By Philippa Ward, Executive Partner

We’re a few weeks into 2017 and it has already been a surprising year. That Russian dossier, the NHS labelled a humanitarian crisis, Sky thinking that a white Michael Jackson would be sensible casting...

It is hard to know what to prepare for, with so much upheaval in the external world. So we’ve distilled four things that CSR and sustainability execs should get to grips with, to keep creating that positive change in 2017.

1. The health of the planet is getting personal: increasingly, earth care = self-care

Our Less Festive Stress campaign connected us to the hunger out there to take better care of ourselves. With mental health detriments associated with modern lifestyles costing the NHS £21billion per year*, we’re seeing the need to do things differently, consume less, put less pressure on ourselves. Young people are especially vulnerable. Expect lots more talk about how to be happy and well – true sustainability – as the impacts on productivity and the economy become more studied and talked about. 

Air quality will be the cutting edge of the connection between our own health and how we treat the environment. The government have lost again in the courts because we’re breathing illegally dirty levels of air in our cities. Business will also be expected to show some leadership on air quality. In China, air quality police have started patrolling to stop pollution. At GAP, we prefer collaboration to coercion and are co-ordinating the first National Clean Air Day, running on 15th June.

2. Business must engage brilliantly with the demanding generation of digital natives

The world is radically different from a year ago: new problems require new thinking, and the way we inspire and mobilise people under the age of 30 is essential. Voting, volunteering, protesting, engaging – it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as they believe they can make a difference. Otherwise we face increasing bitterness and division between the generations.

Already, we know that young people are bucking consumption trends, whether through choice or necessity, creating new ways of living and working that look drastically different. Studies have shown that millennials prefer meaning to money, choosing to buy experiences not stuff, and preferring a job that gives them purpose not status. Business needs to find a way to speak to that, and rebuild trust.

3. Truth-tellers need to be creative in a post-truth world

For those of us who work in climate change, it feels like the post-truth era has been with us for a while, with flat denial of the facts. That’s spreading – so being values-led will mean being even better at communicating on emotions as well as sticking to the facts and science.
Virtual reality is one way to turn facts into experiences, and bring the choices we make home to people. Wander into the GAP offices, and you might see people wandering around with a small cardboard box pressed against their face. It might not look like it, but we’re using cutting-edge technology. Using an app and a simple bit of tech, virtual reality allows people to experience environmental problems and choices in front of their eyes – and come up with real solutions.

4. The circular economy needs more than tech to drive it – we’ll see some big gaps

Technology and business have been pushing the circular economy, which we cheer on. But environmental challenge can be solved without people and communities. At the moment, there’s a huge awareness and behaviour gap in the cycle, with people throwing away or hoarding huge piles of resource that we need to bring back into use. How we bring behaviour change to get everyone engaged in the circular economy will be an increasingly live question when the low-hanging fruit has been picked.

And to start the year off on an optimistic note, we’ll leave you with a few triumphs from 2016…

•France became the first country to ban supermarkets from throwing away unsold food

• Patagonia donated 100% of its $10 million sales on Black Friday to environmental charities
• Global carbon emissions were flat for the third year in a row
• The ozone layer looks like it is repairing itself over Antarctica

• Low carbon power accounted for 50% of UK electricity

*We celebrated ways of doing not having in  Our Relationship with Stuff - routes to less excess report.