10 hot issues for 2010 in sustainability

What are the risks and opportunities facing big business in 2010 around sustainability?

I’ve been out and about talking to writers, corporate execs, bankers, NGOs and others for a few weeks now, as part of getting back into the groove after summer and also thinking about products, issues and ideas for next year.

Here’s my back of the matchbook summary of some big issues which should be on all our agendas next year.

I’d like to know what you think I’ve missed, and why. No doubt there will be some/many…

Here we go:

  1. Climate change, obviously (the mess post-Copenhagen, and technology opportunities/incentives)
  2. Supply chain and the Wal-Mart effect (see link if you are confused)
  3. Landfill and waste exports / dumping by OECD nations (often under the banner of recycling)
  4. Lobbying, new EU Commission members and their interests / priorities on regulation (big food, booze marketing, cartels and competition challenges in particular)
  5. Technology/science debates: Nuclear, biochar, water foot printing and risks, including carbon capture and storage/recycling, electric vehicles, smart grids, infrastructure, (i.e. cement/concrete, how it’s made and used, and steel etc) biotech expansion etc
  6. Ecosystems services and their value post Copenhagen
  7. Agriculture and commodities tracing in general (from trees to leather to cotton, sugar cane etc)
  8. Internet privacy / corporate spying (big scandals in Germany right now, and of course, China et. al.)
  9. Digital and social media use (greater use for advertising eco credentials), including corporate reporting/communications on difficult complex issues, (pick any from the above), using mediums that are not just dull reports that no-one reads or regards as credible
  10. Banks, pay, regulation, and how the big finance houses work with difficult clients on tricky issues in emerging economies to improve sustainability risk management
What did I miss? 


  1. Sam

    I predict energy performance, particularly in buildings.
    * EPBD recast starting to be put in play in the EU (hopefully)
    * Expansion and improvement of LEED, BREEAM and other schemes.
    * Greater emphasis on energy performance in buildings: commercial DECs, Energy Star, Green Globes, & Sustainability Benchmarking.

    All this is key for companies to get their corporate footprints down, and improve their Carbon Disclosure Project rankings – or prepare for the Carbon Reduction Commitment in the UK.

  2. hi toby, this is a geat summary…thanks for getting me thinking.
    i think the 6 core issues will be carbon, water, trust, traceability, poverty and human rights. The tools will include much greater prominence of social media in sustainability commmunications (= faster, sharper, more interactive, more dialogue).
    In addition, i expect the pharma sector to be under greater scrutiny both on innovation/generics relationships, and H1N1 type issues.
    You have mainly covered these within your headlines, to a greater or lesser degree.

    I think there will be some element of regionalization in csr prioirization with china/india becoming leaders and not followers, and east europe and parts of Africa, MidEast and Latam trying to catch up.

    Finally, and perhaps controversially, and even wishful thinkingly, 2010 will be the year when WOMEN will advance in business and advance business – partially because of the recessionary effect which has for the first time affected men more than women, and partly because the core issues above will be best addressed through greater dialogue, openness and sharing, and partly because it's just time. Watch out for more women F500 CEO's and greater female % on Boards and Executive Teams. Go Girls!


  3. Thought-provoking list. I'll throw one other thing on the pile: the rise of long-term thinking in general. Researching sustainability I am periodically reminded that there are sustainable and unsustainable ways of doing all kinds of things, from hiring and managing people, to maintaining relationships, to setting foreign policy. Some days I think that that as consumers and corporations begin to integrate sustainability thinking it will lead to a greater tendency toward long-term thinking/systems thinking in other walks of life. Wouldn't that be a good result?

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