silhoette of happy friends looking at the sunset

Much like coal, 2020 was dirty, non-renewable, and had a major impact on our planet. Although we could make a long list of the unfortunate events of 2020, the year did put a lot of pressure on the world to become more thoughtful about the way we live. This pressure planted the seeds of exciting planet-friendly trends, products, and events that will turn the coal of 2020 into the diamond that is (hopefully!) 2021. (And hopefully we make coal a thing of the past, too, with renewable alternatives while we’re at it.)

We have compiled a list of our top 10 environmental happenings that give us faith in the year ahead, in hopes that it sparks the fire in you to take action and keep your spirits up. 

#1: Increased Sightings of Endangered Species 

Over the years, we’ve seen multiple species go extinct due to human involvement in their natural habitats. However, after a series of expeditions last year, scientists have been able to spot larger numbers of them and bring in hope for their future survival rates. In the South Georgia islands, scientists have seen 55 blue whales last year, which is far more than the two spotted 50 years ago in that same location. Even the Elephant Shrew, which was thought to be extinct, was rediscovered and found thriving in the Horn of Africa. 

#2: Cleaning up the “Plastific” Ocean 

The Pacific Ocean has around 80,000 tons of plastic floating in a giant patch called the Pacific Trash Vortex. Boyan Slat, founder of Ocean Cleanup, installed a series of devices that control ocean currents and push the trash into tighter areas for easier extraction. In 2020, the initiative recycled and made sunglasses out of the plastic collected, and the profit made from selling these glasses can be used for cleaning up almost 24 football fields worth of plastic from the ocean, making the ocean much cleaner in the years to come.

plastic floating among fish in the ocean

#3: Countries Across the Globe Are Pulling Their Green Socks Up

Countries around the world are implementing strategies to reduce the impact humans have had on the planet. In Spain, the government has made plans for carbon-neutrality by 2050 and will invest 27 billion euros into clean energy. Japan and China, two of the world’s largest coal-reliant countries, have pledged to become net-zero, with Japan planning to have net-zero emissions by 2050 and China to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. With all these plans being implemented, we’re paving the way to a greener and cleaner future, one step at a time.

#4: Green Hydrogen v. Carbon Dioxide

Green hydrogen is being used in order to eliminate CO2 in processes and to balance CO2 levels in the atmosphere. In 2020, it was predicted to replace 25% of the world’s CO2. Taking heed of this, multiple nations are trying to implement this power system to make their processes greener. In Sweden, 10% of CO2 emissions are from steel production. Last year, they planned to implement a green hydrogen-based manufacturing unit by 2026 that extracts steel without the use of any coal, thereby reducing and almost eliminating any CO2 emissions. 

#5: Nature-Friendly Regenerative Farming 

In 2020, the Mayhew family implemented a farming model that corrects the food production system by reviving corroded soils and removing artificial fertilizers and pesticides completely. It helps set a precedent for planet-friendly farming and provides other farms with pathways to do this themselves as well, hopefully bringing in a larger number of nature-friendly regenerative farms. For example, they replant hedges to stop erosion and even plant clovers on their arable fields, which are “nitrogen-fixing” plants that use the nitrogen from the atmosphere and put it in soil, forming a free fertilizer and soil-improver.

#6: Going Online: Fashion Shows in the Digital Sphere

Covid-19 put a crimp in haute couture’s style. With in-person gatherings outlawed, the fashion industry had to adapt its shows to fit within the new guidelines 2020 brought. With innovative ideas like Moschino’s marionette fashion show, the digital format was the most popular. The environmental impact of fashion shows was greatly reduced due to this shift to the digital by cutting out traveling and flight emissions. The innovation and adaptation of the fashion industry shown will carry into 2021 and makes room for fashion traditions to be reexamined and made more sustainable. 

#7: Green Leadership

As the green movement builds momentum, 2021 seems to be on the precipice of high-level change. Group leaders across the United States are starting to make major steps in making positive impacts on the planet. Through the new administration, the country has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement and aims to achieve a 100% clean energy economy with net-zero emissions by 2050. Biden has also made environmental history by creating a team of climate-focused appointees. Deb Haaland is to lead the Interior Department, Jennifer Granholm to be the energy secretary, Michael Regan is set to run the EPA, Brenda Mallory will direct the Council on Environmental Quality, and Gina McCarthy will lead the new White House Office of Climate Policy. Empowering the local communities and grassroots groups through action made on larger scales makes for a promising year ahead of us. 

#8: Sustainable Packaging 

The pandemic has sharply increased online shopping which comes with a large issue of waste. Plastic, cardboard, and styrofoam are common packaging materials that are also pollutants and mostly single-use in this field. The expansion of online orders has prompted a renaissance of packaging to become more sustainable. One new idea is the reuse method where a company sends a higher quality container the first time the smaller refills after that. There are also developments of biodegradable materials for packaging, like mycelium, to close the loop on packaging.  

#9: Renaissance of Plant-Based Fast Food Options 

The extent to which vegetarians and vegans alike have been able to say “I’m lovin’ it” has been kept short to fries for decades. However, the past few years brought a rebirth of vegetarian and vegan options at fast-food chains. Burger King introduced the Impossible Whopper, Carl’s Jr. has Beyond burgers, Del Taco has Impossible ground meat, and even Dunkin’ and Starbucks have Impossible-based breakfast sandwiches, to name a few. 2021 continues this trend with products like McDonald’s McPlant line. Their move to include plant-based options will pressure others to make vegan options more accessible. 

#10: Environmental Art-ivists

From the ashes that the pandemic left the world in, rose a movement of using art to re-examine our relationship with nature. One example of this is a collection Luke Rudman did in partnership with Greenpeace Africa in which he created sculptures on the human body using only plastic pollution found along South Africa’s coastline. Artist Bordalo II also uses “garbage” to create pieces that are a commentary on our over-production and consumption. This artistic movement is spilling over into 2021 and serves as a compelling source of inspiration to continue our fight for a better future for our planet.

As we step into the new year, we know that the future seems unpredictable but we hope that these 10 positive initiatives keep you optimistic for all that there is to come. It is important to keep faith in the impact of your actions and not get discouraged in the movement. Just like the diamond we’re hoping 2021 will be, Rihanna put it best when she said “shine bright” as this coming year is sure to be full of environmental innovation and excitement.