Typically, the space is pretty burned out on tech buzz words of the year by the time December rolls around. But this year, tech buzz words’ place in the news has been usurped by all things COVID. Had COVID-19 not stolen most headlines since March, sustainability would have been more of a hot topic in 2020. And while sustainability may have taken a bit of a back seat during this year of the pandemic, it will be a trend that carries throughout the 2020s, because experts are appear optimistic upon entering 2021.

The ACEEE (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy) recently released its 2020 scorecard and research report, which evaluates how U.S. states stacked up in terms of setting sustainability goals and adopting new energy-saving rules. According to the 2020 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, California was No.1 overall this year, thanks in no small part to efforts like Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order to phase out new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. The ACEEE says utility regulators in the top-ranked state also approved $45 million in incentives for high-efficiency heat pump water heaters, which will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Regional winners this year included Massachusetts in the Northeast, Minnesota in the Midwest, Colorado in the Southwest/Mountain region, California in the West, and Virginia in the South/Southeast. ACEEE’s report scores each state (plus Washington D.C.) on 32 metrics in five different areas: energy-saving targets, vehicle efficiency, building codes, appliance and equipment standards, and state government initiatives. The nation’s “most improved” state in 2020 was Nevada, which moved up five spots in the ranking by adopting standards for light bulbs, strengthening building energy codes, and making moves toward new standards for vehicles. Notably, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, making it the first state in its region to pursue a 100% clean energy standard.

This year’s report also underscored the effect COVID-19 had on states’ sustainability goals and efforts. The ACEEE says in general, the pandemic slowed efficiency efforts, because states had to divert attention and resources in order to mitigate the health and economic crisis. For instance, the pandemic pointed out where infrastructure (physical infrastructure such as hospitals as well as connectivity infrastructure for work-from-home solutions) were weak. It also forced seamless supply chain and supply-chain sustainability solutions to become more of a priority for businesses.

Corporate goals for supply chain going forward will not only feature visibility and diversity but also reflect companies’ more overarching goals of pursuing ethics and sustainability. In the coming decade, more businesses will explore the idea of a circular economy. In fact, Gartner’s “Future of Supply Chain: Reshaping the Profession” research suggests 70% of companies are making some level of investment in circular-economy models already. And while economic circumstances have left many corporations pulling back on spending, investments in supply-chain technologies remain a priority, Gartner suggests in its research.

States too will be forced to re-evaluate their priorities in the next few years to determine which steps to take in a post-COVID world. Sustainability goals that benefit not only the environment but also livability will be attractive, especially as climate issues continue to be a topic of concern for global citizens.

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