4 Unexpected Industries Driving the Sustainability Trend

Business.com / Industry / Last Modified: March 16, 2017

Find out which industries are pushing the boundaries when it comes to environmentally friendly practices.

Over the past decade or so, sustainability has generated buzz in a range of industries. In the food industry, terms such as “organic” and “natural” are common. The paper industry emphasizes post-consumer and recycled content. Even the automobile industry is getting greener thanks to hybrid and electric vehicles.

At this point, most consumers are aware of these mainstream trends. But what many people don’t realize is sustainable initiatives are also happening in unexpected places.

Take the following four industries as examples; consumers are unlikely to identify these industries with environmentally friendly practices, yet they’re major drivers behind the move toward sustainability.

1. The Death Industry

Way back in the day, death was a relatively “green” business. If a loved one died, they’d be cremated or buried in a biodegradable wooden box or a simple hole in the ground.

But over the past 150 years, the death industry grew increasingly less sustainable. The funeral process came to involve the copious use of formaldehyde (an environmental pollutant), giant metal caskets that will never biodegrade and underground vaults that are also non-biodegradable. As a result, sprawling cemeteries are eating up land and resources (in the form of steel, hardwood and concrete) at an alarming rate.

More recently, the pendulum has started to swing back to the other side. Per Bloomberg, baby boomers are pushing for more eco-friendly options in the form of biodegradable caskets, burials in natural spaces and even flesh-eating mushroom suits. These aren’t just fringe fads. Additionally, many modern cemeteries are now becoming hybrids with zones for both conventional and green burial sites.

2. The Fashion Industry

Like the funeral industry, fashion is hardly known for sustainability. For the most part, the industry has earned a reputation for the exact opposite: contributing to environmental degradation through wasteful energy practices, using toxic chemicals and dyes that pollute waters and soils and wasting massive amounts of textile.

But in the past decade or so, fashion innovators have set out to change that. Big name brands including H&M, Patagonia, Stella McCartney, and TOMS are pushing environmental initiatives. These range from eschewing the use of animal products to using sustainably sourced materials and printing labels with soy-based ink.

Fashion’s biggest contribution to sustainability lies in its efforts to “rehabilitate” the industry’s textile mills, many of which are found in China. A Natural Resources Defense Council initiative has motivated the mills to reduce their use of energy, water and coal. So far (per Quartz), the program has saved 36 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, 61,000 tons of coal, 400 tons of chemicals and three million tons of water.

3. The Mattress Industry

As with the other industries on this list, the mattress industry has more of a reputation for environmentally destructive practices than for environmentally friendly ones. Conventional industry practices involve the use of toxic chemicals, unsustainable materials, land consumption for big-box stores and massive fossil fuel use as a result of shipping internationally.

The thriving e-commerce mattress industry is working to mitigate these harmful practices. Companies such as Saatva are sourcing sustainable materials, limiting or eliminating the use of toxic chemicals in the production process and producing American-made mattresses that don’t need to be shipped overseas and are subject to more rigorous environmental controls. Additionally, ecommerce companies don’t use up land for massive warehouses or showrooms.

4. The Wine Industry

The wine industry has long kept its practices somewhat under wraps. What we do know is the conventional process of making wine typically involves the copious use of environmentally harmful pesticides, packaging materials and fossil fuels for transport.

In the past few years, the industry has started making sustainability a priority. It’s also becoming more transparent in the process. One survey of wine company executives found that every single company surveyed was attempting to “green” its business in some way. These efforts include reducing packaging waste, using biodiesel fuel, reducing water waste, utilizing sustainable farming methods and developing sustainable buildings.

In many cases, these initiatives are driven as much by cost considerations as they are by environmental ethics, but the result is the same. Sustainability is spreading to more and more industries, even the ones we’d least expect. That’s good news for our planet and our future.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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