4 Sustainability Trends for 2024Jan 12, 2024
2024 is off and running, and the new year always brings a certain level of energy and enthusiasm. Brands are excited to start, or keep chipping away at, their sustainability initiatives, consumers set new years resolutions to reduce their impacts, and the list goes on and on.
But 2024 feels different than other years, dare I say eerie. From my vantage point here in the States, things are on shaky ground, but people also seem more engaged than ever before.
We don’t have a crystal ball, so we’ll just have to wait to see how the year unfolds, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a few predictions…
We’ve scoured the web over the past few weeks and found some recurring themes from climate advocates, journalists, and brands alike on how 2024 might shake out from a sustainability standpoint.
Pushback on ESG
2024 is an election year in the U.S. and some environmentalists’ antennas are up, sensing a contentious fight over ESG.
Political tension in the U.S. is still high and with the green transition well underway, the Republican party has largely been opposed to the movement towards ESG and so-called “woke capitalism.” There is also growing anticipation for the SEC’s ruling on ESG financial disclosure regulation for public companies within the U.S., the first-ever ruling requiring companies to disclose data on emissions and release financial risks associated with those emissions.
Those who prefer little government involvement in private enterprise may disagree with potential upcoming legislation, but consumers have shown growing support for sustainability through their purchasing practices.
In a study conducted by NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, researchers found that products with at least two sustainability-related claims attached to them increased consumer appeal to an average of 74%. As they say, “Most Americans would like to purchase sustainable products that are healthier, drive savings (such as lower energy costs), protect their children’s future, improve animal welfare, support local farmers, and are 100% sustainably sourced. Consumers don’t see it as a political position, and our research finds that Americans are carrying through with that purchase intent.”
The world of finance will surely face a rollercoaster of a year in 2024, but what will come from the chaos remains to be known.
In the years following the murder of George Floyd, brands across the world publicly announced increased efforts towards DE&I (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives. Despite the appearance of support for diversity in brands, many of these companies fell short of creating a diverse workforce in 2023.
Within the first week of January, Lululemon Founder Chip Wilson came out strongly against DE&I efforts within the brand. If you “don’t want certain customers coming in,” what does this say about the brand’s internal diversity progress and company culture?
Wilson stepped down from the company over ten years ago but his very public and bold comments are bringing to light the growing concern that leadership is getting tired of DE&I efforts. Because DE&I is so new, many companies are still working out the kinks to measure progress and set obtainable goals, but the only way to gain momentum is through care, attention, and investment in DE&I programs.
DE&I will likely go through a transformation in 2024, but will it scale up or quickly fade into the background? This will likely differ from brand to brand, and will be largely dependent on company culture and priorities.
Making sense of sustainability is a difficult feat, but many hands make light work. In recent years, we’ve seen a growing number of working groups or industry groups that bring brands together to tackle a range of sustainability, climate, and social issues, but in 2024 we expect to see coopetition take the reins.
Coopetition is a blending of “collaboration” and “competition” - working together on complex sustainability issues, without giving up competitive advantage. In the footwear industry, for example, many brands actually use the same suppliers, but all ask different things from these suppliers. This can lead to excessive waste and inefficiency, but by working together, the brands can still retain their unique product offering with reduced impacts.
A perfect example of this is the Footwear Collective, a group of the world’s leading footwear brands working together to advance circularity within the industry.
While still in its early stages, the Footwear Collective is a prime example of how brands can work together to drive sustainability efforts forward and en masse. Other examples of this include Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign Project and the Outdoor Industry Association’s Sustainability Working Groups.
The era of slapping a green stamp on your product or labeling some as “eco” or “green” is long gone. There’s more accountability, fact-checking, and scrutiny in sustainability marketing claims than ever before, and with both consumers and government bodies looking at everything under a microscope, brands are quickly rethinking how they communicate sustainability initiatives.
The downside of this is that some brands that are doing good work are hiding their sustainability efforts for fear of backlash. This is what we refer to as greenhushing, and all signs point to it becoming a growing trend in the communications space.
Because the landscape of legislation is changing, brands do have to be careful about what they say, from a legal perspective, but this unfortunately leaves consumers and other stakeholders in the dark. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, we’re hoping this trend is just a reflection of the growing pains the sustainability space is experiencing right now.
The FTC’s updated Green Guides are set to release in 2024, providing guidelines for how brand’s can market their products, but until then, we will likely see brands being pretty hush-hush about their sustainability goals and progress.
If keeping up with sustainability news, trends, and must-knows feels overwhelming, you’re not alone. Our weekly newsletter will help build your confidence and competence in the ever-evolving sustainability space, and will provide you with updates on the latest and greatest here at The Underswell.
Thanks for joining me, and we’ll see you soon!
Top 35 Things to Know if you're learning about Sustainability in the Apparel Industry. Have you downloaded the guide yet?
Stay connected with news and updates!
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.
We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.