Was 2021 a Greener Year?

Green Zebra’s reflections on our year zero.

As the year draws to a close, we take the time to look back and reflect on year 0 for Green Zebra and the broader trends in sustainability. 2021 has been quite a journey for Green Zebra. We launched our website in October, grew the team to include Finola, Emily and our panel of experts, and began our series of Building Greener Business webinars. 

It has also been an important year for commerce and industry: the ‘Decade of Action’ set by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030, COP26 in Glasgow, and much more. Here’s five things we learnt in 2021:

  1. The COP26 effect

It has been encouraging to see the surge in people discussing climate change during 2021, not as a matter of whether it is here or not but the urgency that is required to do something about it. Climate change is not something that is just discussed by those in the sustainability bubble anymore, the bubble is opening up with the popularity of sustainable products, the discussions around COP26 and the massive increase in ESG investment by big corporations. There is widespread public realisation that climate change is happening, and that we need to do something about it. 

We can observe this in the Gen Z generation (typically now in their twenties) more than in any other. Research suggests that 54% of the Gen Z generation think a business’s environmental and social efforts are very or extremely important when deciding to buy a product or service. As Gen Z gains more purchasing power and as they join the workforce, your business needs to take environmental concerns and sustainability seriously if you are to retain customers and attract new talent. 

  1. Less talk; more action

It is great to see more people talking about climate change. However, a disconnect remains between businesses wanting to see the progress towards a greener economy and not wanting to change day-to-day behaviour to reach those goals. Business needs to start connecting the dots between the tornadoes destroying lives across 5 states in the US, the horrific flooding in Germany and Belgium with their business activities and the impact on their carbon footprints. 

We need to stop talking about what we aim to do to be greener. Instead, start acting and get on with achieving those aims. Actions speak louder than words.

  1. It’s not all or nothing – start small, think big

This year has also seen a rise in criticism of sustainable actions, with accusations that practices such as using a keep cup or recycling are just tokenism. Being greener is not an all or nothing situation, we cannot let environmental perfectionism stop us from trying to be greener from the start. 

Building a greener business does not happen overnight and there is no perfect solution to creating a more sustainable business. Building a greener business is about a collection of small actions made across every business function to reduce your overall carbon footprint.

Just because you cannot do everything now does not mean you should not start at all. Every action counts, so start small and think big. 

  1. Greenwashing is more grey

With the rise of the popularity of greener businesses, greenwashing has increasingly become a more sophisticated marketing tool. The area between genuine action to build a greener business and a clever advertising campaign that makes a company look greener has become increasingly grey. 

It is important to continue to probe all companies’ green claims to ensure that they hold up, and for all organisations to continue to work towards a genuine greener business.

  1. Small but powerful

Small local businesses are generally better at sustainability than big corporations. They are more agile, can change things more quickly and are more ready to take that leap of faith. It has become increasingly clear over the past year that small, local businesses have far more agency to lead in the sphere of greener business. With a smaller team, often a shorter supply chain and a local business base, SMEs can be leaders in sustainability. 

So be courageous, take the entrepreneurial spirit of your business to a greener level. You will retain existing customers, attract new talent to your workforce and grow a new customer base.

2022 is the year to build a greener business.