Looking back at the last 1,000 days, we saw events, technology, and social phenomena that had a sudden and great effect on the progress of the 17 Global Goals and their market opportunities – either positively or negatively.

By Helena Kerr, Alexa Zerkow, Amanda Juvik & Anders Magelund

Currently business disruptors are shaking up markets and the entire business community. A company like Amazon is disrupting everything we thought was known about retail, and will continue to rewrite the ABCs of business as it continues expanding to other sectors.

The SDGs and their market opportunities are no exception. Various events, technologies, and social phenomena are constantly disrupting the current and potential SDG markets. Some disruptions are pushing the SDG markets forward, and some are stalling them.

Disruptions such as these have the power to change the course of history, so be prepared to expect the unexpected!

This has great consequences for companies and business leaders throughout the globe. They must be prepared to navigate turbulent times, where the markets you know today can become completely different tomorrow. Survival of companies and their leaders will be determined by their ability to understand and be ready to respond to the risks and opportunities connected to the SDG markets – where rapid change and disruption across social, environmental and economic dimensions are the new normal.

The Sustainian has examined some of the major disruptors to the SDGs and will provide you with an overview of 10 key disruptors that have most significantly accelerated or impeded SDG progress over the last 1,000 days. Disruptions such as these have the power to change the course of history, so be prepared to expect the unexpected!

Five positive disruptors

1.   Blockchain technology rapidly matured

The Blockchain technology has been referred to as a “bigger event than the invention of the internet” by quite a few notable experts. Looking at the last three years, the growth of Blockchain has skyrocketed. The market grew from US$ 75 million in 2015 to an expected US$ 315 million in 2018. The Blockchain technology is widely considered to be one of the most promising levers to pull billions out of poverty, to eradicate illicit financial flows and bolster renewed trust in economies. And the most fascinating aspect of the technology is the unbelievably speed in which it has been developed and has already begun spreading throughout the world.

2.   China took exceptional lead in renewables

As the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, China’s drastic decision to turn its back on fossil fuels in 2017 sent shock waves around the whole world, changing the global game of renewables. As the International Energy Agency aptly put it in a recent report “When China changes, everything changes”. Hoping to become a green world leader, China is already investing more than US$ 100 billion in domestic renewables every year and has scrapped plans to build 85 coal-fired power plants. Already back in 2015, China installed an average of more than one wind turbine every hour of every day. China was largely responsible for the surge in solar energy infrastructure in 2017, accounting for nearly half the global investmentAmazingly, most of this happened within a time span of 1,000 days.

3.   Veganism on the rise

Major supermarkets such as Waitrose and Tesco have recently introduced a line of new vegan-friendly food and products. This is a clear response to a rapidly growing trend: Veganism is moving from being for the few and converted to becoming a thing for the masses. Throughout the last 1,000 days, we have witnessed a 600% rise of people identifying as vegans in the US. The UK market for meat-free foods was reportedly worth £572 million in 2017, according to market researchers Mintel, up from £539 million only two years earlier. Australia’s largest supplier of dairy products, Murray Goulburn, announced a 22% drop in milk sales in the past financial year. The vegan trend is very much driven forward by social media – #vegan currently has more than 61 million Instagram posts – and is supported by a line of vegan celebrities such as Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Ellen DeGeneres. This trend is not only changing the retail industry, and forcing the food industry to rethink product development but is also opening the door to an ever-expanding focus on climate change mitigation and better health.

4.   Investors signalled the French revolution 2.0.

When 279 investors – collectively managing nearly US$ 30 trillion in assets – sign new initiatives to have the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters drive action on climate change, there is reason to be more than optimistic. This was in fact what happened in Paris in December 2017, just some 2 years after the Paris agreement. Investors such as Deutsche Asset Management, Folksam, HSBC Global Asset Management, and PKA signed a five-year agreement that established their commitment to drive 100 of the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters to improve governance on climate change, align their business plans with the goals of the Paris Agreement and curb emissions. This truly represents a watershed moment for green investments.

5.   #Metoo fought inequality

Who would have thought that a hashtag would cause such a debate around the treatment of women in society, making patriarchal gender power structures tremble around the world. When a small group of activists started popularizing the hashtag #metoo on social media in October 2017, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, few would have predicted how it would ricochet around the world, from Hollywood to India.

Let the age of earth-shattering hashtags begin!

With a focus on women’s fight against sexual assault, discrimination and inequality, the 7-character hashtag influenced a global movement with already 12 million sympathizers and victims sharing the hashtag within its first 24 hours on social media. The long-term effects of the movement are yet to be known, but we can see already shifts in political discourse and that the process of denormalizing a culture of sexual harassment in the workplace has begun. Thís will hopefully boil over into different sectors of society and soon the #MeToo movement may empower all types of women to speak up on such issues. Let the age of earth-shattering hashtags begin!

Five negative disruptors

1.   Trump’s withdrew from Paris agreement

This month marked the year anniversary that Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation in the name of putting “America first.” This has already had great consequences locally, regional and globally. In the 2018 fiscal year financial budget for the US titled, America First, a Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again funding for international climate activities by the Department of State and USAID have been slashed by US$ 10.9 billion, a 28.7% cut. The financial support to all Global Climate Change Initiatives and research has been canceled, as well as the contribution of the U.S. to the Green Climate Fund. Moreover, the EPA budget has been cut by US$ 2.6 billion, 31.4%. The Trump administration’s decision does not only have consequences in terms of economic support to climate change initiatives, but also negative consequences for the political climate change environment. If the US is out, who else will leave the deal?

2.   Oil prices unexpectedly dropped

In 2014, the global economy witnessed a major drop in oil prices, investments thus vanished from $700 billion to $550 billion, culminating in a 3 year-long oil glut. The price of a barrel of oil slid 56% to just less than $30, with supply outstripping demand. Although, this had some positive effects, such as reductions in government subsidies in China, India and Indonesia, this was ultimately overpowered by the borderline collapse of the oil and gas sector with 29 companies dropping off the Fortune500 list in 2015 and 15 in 2016, as a direct result from falling oil and gas prices. Historically, lower prices in fossil fuels have negatively impacted renewable energy sectors (wind, solar, geothermal), but thankfully this crisis had little effect on the demand for renewables. However, the oil price crisis culminated in a deep political, economic and social crisis in Venezuela, amongst others. Despite having greater oil reserves than Saudi Arabia, their inflation is heading towards 1,000%, leading to shortages of food and medicine and rising poverty. Some argue the government’s use of petrodollars to subsidise products below the cost of production, is the cause of their ills. Although prices have now risen, the crisis reflects an unstable oil sector that may have catastrophic consequences for business and governments alike.

3.   Cyber attacks doubled

Two days before France’s presidential runoff in May 2017, hackers dumped a 9GB trove of leaked emails from the party of left-leaning front-runner (now French president) Emmanuel Macron. Two months later, Cybercriminals penetrated Equifax, one of US’ largest credit bureaus, and stole the personal data of 145 million people. These are just two examples of cyber attacks targeted at governments, institutions and businesses, that we have seen in recent years. The number of cyberattacks doubled from 2016 to 2017. Cyber attacks are the ‘perfect’ weapon to create destabilization – and thus pose great threats for government security and democracy, and also for business growth, international trade and the development of technology and innovation.

4.   Europe revealed itself unprepared for refugee crisis

Over the last 1,000 days, the global society has witnessed the largest number of involuntary migrants flee their homelands since World War 2, with the political effects of this reverberating across the European Union. In 2015, hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants attempted to make the harrowing journey across the Mediterranean Sea in overcrowded boats, trekked across borders in unforgiving landscapes and ultimately shattered the illusion of tranquility that Europe had painted since the end of the Cold War, resulting in a perceived loss of control by the governments of the EU. The refugee crisis arrived at a moment when the EU was emerging from the worst economic crisis since the 1970’s. In turn, this together with the suspension on the Dublin Regulation led to conflict between EU member states, where countries such as Germany felt they shared a significantly bigger burden than countries like the UK. This dispute ultimately put into question the very essence of the EU – was it to live up to its raison d’etre of being an integrated community of socially, economically and geographically-bound states? The aftermath of the 2015 crisis propelled euroscepticism on national levels and temporarily put into question the efficacy of the EU as a political institution.

5.   Populism surged

Brexit, Trump, Alternative für Deutschland. The fact that the UK are leaving the EU, that Trump took over the White House and that Germany given its history is experiencing a turn towards more nationalism are all events that we would have thought pure imagination just a couple of years ago. All three are examples of movements that have been and currently are challenging institutional and international collaboration needed to fulfill the SDGs. Populist sentiment hampers the political prioritizations that could enable SDG progress – cutting down foreign aid, protectionist schemes impeding global trade, threatening the democratic processes, leading to conditions favoring authoritarian power. A recent report from Freedom House documented a steep decline in democracy within the last 10 years.