Countries around the world have had their hands full battling the spread of COVID-19, but another looming existential crisis—the threat of climate change—hasn’t been forgotten either.
A Boston Consulting Group survey of more than 3,000 people across eight countries found that the pandemic is heightening environmental awareness, not lessening it.
Some 70% of survey participants said they are more aware now than before COVID-19 that human activity threatens the climate, and that environmental degradation can threaten humans. In addition, 87% said companies should integrate environmental concerns into their products, services, and operations to a greater extent than they have in the past.
Growing Awareness and Engagement in the COVID Era
Frequent extreme weather events such as wildfires, hurricanes, and floods may have contributed to increasing concerns over climate change. In addition, the pandemic may have primed some consumers to more readily accept drastic changes for the sake of the collective good.
In a recent report From Sustainability to Purpose: Refocus on the Planet, Euromonitor International dubbed 2020 “the year of social issues” that thrust health and safety to the top of the priority list. Many consumers saw their lifestyle and daily life radically shift, and major corporations also took extraordinary measures to help those in need and quickly reworked their advertising campaigns to emphatically communicate the message “we’re all in this together.”
“With COVID-19 showing how quick behavioral changes from both companies and consumers are possible, addressing environmental risks has become more urgent than ever,” according to Euromonitor.
Some even view the coronavirus pandemic as a kind of “practice round” in global emergency response—and evidence that coordination and cooperation could be achievable (to a degree) in the face of large-scale complex challenges.
That being said, consumers are not a monolithic group moving in lockstep, and people’s beliefs and attitudes about the pandemic response and climate change vary widely. A polarized political environment and growing economic inequality might harden people’s belief systems in one extreme or the other. Identifying how attitudes are shifting can help illuminate a spectrum of possible scenarios in the future.
Is Sustainability on the Corporate Agenda?
Concerns about climate change, environmental degradation, and sustainability isn’t just a topic for scientists, journalists, government officials, and activists—it’s a recurring theme in market research reports across a wide swath of industries, including textiles, building materials, food & beverage, packaging, natural gas, and insurance, to name a few.
Whether viewed as an opportunity for innovation, or a source of business risk, climate change and the role of sustainability is increasingly top of mind for many corporations, particularly larger companies (with over a billion dollars in revenue) that feel pressure from a variety of different stakeholders, such as clients and customers, regulators, board members, investors, and activists and the media.
According to a survey of nearly 1,200 European CFOs by Deloitte Insights, two-thirds reported feeling pressure from stakeholders and investors to act on climate change, and fifty-seven percent of executives said their organization is facing significant pressure from investors to report on climate-related risk and management.
Currently, a variety of leading companies have made public commitments to sustainability. Walmart has a target of zero emissions by 2040 with a goal of reaching 100% renewable energy by 2035. Amazon also has a target of net-zero emissions by 2040, and a goal of powering operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025. Google has been carbon neutral since 2007 and plans to be carbon free by 2030.
We could see more companies putting “climate risk” into their calculations to futureproof their business, or simply protect their brand reputation. “If brands are to stay operational and profitable in the next 50-100 years, they need to stop taking things for granted,” according to Euromonitor’s report. “There are invaluable assets beyond their balance sheets that need to be prioritized and protected. It is not philanthropy; it is investing for the future.”
However, even assuming corporate leadership agreed that climate change called for course corrections, expecting companies to create long-term plans that look 50-100 years in the future may still be unrealistic. Many companies are focused on goals with much shorter time horizons. Lasting change will not result from a company’s enlightened self-interest alone.
A “climate action feedback loop,” a concept covered in GlobalData’s report Climate Change – Thematic Research, could provide additional transparency and hold companies more accountable, so corporate climate actions are rewarded, reinforced, and accelerated.
What Industries Will Be Affected by Climate Change?
Climate change—and regulations intended to prevent it—could cause upheaval for a wide variety of industries.
Changing weather patterns, land degradation, and resource depletion linked to climate change could wreck havoc on supply chains, the cost of raw materials, and production processes. On the other hand, mitigation efforts such as emissions reduction and a more circular economy could also disrupt business models in many industries.
Consumer-facing industries that are able to pivot their business models are likely winners during an energy transition, according to GlobalData’s climate change report. These industries include automotive, retail, media, banking, insurance, and technology.
However, industries that struggle to shift away from carbon or are heavily impacted by climate disruption—including oil and gas, chemicals, real estate, construction, and agriculture—could face more grave challenges.
Market Research on Sustainability Trends and Climate Change
If you are interested to learn more, additional research is available. Several firms publish market research on sustainability trends and climate change in a business context, including Euromonitor International, GlobalData, the Natural Marketing Institute, IDC, Global Industry Analysts, Textiles Intelligence, BCC Research, and Frost & Sullivan.
For more in-depth data and analysis, check out the following market research reports that are available on MarketResearch.com:
About the Author: Sarah Schmidt is a Managing Editor at MarketResearch.com, a leading provider of global market intelligence products and services.