Sustainability - UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

5 sustainable business trends for 2016

Sustainability - UNC Kenan-Flagler Business SchoolIt’s time to look forward to the growth in sustainable enterprise that will come in 2016. Each year brings a new set of innovations that strive to improve the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.

Here are the top five most relevant trends in sustainable business that we can expect to see in 2016.

Energy efficient buildings
The industry of renovating drafty buildings built before modern energy efficiency standards were in place is already worth $20 billion. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings account for 39 percent of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels in the U.S., which is greater than the proportion of emissions from transportation (33 percent) and industry (29 percent).

Companies like CodeGreen Solutions and Johnson Controls are tackling this issue by updating the energy efficiency of older buildings. UNC Kenan-Flagler professor Chris Wedding is also engaged with green building. He founded IronOak Energy, a clean energy finance and strategy consultancy that promotes the use of renewable energy.

Electric cars
As battery technology rapidly improves, so does the affordability and popularity of electric cars. 2016 will be a big year for Chevrolet with the release of the Bolt EV. The Bolt promises 200 miles of battery range with prices as low as $30,000.

Charging technology is also improving. Researchers have developed a buffering system for charging the batteries that electric cars run on. These buffering systems offer 25 times the power without the threat of overloading local power grids.

More power means faster charge time for electric cars, which could increase the overall appeal of cleaner transportation technology.

Solar power
The number of jobs in the U.S. solar power industry has doubled since 2010. Solar installers make five percent more in wages than five years ago – twice the national average wage increase of two-and-a-half percent.

Each year, demand for solar energy increases. Major retailers such as Walmart and Aldi have made commitments to install massive solar panel roofs to offset the high energy overhead of operating large buildings across the globe.

North Carolina solar companies – such as Strata Solar – continue to lead growth in this industry. The Chapel Hill based company recently announced a partnership with Skytron and has over a gigawatt of solar power projects under development. Solar power is more than a trend and will continue to be a prevalent sustainable business practice in 2016.

Meat substitutes
Most researchers have agreed that the current methods of raising livestock are incredibly detrimental to the environment and that we should switch to eating more sustainable forms of protein. The livestock sector releases as much CO2 as the entirety of transportation.

Impossible Foods is one company that is expanding the horizons of meat substitutes. The company invested millions of dollars in developing meat replacement products that mimic the molecular structure of meat but are made entirely of plant material. Impossible Foods plans to release two products in 2016 – veggie hamburger patties and veggie ground beef.

Soil innovation
The prevalence of soil erosion due to unsustainable agriculture practices is another environmental concern that is being addressed by many companies.

Soil erosion harms the surrounding ecosystem by diminishing nutrient content and seeping into waterways. Earth Alive is a company that is trying to combat soil erosion with a biofertilizer that meets organic agricultural standards. The fertilizer has microorganisms that enhance the nutritional content of the soil and promote healthy crop growth (up to a 36 percent yield increase). Similar innovations in promoting the maintenance of healthy soil are expected to enter the market in 2016.

We can expect many more accomplishments in sustainable enterprise in 2016. Impact investing is becoming an increasingly popular way to sustain communities worldwide. The Paris Agreement – an international agreement regarding climate change – will be signed in April 2016.

Overall, I’m optimistic about the progress that will be made in 2016 in meeting the triple bottom line. What other noteworthy sustainable enterprise trends do you foresee in the coming year?

By Abigail Barnhill (BSBA ’16)