As 2020 — the year of uncertainty — comes to a close, the work of trend forecasters comes to the spotlight. A new year means a new beginning for exciting trends, however short-lived they may be. WGSN, a global leader in trend forecasting, has named some of these 2021 trends to include consuming chickenless eggs, repurposing mushrooms for aesthetic and sustainable fashion purposes alike, and keeping robot pets. Exciting times lie ahead for the world in which we have come to live and thrive.
Trends are powered by the fast-paced, pivotal movements of our digital age. Our thoughts, behaviors, and decisions are driven by the most popular and highly-rated products, often promoted by social media channels, celebrity influencers, and public figures. These trends, intentional or unintentional, influence the culture that we observe, absorb, internalize, and display. Over time, our priorities have shifted from creating new products using revolutionary technology to creating sustainable products that achieve identical performance and effects using methods less harmful to our environment. This pivotal moment is a win for the human race — it’s a win for our culture.
That’s why the most important trend forecast for next year goes beyond the type of meat we consume or the nature of relationships we have. The most important trend forecast for 2021 focuses on one word: sustainability.
What is Sustainability?
Sustainability is the essence of long-term existence. It refers to a cycle of progress, driven by the creation, development, implementation, and improvement of ideas and solutions. It implies continuous progress and is crucial for future-oriented planning.
Often, the word ‘sustainability’ is synonymous with climate change. We discuss the sustainability of the planet as it stands — the oceans cluttered with plastic, the effects of global warming on the agricultural industry, and the like. However, there is so much more to sustainability. Sustainability is the ability to exist constantly. It is applicable to any and every sector, industry, community, and individual.
One of the largest ways that sustainability has been advocated for on a global scale is through the United Nations and their creation of the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals.
The 18th Sustainable Development Goal: Culture
In order to align the world on sustainable practices, the United Nations, an international body symbolic of global collaboration, established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are goals that the United Nations, as well as its partner organizations and supporting countries, commit to solving in the next 10 years.
These 17 SDGs are bold and necessary. Sustainability is integral to all of these goals, from gender equality to sanitation and access to clean water. But there seems to be one word missing: culture. Why is that?
The reality is, culture is intertwined in the definition and progress of all 17 SDGs. So, should we assume that sustainable culture is automatically imminent from the implementation of these SDGs?
Culture is the penultimate Sustainable Development Goal. Building a sustainable culture is fueled by these 17 goals highlighted by the UN. By focusing on these 17 SDGs, using systemic and process-oriented strategies to collaboratively build solutions, and implementing effective policies that bring leaders and community members together, we can achieve these goals and build a sustainable culture.
Moving Forward: Sustainability in 2021
Sustainability is the trend of 2021 and beyond.
Sustainability touches many, if not all, aspects of our lives. The water we drink, the sanitary resources we use, the infrastructure we depend on, and the rights and freedoms we have — the common thread between these elements of our lives is sustainability. Sustainability is the key to keep from depleting resources and losing these freedoms and rights.
One such industry where sustainability is making its mark is fashion. Over time, the ever-increasing demand for trendy clothing, from the runway to the streets, pushed companies to replicate runway trends in a way that could be quickly integrated into daily life. Fast fashion describes a process through which companies replicate fashion industry trends by mass-producing clothing at low costs. Many brands have embraced the fast fashion business model — as trends change, fashion must meet the demand for these hottest trends. To meet this increasing, timely demand, fashion giants like H&M and Zara have pivoted to creating cheaply made, affordably-priced clothing for short-term use by consumers. While effective in producing affordable clothes in an incredible turn-around time, the effects of fast fashion on the environment are severe.
Fast fashion has significant detrimental effects on our resource consumption and waste production. It can be easy to visualize heaps of garbage, waiting to pile up in landfills and pollute the earth. But there is more to sustainability than we see with the naked eye. According to Business Insider, “fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams.” The purpose of fast fashion is to continue meeting the demand for trendsetting clothing — as a result, as trends change, “old clothes” are no longer needed. These clothes end up in landfills — in fact, over 85% of all textiles to the dump each year (Business Insider).
Many leaders in the fashion industry have pivoted to incorporate sustainability in their brand and product development practices. Companies like Patagonia, Everlane, and Pact use fair-trade and responsibly sourced materials to create their clothing. Companies in other industries — including technology and personal/home goods — have followed suit and committed to sustainability practices as well. Sustainability is more than a brand or a PR statement — it is a part of culture. Our culture must evolve so that it is long-lasting, progressive, and future-oriented. In other words, culture must be sustainable.
In order to build a culture around sustainability, we must ask ourselves:
- What are the sources of the products we consume?
- What are the environmental and social impacts of our actions?
- What are some ways we can engage to create a positive outcome?
As you close 2020 in a safe and socially responsible way, ask yourself — how will you integrate sustainability practices into your personal and professional journey in the next year?
Here are some simple and effective ways to integrate sustainability into your 2021 goals:
On an individual level:
- Get educated. Learn more about sustainability and sustainable practices. From groceries to clothing, you can practice sustainability through your decisions.
- Research before you commit. Understand where your food, clothing, and products come from before committing to purchasing them.
- Make a monthly goal for yourself. Whether it’s implementing a Meatless Monday in your weekly schedule or supporting local business by shopping at farmers' markets, define your goal and make a plan to achieve it.
On a community/organization/company level:
- Get involved. Does your community have a local task force or group committed to sustainability? Find out more about what your community is doing to plan for the long-term.
- Does your company have a culture committee? If not, create the first one! Establish a commitment to practice sustainability in a way that aligns with your organization’s mission.
- What does your organization/community/company do to promote sustainable practices? Research opportunities to collaborate with progressive groups in your community. Make a plan to co-create a sustainable culture.
Sustainability is integral as we evolve our culture. 2021 is ripe with opportunity — it’s on us to capitalize on these opportunities to create sustainable, thriving, and positive cultures.