Last January, I predicted that the main environmental trend for 2019 would be disruption and that certainly happened with protests from Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes making headlines. So what do I believe will be the key trends for 2020?

Climate Division

The debate around the climate will intensify, with more extreme weather events, continued protests and COP 26 taking place in Glasgow in November. It is likely the debate will become increasingly divisive for a number of reasons. 

Creating change at the scale required will need much greater government intervention. However, this is at odds with the philosophy of the new Conservative government and will provoke greater protests from groups such as Extinction Rebellion. It will become increasingly apparent that significant lifestyle changes will be required, some of which will be unpopular. This will create a backlash, exacerbated by the climate change movements’ failure to embrace all sections of society and fuel the perception that climate change is allowing a bunch of do-gooders to tell other people how to live their lives.

A polarised debate is going to be of no use to anybody and I hope that both the government and the environmental movement will revise their strategy and overall approach to minimise any toxicity in the transition to a lower carbon society.

The plastics debate will become more refined

Concern about plastics will continue and increase, driven by more media coverage including the new BBC series ‘War on Plastic’. People will become increasingly aware that plastics can be found in a range of unexpected products, including clothing, which will broaden the debate.

Hopefully, the discussion will become more sophisticated with a greater understanding that some types of plastic can be recycled many times and that some packaging can also significantly extend the life of food.

Against this backdrop of increased refinement, there will be a constant stream of social media posts highlighting examples of over-packaging and this will keep the industry on the defensive as they seek to justify their extensive use of plastics.

Green-washing will increase

With growing concern for the environment, companies will be seeking to put a ‘green sheen’ on their products. There has already been a noticeable increase in fluffy green claims with marketing departments hunting out adjectives that sound good in theory but are hard to nail down in practice. In 2020 we will see a growth in the use of words like ‘biodegradable’, ‘compostable’ and ‘sustainable’ all of which should be taken with a significant pinch of salt.

Companies will also seek to highlight the recyclability of their products. There is a considerable difference between something that technically can be recycled and whether it actually is then recycled. 

Consumers will be expected to fight their way through this confusion of marketing themselves as there is unlikely to be significant intervention from government or bodies such as the Advertising Standards Authority.

The fashion industry will be increasingly under the spotlight

2019 saw the fashion industry facing increased scrutiny, with the release of an Environment Select Committee report and TV documentaries revealing the scale of impact created by the industry. This scrutiny will grow during 2020 with the industry playing catch-up due to its highly complex supply chain, reliance on fast fashion to make a profit and lack of credible end-of-life solutions for the clothes it creates.

Concerns about air quality will continue to build

2019 saw growing awareness about the significant health and welfare impact of poor air quality. Despite this evidence, public concern is still relatively muted and pressure on the government to act is sporadic. In 2020 this will start to change as the level of evidence builds and the public becomes increasingly aware of the impact it is having on their health.

Overall, I expect that environmental issues will continue to rise up in the public agenda with people increasingly joining the dots to show that our unsustainable path is creating a range of challenges for our lives.