9 Things to Look for in Sustainability in 2020

As we move into the new decade of the 2020’s, many companies are drafting budgets and setting goals for the coming year and the coming decade.  

From our close watch on all things sustainable -- our client work, our speaking engagements, and major publications, we begin to see things emerge as key issues and subjects to look for in 2020.

Here is our take on the top nine things in sustainability to look for in the coming year: 

9.) Science Based Targets Continue to Gain Steam

As of today, 732 companies have signed on to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) with 312companies having approved science-based targets. This is a great achievement of the joint project sponsored by CDP, World Resources Institute, WWF, and the United Nations. But there are over 45,000 large corporations in the world, meaning just over 1% of the world’s largest companies have signed on. There is still a long way to go.

But we see the progress continuing as more pressure continues to build externally by activists like Greta Thunberg and internally by investors looking to fully assess the risks and opportunities embedded in the web of ESG issues of companies that they look to put their money into.

8.) Goal Setting MovesBeyond the Minimum

Science-based targets are associated with carbon emissions. And generally, science underpins most of the issues within the “E” of ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance). However, on the social side, “ethics based” and “purpose based” goals are emerging onto companies’ radars. These social metrics also have thresholds, ethical thresholds, that companies can strive for – e.g. 50% board gender diversity.

Companies are looking to consultants, like us, and to leading frameworks like the Future Fit Business Benchmark and the Center for Sustainable Organizations to identify, assess, quantify and goal set for the various science and ethics based thresholds. 

7.) Competitive Goal Setting Begins to Emerg

Most companies are still fairly conservative when it comes to addressing energy, emissions, water, waste, etc. Over the years we have seen a step-wise progression regarding goal setting: from incremental goals (1-5% reductions), to more significant incremental reductions (20-30%), to more aggressive science-based goals, e.g. 80% emissions reductions by 2050.

Now that science-based goal setting has reached the mainstream with dozens and hundreds of companies joining the fray, we expect companies to now venture into the land of “net positive”…and to make it competitive. For example, if one major player in an industry, for example, “goes double” and takes on its full inventory of emissions times two, then it could publicly state, “not only are we taking on our own emissions here at Company X, we are taking on our major competitor, Company Y’s, emissions.” 

Now that would catch some attention.

6.) The Risk of Being the Next Climate Casualty Spreads

The summer of 2018 brought with it more climate-related bad news:increased rates of meting of glaciers and polar caps, water shortages that threaten large population centers and more frequent and intense storms. We were particularly struck by the tragic wildfires around the globe, and across the state of California. The fires devastated tens of thousands of acres, thousands of homes, hundreds of communities, and one S&P 500 firm: Pacific Gas & Electric.

As Forbes reported in early 2019

PG&E, a regulated utility that serves roughly 5.2 million households in central and northern California – was preparing to file for bankruptcy protection due to “potentially crushing” liabilities stemming from its equipment’s role in starting several of the enormously destructive fires of summer 2018.

Thus, becoming arguably the first bankruptcy of an S&P 500 firm due to the effects of global warming.

From our perspective, we are seeing many major companies taking notice and are understandably very concerned. Thus, we see 2020 showing a major increase in climate risk, resilience, and adaptation plans. No company wants to be #2 to PG&E.

5.) Crowd Sourcing Solutions: Next Gen Cup Challenge and Multi-company Collaborations

Over half a trillion single use beverage cups go into the waste stream every year. On these vessels are the logos of many large companies, a few of which (Coca-Cola, Starbucks, McDonalds) stepped up in the past year to address the issue by hosting the Next Gen Cup Challenge.  The challenge was posed as a crowd source competition, with winners receiving grant money to move on to the beta testing stage. The twelve winners were announced at GreenBiz19 in PhoenixEight of the winners focused on recyclable/compostable cup liners, three submitted reusable cup service models, and one presented a new biodegradable material.

But the real winner here is the consumer and the planet. When competing (or somewhat competing) brands jointogether to solve a value chain problem openly, transparently, and collaboratively, then the shared problem gets solved much faster. 

We see this example as a positive role model and harbinger of more things similar to come. It is an invitation to other companies to join in the mix and collaborate with other players, even competitors, across and within their value chain to solve collective business and societal challenges.

4.)Sustainability Reports begin to move away from PDF

In a recent review of the Global Fortune 250, the Pivot Goals project, which tracks the ESG goals of the world’s largest and leading companies, it was found that nearly 95% of these companies had some form of sustainability report and/or website that communicated its sustainability program and data. 

Reporting has become table stakes for a sustainability program and most companies make reporting an annual endeavor. And nearly all of them do the same thing --— create a PDF sustainability report that can be downloaded from the website and contains 50-200 pages of typical ESG data, prose, and pictures. We know this from working with clients on over 300 sustainability reports dating back to 2004. Seeing Patagonia’s 2018 sustainability report in video formtriggered our belief that big change, a disruption, is on the near horizon for sustainability reporting. It is coming in the form of virtual and augmented reality that can and will be used to tell company’s sustainability stories for marketing, brand development, sales, and stakeholder engagement.

As such, we have partnered with the technology-marketing firm, Anode, based in Nashville, Tennessee, to help clients develop VR/AR forms of their sustainability report for the purpose of viscerally telling their sustainability story to their interested stakeholders.

3.) Materiality Assessments and Multi-Scenario based Modeling

We have all seen the results of the standard sustainability materiality process: the four quadrant box that shows various ESG issues scored by both their impact on internal business value and on the external importance to stakeholders. This model has served us all well, but it is time to move to the next step, the next phase, in order to respond to the increasing pace and risk of various ESG risks, namely the environmental, societal, and financial impacts of climate change. Such issues are hard to predict in a linear and definitive manner, similar to projecting the path of a hurricane. You can model both, generate multiple scenarios, select the most probable or impactful and plan from there.

As such, we have begun offering this multi-Scenario based modeling as a service within our Materiality Assessment work. This data-driven, probabilistic approach is the wave of the future and we believe the time is now to get moving on it.

2.) Purpose, Authenticity, Mindfulness expands into the Norm

The human brain contains 300 billion neurons and around 100 trillion connections. Our brain is the greatest computer ever created and it continues to evolve even as we age. It is constantly reorganizing itself and is adaptable to change, whether it’s physical or through life experience. It’s built for learning.

The left side of the brain is our linear, mathematical, and logical computer. It works in facts, sequences, and utilizes words and numbers. This is often considered our “work brain”. The right side of the brain is our rhythmic, intuitive, and holistic construct. It works in the arts, visualization, and utilizes feelings and senses. This side of the brain is normally eschewed at work, but maybe that is changing. With the rise in purpose-based goal setting, authenticity and mindfulness practice at work, the right brain is gaining prowess for its importance in business.

As such, we are developing a new corporate training program, Haven, that embraces the left brain/ right brain balance and intend to launch Haven Retreats in the latter half of 2020/early 2021.

1.) Single Use Plastics issue continues to spread globally; a new Issue emerges

A single plastic straw stuck in a single turtle’s nasal cavity. That one image, one video was enough to lure over 40 million online viewers in and helped propagate the oceans plastic issue to go globally viral. 

This past year has seen an onslaught of organizationsfrom major companies to entire countries setting stringent plastic goals to all-out banning single use plastics. The announcements continue to build. A major shift on a previously mundane ESG issue occurred. Why? Because a human connection was made based on emotion. Most people know that there is a global ocean/trash issue but seeing it and feeling it through an innocent turtle help make the issue personal.

With the prevalence and proliferation of smart phone cameras and social media outlets connected to our phones, it is likely that another overlooked ESG issue will virally emerge to the global forefront in the next year and going forward. Having an internal strategy/change management team, along with readied public relations/communications professionals aligned with the sustainability team is needed to be prepared for the next one.

Are you ready?

J. Gowdy Consulting Acquired by Sustainserv

Sustainserv, a Zurich, Switzerland and Boston-based corporate sustainability, analytics and communications firm, announces the acquisition of J. Gowdy Consulting, a 14-year-old Nashville, Tennessee-based sustainability consulting firm.

Matthew Gardner, Managing Partner and co-founder of Sustainserv, said, “By making this move, we are positioning ourselves for growth in several key markets in the U.S. Jeff has built a great practice over the years, and by teaming up, we will be able to move forward together to expand our footprint in the Southeast, and in some sectors where we have not historically had a presence.”

Gowdy Jeff croppedJeff Gowdy“I’m very excited to join the Sustainserv team,” said Jeff Gowdy, Principal of J. Gowdy Consulting. "With its talented personnel, global presence, and focus on cutting-edge sustainability strategy and innovation, Sustainserv is a leader in helping companies make the world a better place and create long-lasting business value."

Jeff has been named a Director at Sustainserv, and will participate in all aspects of busines operations, including marketing, sales, and service delivery across all aspects of Sustainserv’s portfolio. He will continue to operate from the Nashville location, where his team will service existing clients plus new business. 

Jeff can be reached by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and by telephone at 617-330-5001 ext 305.

GRI Roundtable on Supply Chain

Join us for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Roundtable Switzerland on supply chain reporting, sponsored by Sustainserv and hosted by SIX on September 3, 2019. The roundtable's focus is on supply chain management and its reporting, an increasingly hot topic with relevance for carbon management and social impact. GRI's team with Francesca Palamidessi will give an extended overview on international best practice. Sustainserv's Managing Partners Matthew Gardner and Stephan Lienin will present cases from Switzerland and the US and reflect on pragmatic steps for implementation.

For more information and application, click here

Lunch & Learn: Participation in Environmental Research

Lunch & Learn: How Participation in Environmental Research Can Drive Workforce Engagement and Sustainability

Businesses realize the growing importance of employee engagement. Increased productivity, low turnover, and strong corporate culture are all results of an engaged and committed workforce.  The challenge lies in finding approaches to employee engagement that align with corporate values and create long-lasting impacts.

In this roundtable lunch workshop, Sustainserv and Earthwatch will describe state-of-the-art employee engagement initiatives, including green teams, gamification and Earthwatch's Corporate Partnerships program. This program provides opportunities for companies such as EY, Alcoa, UPS and HSBC to send employees on exciting, transformative, research-focused projects where they learn about a particular ecological challenge such as climate change or ocean health. In addition to participating in hands-on research, employees can engage in facilitated discussions that educate them about the company’s sustainability strategy and focus on integrating sustainability initiatives within their day-to-day jobs.

Whether you are interested in fostering a culture of passion and loyalty, boosting environmental sustainability, or improving employee engagement, this is a great opportunity to learn more about Earthwatch’s many programs and Sustainserv's approach to corporate sustainability, while meeting others in the sustainability space!

Date: Thursday, September 26th

Time: 11:30AM – 1:30PM

Location: 31 State Street, 10th Floor, Boston, MA

Lunch will be provided and validated parking available at the Garage at Post Office Square. Please RSVP here.


Diana Eddowes, Senior Program Manager: Diana joined Earthwatch about 10 years ago and has worked on many corporate programs in various capacities throughout her years. Currently she works on sustainability programs for Earthwatch’s largest corporate partner, HSBC Bank in which she manages the partnership and associated research projects in North America. In the past she has also managed Earthwatch’s partnerships with EY, Alcoa and UPS which all aim to engage corporate employees in environmental education and research. At Earthwatch she has facilitated many teams in the field and is also a member of the International Incident Management Team. Diana has extensive experience with project management, developing new programs, budgeting, relationship management, risk management and facilitation. Diana has a Master’s degree in Conservation and Biodiversity from the University of Exeter and an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science from Boston University.

Gitte Venicx, Director of Strategic Partnerships: Gitte joined Earthwatch in 2008. In her role she manages relationships with corporations and other partners to build sustainability leaders within businesses. She has experience implementing employee engagement programs with companies such as HSBC Bank, Alcoa, UPS, and IBM. She has managed Earthwatch’s STEM programs to empower future generations and provide them with the tools needed to combat the greatest environmental challenges the world has faced. She has worked with scientists and field staff to develop safe and rewarding citizen science expedition experiences. Prior to Earthwatch, she worked on climate change policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Gitte has a degree in Environmental Science from Boston University.

Matthew Gardner, Managing Partner of Sustainserv: As a Founder and Managing Partner of Sustainserv, Matt applies his background in environmental science and education to bring a practical perspective to sustainability strategy development, quantifying sustainability impacts, and state-of-the-art sustainability communication. In his work he employs a multidisciplinary approach that couples technical, quantitative expertise with a commitment to clear and concise communication. He has a Ph.D. in Chemistry and spent ten years in environmental research and education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

About Earthwatch Institute: Earthwatch Institute ( is an international nonprofit organization that connects people with scientists to improve the health and sustainability of the planet. Since its founding in 1971, Earthwatch has empowered more than 200,000 participants from all walks of life to join leading scientists on field research expeditions that tackle critical environmental challenges around the globe – from climate change to ocean health to human-wildlife conflict. Earthwatch works with all sectors of society, including corporations, teachers, students, community leaders, as well as the general public. For more information, visit

About Sustainserv: Sustainserv was founded in 2001 in Zurich, Switzerland, and Boston, Massachusetts. Its team of consultants works with companies in a large variety of sectors to help them develop well-matched sustainability strategies, quantitatively understand their impacts and effectively communicate their efforts and aspirations to internal and external stakeholders. Sustainserv’s team brings a wide range of skills and experience, enabling them to deliver tailored solutions to companies wherever they are in the sustainability journey. Sustainserv has helped in the preparation of more than 300 sustainability and annual reports and is a GRI-certified training partner in Switzerland. Sustainserv regularly offers workshops, training courses, and seminars in its Boston and Zurich locations. To learn more, visit