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  • Writer's pictureAlizée CCM

5 top sustainability trends for 2020

What will sustainability look like in 2020 and the next decade?

2019 was a year of tremendous changes and growth in the sustainability industry, which were earthquaked by multiple events: the start of the Friday School strikes, UN climate summit, China’s new regulation on Domestic Waste Sorting, COP25 in Madrid, and many more.

Which means that the year 2020 will be the most sustainable year yet.

And China is leading the way. The second half of the last decade was heavily focused on clean energy (China is now the global leader in renewable energies (solar and wind)), electric cars (making ground-breaking innovations in better batteries), and the digital realm.

Now at the beginning of the new decade, China’s sustainability efforts are only going to soar. This strong transition towards a greener future is going to be one of the major economic challenges of the next decade.

Here are the top 5 trends that we expect for the coming year and decade:

1. Sustainability will be(come) mainstream[i]

In the year 2020, Sustainability will be(come) mainstream. As more people and corporations realize that our resources are finite, and consumption rates are rising, sustainability is becoming key in any strategy. Even more so in China, where the government has taken numerous big leaps towards renewable energies, Zero Waste, clean technologies and a greener regulations. Sustainability is seen as a long term viability asset to its economy.

The road from having sustainability as an “add on” (sustainability is seen as separate from the company), to “built in” (values and methodologies that are built into the company’s DNA), to “rooted in” (business as usual) is in the works.

Sustainability is key if a company ask itself these questions: “How do I stay relevant?

How do I stay competitive?” And then takes the necessary action steps towards a Sustainability Strategy.

A Sustainability Strategy is thought as being counterproductive to a company’s growth because it requires a long term vision: a suggested timeline would be a minimum of 15 years.

Source: Getty

A sustainable strategy doesn’t go against the company’s on-going organization, but rather aligns with it and supports and drives the company by decoupling economic growth from natural resource consumption and reducing vulnerability to supply chain risks.

Sustainability and its organizational efforts have proven to positively contribute to brand value and reputation, corporate identity, better retention of employees and meeting customers needs.

Needless to say, sustainability is the way to go in 2020 and after.

2. Sustainable Environmental Technologies

It is no surprise or secret that China pushed for a remarkable technological dynamic in the last few years, and is leading the way in technological advancements, especially when it comes to the transportation industry.

With the strategic plan, MADE IN CHINA 2025, issued by Li Keqiang in 2015, China is on its way to move away from the world’s factory, and move towards higher quality products and services. How? Through improving the manufacturing industries to more (sustainable) technology-intensive powerhouses.

The transportation sector accounts for 33%, 29% and 15% of the energy consumption in Europe, the US, and China respectively. With regards to air pollution, diesel trucks are one of the major contributors to urban air pollutants and account for almost 60% of the PM and 53.4% of the NOx pollutants.

Automobile Industry

The use of technology in the mobility industry is an incredible tool in favor of the environment. Apps such as Mobike or Didi app, for example, contributes significantly to the reduction of CO2 emissions in urban areas. Even though, the initial stages of these new developments come at other enormous waste costs (e.g. Mobikes graveyards), it is still a step towards the right direction.

The NEVs (New Energy Vehicles: 100% electric cars and rechargeable hybrid cars) came to the market just over 5 years ago, but the evolution of this new technology has seen in China is pretty remarkable. The NEV volumes increased by 85% between 2016 - 2017, and the market saw a 61% increase of electric vehicles in 2018.

Source: the internet

Two big regulations that were seen in the technology / automobile industry in China, in the last few years, that are changing the game are:

1. Dual credit system (April 1, 2018)

This regulation is two-fold: On the one hand, its aim is to reduce fuel consumption going from 5L / 100 km in 2020 to 4L / 100 km in 2025.

On the other hand, it defines NEVs sales objectives for any automobile manufacturer in China: 10% of the total sales of automobile manufacturers have to based on NEVs in 2019 and 12% starting 2020.

2. GHG emissions CN6 in 2020

The China VI emission standard aims to add diesel particulate filters (DPF) on all diesel heavy-duty vehicles on the market after July 2021. This implies that all new heavy-duty vehicles in China will reach soot-free emission levels.

According to the data released by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), vehicles affected by the China VI standard account for over 90% of particulate matter emissions and nearly 70% of NOX emissions from China’s on-road transportation fleet. These pollutants contribute to ambient PM2.5 and ozone concentrations and lead to heavy haze days.

This standard is very similar to the European Standard (Euro VI), only more stringent, putting China as one of the most demanding countries in the world in terms of CO2 emissions of the automobile industry.

Aviation Technologies

“Sustainability is how we design a product and it’s how we work with people.”

Wise words from a spokesperson from United Technologies in the fall of 2019.

United Technologies says that initial investment to improve sustainability and performance is inevitable, but if done well, the results show not only environmental benefits, but greater products and economical returns.

Through their latest investments into improving their products they see a 16% increase in fuel efficiency, a 73% reduction in noise pollution, the development of synthetic fuel blends, improvements towards hybrid electric propulsion, and exploring more carbon neutral fuels.

Source: Sam Willis

For Aerospace company SAIFEI, the road towards sustainable aviation goes through the use of better materials, which means lighter infrastructures, going towards more electric alternatives and look at solutions of fuel efficiency.

Reducing GHG through the use of more electric energy, and innovating technologies such as the Electric Taxiing, where the wheels of the airplanes are provided by an electric engine that removes the use of thermal engines and therefore not use any fuel.

The benefits of this system, allows to reduce 4% of fuel, reduce GHG by 73%, and 51% of NOx during taxiing. Electric Taxiing is expected to be rolled out in 2021-2022.

Consuming less fuel is one of the major challenges in the aviation industry. In order to reduce fuel, we need to look at the technology that uses it, the engine. LEAP engine is a new development that is not only more environmental but also more economical. With a fuel reduction of 15% and CO2 emissions, and up until 50% reduction of Nox.

Of course, the use of more renewable energies such as Bio-gas, remains another opportunity for more improvements in the years to come.

In the next decade we can also expect:

A. Blockchain technologies are a double-edged sword for the environment, on the one hand the energy-intensive cryptocurrency mining spiked the carbon emissions through the roof, on the other side it will drive innovation in greener energy and tech, through transparency and information sharing..

B. The use of AI, which can lead to significant improvements in logistics and supply chain. It may have an indirect impact on the environment, yet very significant.

C. Speculations are that by 2023, one third of the world’s cars will be electric and China will be the first producer and user of those.

3.Sustainability is the new CSR

We mentioned this phenomenon in a previous article back in November 2019, and it seems that the trend will keep gaining momentum. The idea that environmental and social-economic issues are separated seems to fade away. Corporations start to see that one affects the other, and the climate crisis being THE one global socio-economic issue that affects everyone on this planet.

For China, CSR remains a vague, new concept, driven by the government and foreign pressures. As Chinese companies look to enter into more international markets, they are faced with expectations from their international peers of achieving an acceptable level of CSR engagement. Moving forward, the development of regulatory environment, consumer awareness and expertise will become key factors that will determine the understanding of the CSR concept in China.[iii]

More and more corporations build their CSR policies on solid grounds that are in favor of sustainable growth, such as using Science Based Targets, taking into account Scope 3 when reducing GHG emissions, work towards the SDG goals or even become a B Corp.

Source: R. Quiros

B Corp is an internationally recognized certification given to commercial companies who invest in and support social and environmental issues. Corporations that are B Corp certified are expected to reinvest a considered % of their profits into the community.

Since 2007 the number of companies becoming B Corp certified is growing exponentially every year. Today, there are more than 1,700 B Corporations in 50 countries.[v]

The participation into local NGOs and activities is growing in popularity and we expect that we might move closer to a balanced collaboration between large commercial companies and the NGOs.

4. Power of plants

The retail market for plant based foods is worth almost 4.5 billion USD … in the US alone.

Imagine what we’re looking at for the future in Asia?

2018 has been a big year for plant-based and cultured meats, but 2019 was a turning point.

According to the Good Food Institute[vi] the sales of plant-based foods grew 11% in 2019, and 31% since 2018.

We’re at the beginning of a huge shift. Why? “Because corporations realize that the market for plant-based meat isn’t just vegans or vegetarians, it’s meat-eaters”, according to Caroline Bushnell from the Good Food Institute.

While the beginning of the last decade was all about raising awareness, and getting the message across, 2019 was about having access to the products and getting them to the market. The way that plant-based meats are marketed to the public is also very different and innovative. For example, you will find the products right next to the conventional meat, instead of finding it hidden in the vegetarian section.

Needless to say that the plant-based industry soared in 2019 even higher, with another 18% increase.

Source: V. Boltneva

So what’s next? Will the future of meat be animal-free?

Advances in cell culture research are moving the commercialization of clean meat closer to reality, potentially yielding significant benefits in the areas of food safety, food security, and sustainability. With companies such as Beyond Meat, Memphis Meats, Impossible Foods, JUST and even Finless (for the fish industry), on the rise, we can safely assume that food technology will continue to soar in the next year and decade. And dare we say … save the world?

“You, as a food buyer, have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit.”

Joel Salatin

5. Green Political Climate

We believe that the Domestic Waste Sorting Law that was implemented on July 1st 2019 was the one that had the most impact on nationwide level for multiple reasons: It affected everyone, corporations and individuals, therefore, also the average citizen in China who is now exposed to new levels of environmental awareness. Secondly, it didn’t only affect China, but the whole world was looking at this immense leap forward to a widespread waste management improvement.

It may have been the loudest one, but definitely not the first one. China’s environmental awareness is of very high importance, and it also started from the higher ranks of society.

Let us give you a rundown:

In 2014, a new regulation passed which defines that actions against the environment (a common good) can be seen as a crime.

One year later, in 2015, China approves the COP21 agreements and objectives. The repercussions are seen rather rapidly as the country introduces sustainability as one of the top five priorities in the thirteenth five-year plan in 2016.

In 2018, China implements the trash import ban, which means that many countries in the West had to revisit their waste management systems. In that same year, China also publicly supported the Paris Agreement.

The Domestic Trash Sorting law in 2019 is one of the latest most impactful regulations. But not the last one… With sustainability gaining in economic, social and political importance the regulations are here to stay. We can expect more regulations on environmental protection from the Chinese government in the coming decade.

Closing statements

Sustainability is a process. Global warming and climate change is not a concept of the future anymore. We are in it.

The fires of the amazon, the hottest summers in Europe, the Australian bush fires, ….

Yes it’s difficult to watch. It is difficult to explain.

Our societies are in the midst of an enormous shift, and no big changes happen overnight, nor do they happen without mistakes and failures. It’s important to keep in mind that the human kind is able to persevere and improve upon new or existing inventions to keep our societies and therefore our families thriving.

As our favorite quote from Confucius at Zero Waste Shanghai goes,

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”

A couple of other things to look forward to in 2020:

1. Dubai 2020 Expo aspires to deliver one of the most sustainable World Expos ever.

2. Be better, together. The Sustainability Concept of the Tokyo Olympic Games 2020.

Interested in what your company can do for the environment in 2020 and beyond? At Zero Waste Shanghai we’ve been working alongside corporations and educational institutions for almost 5 years, following from close up the changes on both governmental as individual levels, talking with global decision makers and the locals.

Reach out to us for a phone call or a meeting, and let’s make 2020 the most sustainable year yet, together.


Connexions, Le Grand Bond en avant, CCI France, Chine, #86, 2018.


[iv] is the study of ecological processes applied to agricultural production systems. Bringing ecological principles to bear can suggest new management approaches in agro ecosystems.


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