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7 major sustainable trends for 2021

Written by

Polly Barks

Sustainable trends for 2021: my totally unsolicited opinions on what’s ahead for the next year.

This is the year we need to collectively prioritize long-term sustainability goals over short term profit and reward. Whether that happen or not – in particular, at the speed required – remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, we move forward! Here are my predicted 7 major sustainable trends for 2021.

Intersectionality in sustainability

Slowly, slowly people are beginning to recognize that climate justice is racial justice is economic justice is… you get the idea.

I hope one of the big sustainable trends for 2021 is that we begin to see the normalization of pushing traditionally marginalized voices to the forefront of the climate movement – and not just because brands are afraid of getting cancelled.

You can follow along with what Intersectional Environmentalist is doing for even more resources around this push towards equity in the sustainability field.

A push toward “carbon neutral”

7 sustainable trends for 2021 - net zero -

You’ve probably seen sustainably-minded companies like Organic Basics tout their “low carbon” or “carbon neutral” packages as another way to entice eco-minded customers.

But what does that actually mean?

Basically, companies offset their carbon by buying carbon offsets; ie. investing in projects that help capture carbon, like planting trees, preserving land in its natural form, and some compost programs.

Unfortunately just like everything else in our cursed system, carbon offsetting’s actual efficacy is questionable at best. For a deep dive into the drawbacks, check out Nowhere and Everywhere’s guide to carbon offsetting.

The TL;DR? Carbon offsetting programs are not a way to absolve companies of their sins. The only true way to reduce your impact is to stop production.

Further capitalization on “eco-friendly”

A 2019 Euromonitor International report found that 64% of people feel that they can make a difference in the world with their purchases (maybe, though I hope “conscious consumption” can die a quick death in 2021), a fact that companies are keen to capitalize on.

The more we love sustainability and the harder radical activists fight for change, the more and more our capitalist systems will attempt to co-opt the movement for their own profit.

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Remember, no matter how many influencers are paid to tell you that H&M has a clothing recycling system… it’s still a trash company exploiting people and profit for their bottom line.

Lots of talk, little climate action

What’s your climate action niche -

In politics – particularly in the US – I foresee the jubilant exile of Donald Trump to allow people to gloat about all the good they’re going to do – without actually doing much of anything.

We are veering closer and closer to the precipice . It’s time for all of us – individuals, governments, and businesses alike – to build resilient habits that will help us reduce our carbon emissions, increase biodiversity, and generally avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis.

There’s a lot of global chatter about taking steps – whether meaningful action comes to pass remains to be seen.

That being said, on the positive side…

More commitments to net zero from governments

2020 saw many countries, regions, and cities taking control of their climate destiny by making pledges to reduce their carbon emissions to net zero. (For context, the Paris Agreement binds countries to net zero by 2050, which most climate experts agree is not enough to keep the planet below the 1.5-2C rise in temperature.)

The EU’s Green New Deal promises to create a net-zero continent by 2050. China is gunning to be carbon neutral by 2060. Even major companies like Amazon are making the commitment.

One of the sustainable trends for 2021 is sure to be more commitments following in their footsteps.

The only question: are these agreements enough or is it too little, too late? (Spoiler alert: it’s too late and carbon neutrality is such a small part of the radical changes needed to protect our planet.)

More private sector investment into ESG funds

7 sustainable trends for 2021 - investment -

While most big business and investors are garbage for the planet, it’s a fact that money is slowly moving away from pouring money into Big Oil and the like. After all, what’s more devastating for capitalism than an uncontrollable climate that puts its workers in danger – of not being able to continue overproduction to line the pockets of capitalists?

The start of 2020 proved this:

In the first four months of 2020, investors poured a record of at least $12.2 billion into funds that say they invest in environmental, social and governance practices, according to investment research platform Morningstar Direct. That is more than double the amount that ESG funds attracted during the same time last year, when the U.S. was in the midst of its longest-running bull market in history.


So in 2021 it seems certain that money will continue to move toward ESG funds*, further removing power from coal, oil, and other climate-unfriendly businesses.

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*ESG: set of standards for a company’s socially-conscious operations. Environmental = how companies protect nature. Social = how it manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates. Governance = leadership, transparency, etc.

A focus on resilient communities, not zero waste perfection

The zero waste and sustainability movement collectively spent a lot of time hunting down the perfect zero waste swaps, rather than focusing on a holistic look at the impact of what we consume.

I have my fingers crossed that 2021 will bring a focus close-to-home, with more people recognizing that supporting imperfect but vital local companies outweighs buying into a national brand with slick marketing.

If you’d like to dig into the idea of building resilient communities in the face of the climate crisis, I can’t recommend the Transition Handbook more!

Local focus with a global outlook. Doesn’t that sound like a year to look forward to?

What sustainable trends for 2021 are you looking forward to?

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  1. Interesting observations! I’m especially hopeful for the last item– and want to try to make it happen in my own community! When Biden was elected I was stunned by how quickly my emotions were like, “Okay good, we can relax now, everything is fine” and my brain was like “NO IT’S NOT SHUT UP.” I’m determined to keep my motivation up because there are always plenty of fires (both literal and metaphorical) to put out!

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