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10 sustainability trends you need to know about

10 September 2021 | Celia Topping

Finally, being good is cool. Looking after our planet, being eco-aware, and maintaining a future for the next generation has become central to our lives.

Sustainable living is no longer just a trend, it’s a mainstream lifestyle being adopted across the globe. And not a moment too soon. With climate change repeatedly hitting newspaper headlines, and the recent IPCC report1 detailing our impact on the planet – the time is now for change.

We’re seeing a major shift worldwide in people’s attitudes and actions when it comes to being eco-friendly. It’s not just individuals, but businesses, governments and whole industries taking note and getting serious about sustainability, too.

This article will give you an insight into 10 of the main sustainability trends we’re seeing go mainstream at the moment.

1. The quiet rise of electric cars

We’re big advocates of electric vehicles (EVs) here at OVO, and no wonder. They’re clean, green, zero-emission machines that don’t pollute our environment. Plus: they cost less to run than their petrol/diesel counterparts. So they’re better for our planet than traditional cars, and good for your pocket.

With their gentle hum, rather than the loud roar of combustion engine cars, EVs are the coolest, and quietest, cars on the street. Yet their initial upfront cost and concerns over range have put many would-be buyers off. Until now.

Developments in battery technology and range capability have made electric cars cheaper, and more powerful. This means EVs are becoming more accessible to all of us. And the government’s 2030 production ban on new petrol and diesel cars2 means that within a decade, we’re going to have to start thinking about our options.

Whether that’s a plug-in hybrid or EV, we’ve got you covered, with our OVO Drive tariff – offering low flat rates on 100% green electricity3 for your home and car.

Thinking of buying an electric car? Read our article on Things to consider when buying an electric car by OVO's resident EV expert, owner and enthusiast, Chris Britton.

2. Focus on food waste

child cooking with her dad

The cost of food waste goes way beyond those few rotting bananas in the bottom of your fruit bowl. Every week, the average family in the UK throws away around 22% of their weekly shop – costing them around £800 per year4!

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a whopping 1.3 billion tonnes of food is annually wasted worldwide5. That’s a third of all edible food!

This kind of waste has an enormous impact on climate change, and shockingly, less than a third of us even realise food waste is such a big problem6.

Food waste doesn’t just happen in our kitchens, but all the way through the food cycle. There’s waste everywhere, from production and processing through to retail and hospitality – 30% of global greenhouse gases come from producing our food. That’s more than all commercial flights combined7. £1 billion worth of food doesn’t even leave the farm gate8!

But, thanks to organisations like Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and their awareness campaigns, food waste has become a key issue.

Governments and businesses are being instructed to make much-needed changes – and the UN’s sustainable development programme goal is to halve global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reduce food loss along production and supply chains by 20309.

On a smaller scale, social initiatives are booming, with food-sharing apps like Too Good to Go, Neighbourly and NoFoodWasted. In the UK, Olio has become a popular way to share the food you can’t eat with your local community.

Want to know more about the environmental impact of food waste, and what you can do about it? Read our article on how reducing your food waste can help fight climate change.

3. Travelling right with eco-tourism

Eco-activists like Greta Thunberg put the onus on us all to switch flights for trains to reduce global emissions from flying. But the Covid-19 pandemic did more for reducing flights than any activist ever could.

Researchers estimate that in the peak of the first lockdown in spring 2020, aviation emissions fell by 60%10. In total, global emissions dropped by 7% – the largest ever decrease. According to the report, transport emissions played the biggest part in this dramatic drop11.

Now we’re able to start taking to the skies again, it doesn’t mean we should. In fact, there’s a Swedish concept that has gained a lot of attention recently: flygskam, or the feeling of shame or guilt brought on by taking a flight. There’s also a word for the pride in taking the train instead, and avoiding all those carbon emissions: tågskryt.

72% of people consider sustainability as a top priority when it comes to booking their holidays12, so eco-tourism is a trend we can’t ignore. Staying local, considering the environment and looking for greener alternatives to flying are all becoming the standard when looking to travel.

So whether you’re Swedish or not, avoid the flygskam and feel the tågskryt!

Find out about our collaboration with Airbnb to make your green staycation even greener, and win £100 towards your next trip.

4. Veganism and alternative protein sources

woman shopping for green groceries carrots

Veganism has had a bit of a makeover of late. Where many used to associate veganism with chickpea-eating students, the rise of the plant-based diet means far cooler associations. Famous actors, athletes, musicians, and politicians have all started swapping animal products for plants.

As consumers, we’re becoming increasingly aware of the positive environmental impact of meat alternatives, not to mention the health benefits.

In fact, one of the most simple and effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to avoid animal products completely. Farming animals has a huge carbon footprint13, and dairy production releases almost the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as aviation and shipping combined14.

It also takes up a huge amount of land. A plant-based diet uses only one third of the land needed to support a meat and dairy diet15. Overall, farming animals contributes to deforestation, air pollution, water scarcity, species extinction, and climate change.

From cool vegan restaurants in LA , London and Berlin, to alternative proteins, beginning to enter the market, the world view of veganism is changing fast.

Check out what happened when our own OVO team member Chris Russell attempted to go vegan for a week – not as easy as you might think!

5. Electrification of heat

Heating the UK’s homes generates 15% of the nation’s carbon emissions16. That’s because Around 85% of households use gas central heating systems to warm their homes17. So to reach net zero by 2050, we need to cut the carbon from our homes, fast.

The much-publicised ban on gas and oil boilers being installed in new builds from 2025 has caused a lot of discussion about green alternatives to gas boilers. The deadline isn’t far away, and for us to reduce our nation’s emissions in line with the Paris Agreement18, we need to be clear about our low-carbon heating options.

For heat to be environmentally friendly, we need to go electric, and the electricity needs to be from sustainable sources. That’s why we’re currently running a zero-carbon heating trial, by trialling low-carbon heating tech in the south east of England – powered by OVO’s 100% renewable electricity19. The trial showcases the latest technology that cuts heating emissions and helps households save money on bills.

One green solution is to use 100% green electricity to power heat pumps to warm your home. They’re low-carbon and low-maintenance, making them an attractive alternative to your old gas boiler.

You can read all about air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps on Planet OVO, our content hub.

6. Carbon offsetting becoming mainstream

aeroplane viewed through a forest canopy

You may have heard of carbon offsetting in the context of flights. As in, “I took a flight to New York, so I’m going to donate £30 to a reforestation project in South America.” It’s all about reducing the impact of the carbon emissions you caused by taking an action, usually by funding projects that slow down climate change – it’s a balancing act.

Carbon offsetting projects usually fall into 1 of 2 camps:

  • Taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere – such as funding reforestation
  • Preventing emissions from entering the atmosphere in the first place – such as investing in renewable energy

Carbon offsetting is not just about balancing the carbon footprint of individuals’ flights, though. Big businesses are getting in on the act to quickly bring themselves in line with their net zero plans.

Offsetting and the sale of carbon credits can also provide a source of income and protection to developing countries – where lots of carbon offset projects are created.

Find out more about our carbon offsetting projects with OVO Foundation and start changing the world with us.

7. The unstoppable rise of green electricity

Time is up for unsustainable and environmentally damaging fossil fuels. Let’s hear it for renewable energy!

There’s no doubt that our future is powered by green energy, generated by the Great British weather. Our small island has plenty of what’s required to make our 11,000+ wind turbines turn – in fact, our on and offshore wind farms already generate enough electricity to power 18 million homes a year20!

Here at OVO, we’re on a mission to achieve zero carbon living by 2030, through clean, affordable energy for everyone. That means green energy.

Discover more about the winds of change in our blog on wind energy, how it works, and its advantages and disadvantages.

8. The end of fast fashion

We all like to look good. But at what cost? Pre-pandemic, the fashion industry generated around 10% of the world’s total carbon emission21s. In fact, if fashion were a country, it’d be almost as much as the whole of China’s total global emissions put together (12.5%)22.

As with many industries, the pandemic took its toll on the rag trade, but it may actually have changed things for the better, in some ways. The supply chains, water usage, carbon emissions, production standards, and the pollution and waste that fashion creates have all come under closer scrutiny.

The sustainable fashionmovement is gaining momentum. Watch this space for fairer, more eco-friendly fashion for all!

Read more about how fast fashion impacts our planet.

9. The beginning of sustainable beauty

woman putting on cream in a mirror

Where fashion goes, beauty is sure to follow. Although the beauty industry has generally escaped much of the pressure to green up, interest in clean beauty is massively on the rise and is estimated to reach $22 billion by 202423. It’s all about shifting to natural, organic and cruelty-free products, reducing packaging, and being upfront about synthetic ingredients.

But it doesn’t have to be all about using the right products. Simply not using your straighteners for a day, or switching your single-use face wipes for a flannel can also make a difference.

Take a look at our blog about how to make your beauty routine more sustainable for some top tips.

10. Ethical investing and green finance

You may have read through this article and mentally ticked most of the boxes. We mostly know to avoid meat and dairy, take a train instead of a plane, be aware of what we throw away and only use 100% green energy.

But do you know where your bank is investing your savings or pension funds? Probably not. Many of us put that monthly money aside with thoughts of a happy retirement, but without considering where the money is actually going. It’s not uncommon to just let the banks get on with it. After all, they’re the experts, right?

Unfortunately, much of the money we trust our bank, or employer, to invest may be funding organisations we want to avoid – such as oil and gas industries or industrial livestock farming.

But change is afoot. Green finance activists are on the case, demanding transparency about funding in the same way we’ve already begun to see in the fashion and food industries.

You have every right to ask your bank where your money’s going, so why not start today? It’s your money, your choice.

To recap: 10 ways the world is getting greener (and you can, too!)

As the climate crisis weighs heavy on our collective minds, we’re embracing a brave new world of greater eco-consciousness and environmental accountability. Everyone from individuals to nations are focusing on keeping their carbon footprints down to reach that all important 2050 net zero deadline.

The trends listed here are not just trends, they’re ways to change our lives in order to stop the worst impacts of climate change. If you haven’t already begun your eco-journey, now’s the time to start!

Here’s a recap on what’s going on in the world right now from a sustainable point of view:

  • Electric vehicles becoming mainstream
  • Focus on reducing food waste
  • Eco-tourism becoming the preferred way to holiday
  • Going vegan
  • Electrification of heat
  • Carbon offsetting becoming more common
  • The unstoppable rise of green energy
  • End of fast fashion
  • Beginning of sustainable beauty
  • Green finance and ethical investin

For 30 more ideas on how to make your life greener, check out our eco-friendly blog post.

How can OVO help you be more sustainable?

Joining OVO means becoming a member of our community. A community of people who know going green is the only way to reach net zero – and ensure a future for generations to come.

We do everything we can to help our members reduce their carbon emissions and save money. That’s why we’ve launched OVO Greenlight, our free energy-saving tool that gives you all sorts of useful info about your energy use. Plus, handy tips to help you cut carbon and bills! Become an OVO member and you’ll also get:

  • 100% renewable electricity as standard24
  • A tree planted in your name every single year you’re with us25
  • An award-winning smart meter experience (Uswitch 2020)
  • A £50 gift card every time you introduce a friend to us
  • A 5-Star TrustPilot rating by 30,000 members

Sources and references:

1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-58130705

2. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-54981425

3, 19 and 24. 100% of the renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates and how these work. A proportion of the electricity we sell is also purchased directly from renewable generators in the UK.

4. https://www.varsity.co.uk/science/17021

5. http://www.fao.org/food-loss-and-food-waste/flw-data)

6. https://wrap.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/wasting-food-feeds-climate-change-food-waste-action-week-launches-help#

7. https://wrap.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/wasting-food-feeds-climate-change-food-waste-action-week-launches-help

8. https://archive.wrap.org.uk/content/food-surplus-waste-primary-production-costs-uk-more-%C2%A31-billion

9. https://www.eu-fusions.org/index.php/14-news/242-the-un-sustainable-development-goals-set-food-waste-reduction-target

10. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0797-x

11. https://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget/20/files/UK_UEA-Exeter_GCB2020.pdf

12. https://partner.booking.com/en-gb/click-magazine/sustainable-tourism-becomes-priority-72-global-travellers

13. https://www.carbonbrief.org/video-how-beef-farmers-can-reduce-their-carbon-footprint#:~:text=In%20total%2C%20emissions%20from%20livestock,and%20Agricultural%20Organization%20(FAO).

14. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20201208-climate-change-can-dairy-farming-become-sustainable

15. https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/why-go-vegan

16.This figure comes from this report by the Committee on Climate Change and its Adaptation Committee

17. https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Annex-2-Heat-in-UK-Buildings-Today-Committee-on-Climate-Change-October-2016.pdf

18. https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement

20. https://www.renewableuk.com/

21. https://unece.org/forestry/press/un-alliance-aims-put-fashion-path-sustainability

22. https://ourworldindata.org/contributed-most-global-co2

23. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinlarson/2021/06/30/shopper-demand-for-clean-beauty-and-increased-transparency-continues/?sh=25f396845402

25. Each year, OVO plants 1 tree for every member in partnership with the Woodland Trust. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so tree-planting helps to slow down climate change.

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