Sustainability Has Come of Age

The past decade is when sustainability came of age.

There has been what I call a “sustainability shift”. More companies now realize that sustainability, cost savings, risk aversion and business growth all go hand in hand.

I believe revisiting what was accomplished over the past 10 years will provide insight into where sustainability will be going in the next 10 years.

Consider the following sustainability accomplishments:

  • Ten years ago, only about 20 percent of the S&P 500 companies published sustainability reports; now, that is closer to 90 percent.
  • The 2019 Business Roundtable released a new “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation,” asserting that U.S. companies should transition from focusing primarily on profits to “supporting communities and protecting the environment by embracing sustainable practices.”
  • A decade ago, only about 40 percent of U.S. adults believed protecting the environment was a top priority; today, that number is closer to 60 percent.
  • By 2019, power generation in the U.S. from renewable energy sources surpassed power produced from coal.
  • Related to this, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports U.S. coal mining output has declined 27 percent over the past decade; coal is a significant contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions.
  • Power generated by renewable energy sources increased 26 times from 2009 to 2019, reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by two billion tons in 2019 alone.
  • Recycling and composting in the U.S. has gone from just over 75 million tons in 2010 to nearly 100 million tons today.
  • The number of Americans employed in the U.S. solar industry has more than doubled since the beginning of the decade; there are now more people working in solar power industries than in oil, coal or gas.

It is this last point that provides us with a solid indication of how sustainability will impact our economy. Simply put, sustainability is where the jobs are. In the next 10 years, we will see sustainability become one of the leading drivers of the U.S. economy.

About the Author

Stephen P. Ashkin
Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in greening the cleaning industry. He also is CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, which helps facilities monitor and measure their use of natural resources. He is known as the “father of green cleaning” and the professional cleaning industries leading advocate promoting sustainability. He is coauthor of The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies.

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