Which Sustainability Themes Should Companies Prepare for in 2019?

Sometimes it is seemingly minor issues that surprise the most. During the festive season, we asked ourselves an important question: Which minor issues threaten to become major commercial risks in 2019? Here are two we want to share with you:

1.       Small Lithium-Ion Batteries

The small Li-ion batteries that have been widely adopted in items such as toys, shoes, decorations and many classes of electrical devices have been the cause of fires in waste management systems optimised for mechanical compaction. An increase in such fires has already been recorded in Germany. The pathway to this minor issue developing into a major concern will probably come via decisions taken in the insurance sector.

2.       Fire Retardants in Furniture

The regulated use of fire retardant compounds in domestic furniture in the UK represents a compromise that weighs the risks of fire against the long-term health effects to humans of exposure to contaminated house dust. Evidence collected for a recent regulatory review in California, an on-going review under REACH of the safety of some commonly used compounds and the possibility of new academic research on their health effects have the potential to turn this familiar, minor issue into a significant commercial risk.

Client-Led Questions

During 2018, new clients came to us with their questions on premature obsolescence of products, the New Plastics Economy [1], deposit return systems, extended producer responsibility programmes and on-going concerns over possible contaminants in some secondary materials – namely mixed polymers. What was unusual, however, was how quickly clients moved on from these technical questions about material recycling and end-of-life management systems to questions about the competitive positioning of their organisations with respect to the circular economy.  

During 2019, we are expecting an acceleration in this trend, and stand ready to investigate and implement a Circular Economy framework for client’s products, services and business management systems. Trade associations and the more ambitious companies in industrial and consumer sectors will continue to drive this work… sometimes with the active engagement of Governments. Our work with European furniture makers and the UK’s National Bed Federation’s circular economy committee are good examples of the business leadership now evident in sectors such as electricals and electronics, household goods, clothing, flooring, coatings and the automotive industry.

Climate change policies look likely to target clothing and textiles products (again) and in readiness for this we are preparing a research paper in cooperation with a client. There is space, we believe, to simplify this deeply complex problem to identify a novel but pragmatic first step.  

Climate change is one of several global-scale environmental challenges that requires leadership from the United Nations. During 2018, even our medium-sized clients showed a renewed interest in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) motivated, we believe, by a need to adopt a sufficiently high-level purpose for their sustainability activities.

Many companies take pride in their sustainability activity, and we too are proud of our own work on the matter with the UN’s Environment Programme. This includes, but is not limited to, the publication of evidence in favour of Product Value Retention at the World Circular Economy Forum held in Japan in October. Although the term is barely understood at present, we are working with companies that have adopted class-leading value retention strategies. These companies include IBM, Lexmark, Michelin, SKF, Autocraft, Volvo and others.

25 Year Celebration

We will be quietly celebrating our 25th year in business during June 2019. If you haven’t been in touch before and want to know more about our work – get in touch with us via our UK or Brussels offices.

David Fitzsimons

Managing Director

[1] Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Jake Harding