organisations large and small.

“We’re seeing more public initiatives around D&I,” says Shim. “We’ve known for a long time that increased diversity has been proven to increase the value of a business, and that’s diversity of experience, thinking, and perspective – not just of gender, ethnicity, or sexuality.”

Shim contends that while many diversity initiatives aren’t doing enough, she’s hopeful that organisations are still headed in the right direction. “With the change in the political administration in the United States, we’re seeing not only more of a focus on climate and sustainability, but also a focus on diversity of thought and experience in who’s being tapped for task forces and to lead teams.”

Moving Past Lip Service

To Shim, sustainability commitments are old news, and while many organisations are lagging behind in setting commitments, she believes that 2021 will bring a reckoning with the many commitments made in the past two years. The time for paying lip service to sustainability is long past.

“The first movers are already out the gate and now there’s a larger wave of organisations that have set commitments but must figure out how to implement and operationalise them,” she says. “They will need to take a multi-sectoral approach of working with stakeholders throughout their ecosystem to actually make things happen. These frontrunners will need to prove out their commitments and show the ‘how’, which will be critical to demonstrating the true impact of their commitments.”

Shim adds that she envisions companies that may not have been at the forefront of making sustainability commitments will now be forced to talk about it. “Sustainability is now part of the vernacular. Organisations are going to need to talk about it, otherwise they’re going to be left behind.”