Sustainability Trends 2021: Nurturing Nature

Nature immersion – often prescribed by doctors for depression, anxiety or high blood pressure – offers the stillness and simplicity people were craving for after decades of overstimulation. In InSites Consulting’s Conscious Consumption study, 57% of Europeans and 62% of Australians agreed that COVID-19 made them revalue nature and clean air. A study by AZTI (Spain) and the University of Exeter (UK) during the first lockdown (March-May 2020) has shown that access to outdoor spaces (including a garden or a balcony) and/or having window views of open spaces with nature (e.g. park, forest, coast) decreases symptoms of depression.

In other words, spending time outdoors in green or blue environments has a protective effect on one’s mental and physical wellbeing. Pinterest recently published a ‘last 12 months’ report of global searches, comparing September 2020 vs September 2019. Terms like ‘wild flower field’ and ‘stargazing’ went up by 165%, while ‘forest resort’ doubled and ‘mountain travel’ increased by 35%.

A globally expanding trend

This newly experienced immediacy with nature brings the opportunity for brands to help consumers bring nature into their homes and restore natural spaces. The brands can also focus on using unadulterated ingredients, alternative materials, or services that support the enjoyment of outdoor living while having a positive impact on both people and planet health.

In our 2021 Culture + Trends Report: Happiness Reset, ‘Nurturing Nature’ was mapped as an expanding trend in most global markets, with consumers feeling relevant playing fields expanded widely beyond travel, home improvement and groceries.

Nurturing Nature - report graph

In the country

Twenty-five years before the corona lockdown, Blur’s single ‘Country House’ brought some rather prophetic lyrics: “He’s reading Balzac, knocking back Prozac”. While cities used to be breeding territories for designer brands, culture and fine dining, COVID-19 has changed the narrative. With pubs, restaurants and culture closed and people working remotely, cities have lost their appeal. Consumers fled major cities before these went into lockdown, to isolate themselves comfortably in secure rural spaces with increased attention to farming and gardening. On Tumblr, the #CottageCore trend was also apparent, with a 153% increase in posts since March 2020.

In February 2020, another prophet and world-famous Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas, curated the ‘Countryside, The Future’ exhibition for the Guggenheim Museum right in the center of Manhattan. Koolhaas is convinced that the biggest and fastest transformations and innovations today are taking place in the countryside.


Born to rewild

In his latest Netflix documentary A Life on Our Planet, Sir David Attenborough makes a plea for restoring and rewilding our environment. About 44% of Europeans spontaneously associate replenishing nature with ‘sustainability’, and 35% of Australians deem protecting biospheres to be important. New charity Heal plans to raise £7m through crowdfunding to buy and rewild 500 acres (200 ha) of land in Southern England within two years. In Romania, Foundation Conservation Carpathia is buying privately owned land to create protected wilderness and reintroduce grazing bisons.

Urban rewilding is also on the rise. In New York, billionaire couple Barry Diller and Diane von Fürstenberg conceived a new floating island park on the Hudson river. In Denmark, a boat in Copenhagen harbor can take you to one of the movable islands made from recycled material, to swim, fish and relax. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, announced plans to transform the area of the famous Champs-Elysées into a public garden and ban half its traffic by 2024.

Nurturing Nature - born to rewild

Birds don’t come easy

Here are some examples of brands endorsing rewilding initiatives: Volvo Car UK created a short movie, The Birdman, set in Wales and Mauritius, confronting the damaging impact of humans on the planet. The car make is also supporting Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust projects alongside its aims to reduce the carbon footprint per car by 40% by 2025.

Outdoor apparel brand The North Face endorses companies, organizations, communities and individuals that make exploration possible with its €1 million fund. In August 2020, Scottish brewery BrewDog announced it was the world’s first international beer business to become carbon negative. Its £30m investment plan includes the BrewDog forest, a 2,050-acre site in the Scottish Highlands where they aim to plant 1 million trees and dedicate 550 acres to peatland restoration by 2022.

Biophilic design

Bringing more elements of nature into human living environments – aka biophilic design – is definitely another important manifestation of the ‘Nurturing Nature’ trend. Bjarke Ingels Group created Copenhill, a waste-to-energy plant which produces heating and electricity in a sustainable way in Copenhagen. The plant roof features a 400m ski slope, and a 670m hiking and running trail. The building also includes picnic spots, an après-ski bar, and the highest climbing wall (85m) in the world.

Biophilic design is also gaining traction in automotive. Mercedes-Benz introduced the Vision AVTR concept car to blend into nature. Its frog-shaped design and scaled roof mimic a living organism. The car can even drive diagonally, as if crawling like a crab. Givaudan’s Active Beauty Silkgel is a silicone-free vegan biomimetic silk for haircare. It is produced using fermented plant starch.

Clean is the new green

According to InSites Consulting’s Conscious Consumption study, more than 1 in 4 consumers is checking for labels such as ‘natural’ and ‘non-artificial’ on consumer packaged goods. Therefore, creating chemical-free and natural products is high on many multinationals’ innovation list. P&G’s new homecare brand NBD. (No Big Deal) is targeting NextGen consumers with cartoon-based designs and a plant-based formula in a sustainable packaging.

Let’s go wild

The increased popularity of foraged and wild harvested plants – Nurturing Nature – is also remarkable in personal care as ingredients for clean beauty. The driver behind this growth is the idea that wild-grown plants have had more time and more options to adapt to their environment, which has made them more resilient and nutrient-dense, and thus more potent and effective than farmed ingredients. Furtuna Skin, launched at the end of 2019, is made from ingredients collected in private origin-certified estates in Sicily that haven’t been harvested for more than 400 years. Alpyn Beauty, launched through Sephora in February 2020, offers wild-crafted ingredients such as mountain-grown huckleberry and chokecherry in masks and moisturizers. In fabric care, Nature First laundry pods contain soap berries wild-harvested in the foothills of the Himalayas.


The ‘better for me’ part of sustainability is still often overlooked and underestimated in many a multinational’s ESG strategy. Whilst preoccupied by reducing CO2 emissions and plastics, it’s important not to forget that customers don’t want to make a trade-off for efficacy. They are really looking for a combination of better for the people, for the planet AND for themselves.

Conscious Consumption

Conscious Consumption

Sustainability is a key concern amongst consumers, and this has only increased with the COVID-19 pandemic. This bookzine highlights some of the key barriers amongst consumers as well as their expectations towards brands, through proprietary research, expert interviews with sustainability executives from several industries, and brand illustrations.

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