Top EU sustainability trends to watch in 2024

By Publyon

The EU is committed to its goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. This commitment not only tackles climate change risks but also enhances the EU’s strategic autonomy, long-term competitiveness, social economy model, and global leadership in the net-zero economy. Looking ahead to 2024, Publyon has analysed the upcoming trends shaping the EU’s sustainability agenda.

As 2024 marks an EU election year, it offers businesses a chance to strategically ready themselves for the upcoming Commission. This creates a timely opportunity to interact with policymakers and establish a robust presence in Brussels.

EU sustainability policies in 2023

Throughout 2023, the EU made significant progress in refining key components of its flagship initiative, the European Green Deal. The EU successfully advanced several initiatives aimed at greening the bloc’s economy with a significant impact on business operations. Here are some highlights:

Deforestation-free Products Regulation

A set of new EU rules to ensure that products consumed in the EUdon’t contribute to global deforestation. It covers commodities such as timber, cocoa, soy and palm oil, and builds on existing due diligence frameworks for conflict minerals and batteries.

Status: Finalised.

Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation

EU legislation on packaging design and waste management to move away from linear packaging models, in line with the EU’s ambition to transition to a circular economy. It aims to harmonise rules in the internal market and reduce packaging waste.

Status: Inter-institutional (trilogue) negotiations. We expect the regulation to be finalised in this legislature.

Critical Raw Materials Act

EU rules to secure sustainable supplies of critical raw materials and reduce dependence on single-country suppliers. It aims to ensure that European industry has a secure and sustainable resource base.

Status: Institutions reached a provisional agreement.

Waste Framework Directive

It is a targeted revision to address textiles and food waste, aiming to cut environmental and climate impact. The Food Waste Reduction Targets seek legally binding goals for waste reduction, fostering a more sustainable food system through improved waste management practices.

Status: Negotiations within the institutions. We expect the revision to be finalised in this legislature following a short negotiation period.

Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive

It modernises and strengthens social and environmental reporting requirements for large companies and listed SMEs. It extends reporting requirements of Non-financial Reporting Directive to include sustainability aspects.

Status: Finalised.

EU Taxonomy Environment and Climate Delegated Acts

The Taxonomy Regulation establishes a classification system for environmentally sustainable economic activities to support sustainable investment in the EU. Through delegated acts, it introduces criteria for activities that contribute to non-climate environmental objectives and to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Status: Finalised.

Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive

It aims to promote sustainable and responsible corporate behaviour. It requires companies to address adverse impacts and integrate human rights and environmental considerations into operations and governance.

Status: Institutions reached a provisional agreement.

Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation

It establishes a framework for setting ecodesign requirements to improve the circularity, energy performance and environmental sustainability of various product groups. It allows performance standards to be set for most categories of goods on the EU market.

Status: Institutions reached a provisional agreement.

Clean Tech Innovation Fund

One of the world’s largest funding programmes for low-carbon technologies. It supports innovative projects in geothermal energy, green steel, clean batteries, circular economy and solar manufacturing.

Status: Finalised.

Green Deal Industrial Plan

Plan to boost the competitiveness of the EU’s green industry and accelerate the transition to climate neutrality. It aims to increase manufacturing capacity for net zero technologies and meet ambitious climate targets.

Status: Call for proposals is open.

Nature Restoration Law

Under the EU Biodiversity Strategy, it sets binding targets for ecosystem restoration. It focuses on carbon sequestration, disaster prevention and reducing the impact of natural disasters.

Status: Institutions reached a provisional agreement.

EU sustainability trends: what’s ahead in 2024?

1. Carbon pricing mechanisms and nature-based solutions

Governments around the world, influenced by the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), are introducing carbon pricing systems. Like CBAM, these measures assign a monetary cost to carbon emissions, pushing companies to embrace eco-friendly technologies.

At the same time, there’s a rising awareness of nature’s role in combating climate change and supporting biodiversity. This awareness is prompting a move towards strategies that benefit nature. Companies are incorporating the value of nature into their business models and using nature-based solutions to decrease their environmental footprint.

2. ESG integration, sustainable investing, and reporting transparency

With the rise of sustainable practices, investing based on ESG(Environmental, Social, and Governance) factors is becoming widely accepted. Investors are showing more interest in ESG-focused funds, encouraging companies to improve their sustainability efforts to attract these investments.

At the same time, the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) is making it mandatory for companies to disclose their impact on the environment, society, and governance. This requirement aims to increase transparency and accountability of businesses operating in Europe. The debate on financing the green transition has gained momentum both in the EU and internationally. In order for companies to access these financing opportunities, ESG performance will become increasingly important.

3. Sustainable supply chain management and circular economy principles

Companies are reviewing their supply chains to identify and reduceenvironmental and social risks. This involves mapping out supply chains, auditing practices, and encouraging sustainable sourcing.

At the same time, there’s growing interest in the idea of a circular economy, which focuses on reducing waste, designing products to improve their circularity, and making the best use of resources. Companies are now adopting circular business models, prolonging the life of products, and getting involved in resource recovery and recycling.

4. Strategic autonomy for raw materials and food security

The EU is likely to emphasise self-sufficiency in critical materials for its production capacity, reducing dependence on external sources. This self-sufficiency will extend to food security, with policies addressing the resilience of the agri-food sector and ensuring a stable supply chain.

Expect initiatives to promote sustainable agricultural practices, innovative technologies and strategic reserves to strengthen the EU’s resilience in the face of potential disruptions.

5. Biodiversity

The EU is stepping up its efforts to halt the loss of species and ecosystems. Biodiversity considerations are being integrated into policies ranging from agriculture to urban planning. The biodiversity strategy is likely to drive initiatives to promote habitat restoration, sustainable land use and the protection of endangered species.

Businesses will be increasingly scrutinised for their impact on biodiversity, and will be encouraged to align their practices with conservation goals and contribute to the maintenance of ecosystems.

6. Technology for sustainability, human well-being, and ethical AI

More companies are using data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to track how well they’re doing in terms of sustainability, make the most of resources, and understand their supply chains better. At the same time, human wellbeing is taking a more central role.

Companies are realising how crucial it is to look out for their employees, introducing programs to support mental health and maintain a good work-life balance. In addition, boards of directors are developing effective methods for companies to use AI in a way that’s ethical and responsible, considering its effects on society and the environment.

What can you do to take advantage of the EU sustainability trends in 2024?

EU sustainability policy, as reflected in business strategies and operations, is evolving and moving into the implementation phase. In 2024, companies need to keep up with the latest EU sustainability trends in order to remain competitive. Publyon advises organisations to:

  • Ensure compliance with upcoming regulations by assessing their impact on operations: Publyon’s Policy Impact Scans provide organisations with a roadmap for navigating complex legislation, identifying the key EU and international policies that affect their business. This enables you to develop or adapt your business strategy with confidence and clarity, from day-to-day operations to the boardroom.
  • Implement an EU funding strategy: Working with our partner Hezelburcht, we secure optimal grant support to achieve strategic, financial and innovative goals.
  • Shape the future EU agenda: It is vital for organisations to be well informed about policy developments in Brussels. Equipping yourself with the tools to strategically position your organisation in the evolving political landscape is key.
  • Develop a public affairs strategy to have a say in the Commission’s programme: Publyon provides expert advice and guidance to help you understand legislation and its potential impact. Together we can tailor strategies to your organisation, influence the legislative process and build relationships with key decision makers. Keeping abreast of EU sustainability developments ensures that you’re well placed to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the ongoing green transition.
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