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What Are the Environmental Trends for 2023?

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

2021 was a year plagued with weather extremes. This includes flooding in Germany and China and wildfires across Europe and the United States. Climate change made many of these weather extremes more likely and more severe. These weather warnings seem to have triggered some pretty significant environmental trends for 2022. The UN secretary-general has described 2022 to be the year to shift into “emergency mode.”

Chief Antonio Guterres, lamenting a failure of global governance, urged the world to go into emergency mode to tackle COVID-19, the climate crisis and global finance reform.
Chief Antonio Guterres, lamenting a failure of global governance, urged the world to go into emergency mode to tackle COVID-19, the climate crisis and global finance reform.

The urgency comes as officials and climate policy analysts warn the most ambitious Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is growing harder to reach - despite gaining stronger political backing in 2021. As well as weather extremes, another driving force regarding environmental changes is the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Its impacts have increased citizen awareness surrounding our health, impacts and environmental actions that humans have on the planet.

This urgency is driving trends throughout global government officials and the way in which consumers are choosing to consume products. The first trend which we are going to discuss is within the government.


What does ‘carbon neutral’ mean?

The definition of being carbon neutral is when companies, processes and products calculate their carbon emissions and compensate for what they have produced via carbon offsetting projects.

Being carbon neutral is not the same as being carbon-free. Carbon-free products, services or companies are those that do not generate any carbon emissions throughout any of their processes.

What is carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting means making up for the emission of CO2 or other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. A carbon offset occurs when a company or an individual fund's carbon offset projects that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere or prevent some greenhouse gases from being released.

Carbon offsetting can be as simple as planting trees that naturally absorb CO2 from the atmosphere or more complicated carbon offsetting projects.

What are some of the negatives of carbon offsetting?

Despite lots of good coming from carbon offsetting, there are some negatives.

Carbon offsetting should not be a "get-out-of-jail-free card"

In a recent article, the BBC has stated that “carbon offsetting is not a get-out-of-jail-free card; people need to change their behaviour, companies need to change their behaviour and the government does.”

“Carbon offsetting is only something that should be used after all other possible changes have been made and there is no way of reducing it any further”, said Asher Minns, executive director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia. He added that carbon offsetting "tends to be used a little bit as an excuse sometimes".

Cars stuck in traffic, all emitting amount of carbon
Offsetting your personal carbon footprint is the most popular offset people purchase

Political Environmental Changes

Net Zero Targets

Growing pressures on the government are the driving force behind the 2022 trend of pushing for them to deliver net-zero. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said man-made carbon dioxide emissions need to fall by about 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels, and reach “net zero” by mid-century to give the world a good chance of limiting warming to 1.5C and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

A recent report by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit and Oxford Net Zero found that 124 countries, 73 states & regions, 155 cities, and 417 companies in their sample have made some form of commitment to net zero. Meanwhile, net-zero emissions are explicitly mentioned in the Paris Climate Agreement as an essential goal to be reached by the second half of the 21st century.

The UK over-achieved against its first and second Carbon Budgets and are on track to outperform the third Carbon Budget which ends in 2022. This is due to significant cuts in greenhouse gases across the economy and industry, with the UK bringing emissions down 44% overall between 1990 and 2019, and two-thirds in the power sector.

In line with the recommendation from the Independent Climate Change Committee, this sixth Carbon Budget limits the volume of greenhouse gases emitted over a 5-year period from 2033 to 2037, taking the UK more than three-quarters of the way to reaching net-zero by 2050.

For the first time, this Carbon Budget will incorporate the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions – an important part of the government’s decarbonisation efforts that will allow for these emissions to be accounted for consistently.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We want to continue to raise the bar on tackling climate change, and that’s why we’re setting the most ambitious target to cut emissions in the world” and, “the UK will be home to pioneering businesses, new technologies and green innovation as we make progress to net-zero emissions, laying the foundations for decades of economic growth in a way that creates thousands of jobs.”

In the months that followed from COP 26, several major green policy packages were published and important regulatory changes were announced.

These included the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, the Sixth Carbon Budget, the Hydrogen Strategy and the overarching Net-Zero Roadmap. These policies are responsible for:

New energy targets

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed plans to end fossil-fuelled electricity by 2035. There was an already confirmed deadline to end all coal-fired electricity by 2024, meaning this new target is primarily targeted at gas. Gas currently accounts for 40% of the UK’s generation mix at present.

White smoke bellowing out of factory.
Pressure grows on the UK Government as plans are confirmed to end fossil-fuelled electricity by 2035. One of the most contested arguments is the UK’s huge reliance on gas.

Environment Bill

The Environmental Bill makes provisions about “targets, plans and policies for improving the natural environment; for statements and reports about environmental protection”, with a particular focus on how environmental protection frameworks will operate post-Brexit. Lockdown restrictions last year stopped the Environmental Bill’s return to parliament. The bill was broadly welcomed.

Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy for Education

There are plans to change the curriculum, for both primary and secondary schools, to include more information on nature and biodiversity and the impact which human activity is having on the climate and nature. There are hopes for this to be done by 2023.

Individuals Offsetting their Carbon Footprints

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Local community planting mangroves in Madagascar.
Local communities planting mangrove trees in Madagascar as part of our own Carbon Offsetting Projects.


Thanks to Gen Z and Millennials, sustainable products are one of the top environmental trends. Gen Z is aware of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and feel the responsibility that they must try and fix these issues. They are the future and their preferences for more sustainable products show that the trends in this article are here to stay. Research suggests that 54% of Gen Z think a company’s environmental and social efforts are very or extremely important when considering whether to purchase a service or a product.

This also applies to the food which they eat. Research reveals that two-thirds of those aged between 18-24 believe that the global food system is in crisis. Two-thirds believe that the current food system is destroying the planet. 74% of Generation Z consider fruit and vegetable farming to be the most sustainable option when considering food sustainability. This is followed by growing food locally (at 74%) and plant-based foods (at 70%).

Women holding locally grown fresh produce
A surgung trend of this year is buying locally grown produce.

These statistics could be responsible for the surging demand for transparency and environmental consideration to be taken for food products.

Below are the three of the environmental trends which we believe will be seen throughout the food industry in the year to come.

Deforestation free commodities

COP 26 saw major food and agricultural companies committing to halting deforestation by 2030. This spurred the creation of the “Food Systems, Land Use and Reforestation Impact Programme”. This will launch programmes in twenty-seven counties - targeting the production of eight key commodities: beef, cocoa, coffee, maize, palm oil, rice, soy, and wheat.

With 80% of current global deforestation driven by the global trade in commodities, such as soy and palm oil, expect to see increasing pressure on addressing deforestation from food commodities. This will include pressure to stop the import of commodities, such as soya, which continue to drive deforestation.

Locally Grown Foods

The Covid-19 pandemic could be held largely responsible for the recent scrutiny over decentralising our food systems and producing a larger proportion of our healthiest produce, locally within the UK. According to GlobalData’s Covid-19 Recovery Consumer Survey taken last summer, 52% of consumers globally claimed locally-sourced ingredients were more important as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the UK we import 77% of our fresh fruit and vegetables, which predominantly are sold through the highly centralised retail dominated system. 2022 is going to bring larger demand for a greater diversity of locally produced food.

Whilst analysing attitudes towards food throughout the pandemic, The UK’s Food Standards, says that more than a third of the country’s consumers are now buying local food more often. This is even after lockdown measures have been lifted. These pressures could see a growing trend in packaged food brands collaborating with local suppliers more.

Bringing Ancient Cereals, Grains, Legumes, Seeds, Nuts, Fruits and Vegetables back

There are also now a number of food businesses that are starting to explore species of ancient cereals, grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables. These options are being considered as national pressure grows to fund options for subsistence farmers. Currently, 75% of the global food supply comes from only 12 plants. Only three (rice, maize and wheat) make up nearly 60% of the calories of plants in the entire human diet. This is despite there being 20,000 species of edible plants, many of which are not only nutrient-rich but also more suited to changing climatic conditions.

Entire global populations are now reliant on only three plants. It has been argued, that this is going to be a significant challenge to meet the nutritional and food security needs of a growing global population. Particularly in parts of Africa and SE Asia, where the impacts of climate change are going to be most acute.

One of the most popular crops to come back into fashions is Quinoa. This trend grew wildly popular throughout the younger generation within the UK: With it being reported that “the top ten of favoured foods for the new generation is Quinoa or Couscous which is 21 per cent more popular with children than parents.”

Upcycled foods

Upcycled foods describe the concept of using low-valued foods or food processing by-products to generate new food products. Currently, 30% of all food grown globally goes to waste. This contributes to approximately 8% of the worlds total greenhouse emissions. This could therefore explain the demand for otherwise wasted products (such as vegetable peelings or spoilt food) to be used and made into something edible. Some examples of food brands upcycling products include Renewal Mill which makes flour using by-products from plant-based milk, Toast Ale, which uses beer made from waste bread, and Regrained which makes flour from protein, fibre, and micronutrients discarded after the grain is made into beer and incorporates it into snack bars.

Renewal Mill food products
Renewal Mill is a company which is upcycling products.


What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a company or organisation spends more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than on minimising their environmental impact. It is a deceitful advertising gimmick intended to mislead consumers who prefer to buy goods and services from environmentally conscious brands.

What is the problem with greenwashing?

As consumer pressure grows for products and services to be environmentally conscious, it is starting to become unclear who in the market has genuine intentions of being environmentally aware and who is simply pushing the label for sales. This has been a particularly prominent issue within the fashion industry.

The pressure group Changing Markets Foundation released a report last year into the use of synthetic fibres by 46 leading brands. It said that 60% of claims by the UK and European fashion companies, including Asos, H&M and Zara, were unsubstantiated and misleading shoppers. It picked out H&M’s ethical Conscious Collection for using more synthetics than in its main collection, with one in five items analysed found to be made from 100% fossil fuel-derived synthetic materials. H&M said it based its product sustainability claims on “credible third-party certification schemes for our materials to ensure sustainable sourcing and integrity.” (Such as the Global Recycled Standard).

Clothing Label reading: DIRTY FASHION: CRUNCH TIME
Dirty Fashion - Changing Markets are describing now as “crunch time.”

Which Environmental trends will you follow this year?

In conclusion, 2022 is going to see many drastic changes, both regarding government policies and the consumers’ attitudes towards services and products. As the impacts of global warming are starting to be seen more widely and more severely, it is only the beginning of positive changes to come.

One of the easiest, most sustainable ways to create a maximum sustainable impact this year is to offset your own carbon footprint. Here at ZeroSmart, we not only plant enough trees to offset all of your carbon emissions, but we also invest in the best and most trusted climate action.

What do you think of these trends? Is there anything you are committing to this year? Let us know on our Instagram @zerosmartuk - our favourites will be shared!


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