skip to content

Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


Following a year of profound global shifts, including rising support for protectionism and populism, major advances in technology, and increasing environmental and social challenges, in a new briefing published today the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) identifies 8 sustainability trends that will define 2018.

The trends, which are based on common views and predictions from senior members of CISL’s global leadership network, provide fascinating insight into the changing context for business in the new global economy.

According to the sustainability trends briefing, changes such as increased volatility, unprecedented climate events, growing levels of automation, and public pressure for transparency are opening the way for companies to step up to the challenge of sustainability leadership.

Lindsay Hooper, Executive Director for Education, CISL said:

“These trends demonstrate the wide ranging risks and opportunities facing businesses today. For companies that want to thrive in this fast changing context, there is growing consensus that business as usual is no longer enough. In order to succeed companies need to do more than adapt to their changing context. They need to shape and lead change towards a sustainable economy.”  

The following trends were identified by 40 CISL Directors, Senior Associates and Ambassadors, supported by a survey of the wider CISL Network, a global Network of over 8,000 senior leaders and leading practitioners representing every industry on every continent.

  1. Volatility is the new normal: From disruptive technologies to political uncertainty, the future is chaotic and it is here to stay.
  2. Sustainability to shape the face of business: Growing public consciousness of sustainability issues and political leadership gaps will increasingly open the way for business to step up to the challenge of sustainability leadership, and either lead, adapt or fail.
  3. Enduring loss and damage from extreme weather: After the unprecedented climate events of 2017, vulnerable cities, countries and people will face yet more extreme and disruptive weather events, with the potential to impact business though value chain disruption and stranded assets, and contribute to social unrest.
  4. Human versus machine: Growing levels of automation will not only begin to transform the future of business but also the future of work.
  5. China and the global shift to the East: The re-election of President Xi Jinping has given China stability in a turbulent world, and has reinforced the state’s mandate to address climate change at a time when other world leaders have faltered over sustainability.
  6. The end of an era for plastics: Packaging is set to be key battleground in addressing the environmental impacts of business on oceans, land and air.
  7. A watershed year for transparency: Anticipating the recommendations for reporting climate-related financial risks from the Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), companies such as ExxonMobil have faced investor and public pressure to voluntarily improve risk disclosure. This could fire the gun for greater transparency in other parts of business such as executive pay, gender equality and tax arrangements.
  8. Life after coal: The energy revolution is reaching its climax as the switch to renewables and electricity is unstoppable.

Find out more about the Business Sustainability Management online course.



Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

Email | +44 (0) 7845652839