Environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG)autonomous vehicles and renewable energy were among the fastest-emerging investment themes in 2021, according to a cross-sector analysis of trends across three pillars of key investment activity. 

We have picked out the top 30 driving forces in recruitment, deal-making and innovation (through patent filings) across 23 industries in 2021 and measured how far up or down the rankings each had travelled compared with 2020. The results uncover which forces have the most momentum going into 2022 and could therefore establish themselves as critically important influencers. 

Our analysis found that the fastest-rising themes tended to differ depending on the investment metric being analysed. ESG-related themes, such as ethics, risk management and health and safety, featured heavily across the board as emerging forces in recruitment, with 18 of the 23 featuring one of these themes as their fastest-emerging in job advertisements. 

Themes, as referenced throughout this article, are defined by GlobalData, from whom our data is taken, as any issue that keeps a CEO awake at night. Companies that fail to spot the important themes within their industry risk being unprepared for their future and, ultimately, failure. GlobalData tags millions of data points with these themes across its proprietary databases on a daily basis, making it possible to track their momentum over time. 

Mining finds its ethics

The most dramatic climb for ethics-related jobs was found across the mining companies included in the analysis. The theme rose 69 places up the rankings in 2021 to come in 30th overall. The mining industry is in a particularly difficult position when it comes to the rise of ESG with questions around how quickly it can pivot to the mining of transition minerals and the ways in which it affects the communities in which it sets up shop

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By GlobalData

However, it wasn’t just in mining where ethics-related hirings enjoyed a boost. Of the 23 industries included in the analysis, 12 had ethics as their fastest-rising recruitment theme with the medical and air force industries seeing particularly fast increases. 

Although ESG themes dominated the list of emerging recruitment themes they were nowhere to be seen when it came to deal-making, with the emerging forces here tending to revolve around disruptive technologies. 

For example, machine learning was a top five emerging theme for deal investment in seven out of the 23 industries we analysed, with Big Data, autonomous vehicles and the internet of things each appearing in five. 

The biggest deal in the machine learning space in 2021 was Panasonic's majority acquisition of Blue Yonder, a US-based provider of AI and machine learning-driven retail and supply chain solutions. Panasonic bought an 80% stake in the company for $7.1bn, adding to the 20% stake it previously held. 

Patents stay at the cutting edge

The final investment pillar analysed was patent filings, with the themes emerging here unsurprisingly tending to be at the cutting edge of each industry. Again, disruptive tech themes were common here with machine learning coming top again, but it was notable that renewable energy research was present for six of the 23. 

It is important to note that all the themes within this article are emerging themes that are worth watching in the future. They won't all necessarily rise to the top of the thematic rankings (some will almost certainly fizzle out in 2022), but they have the potential to rise to greater prominence in the coming years. 

In early December, GlobalData's Thematic Team produced its annual report predicting the biggest themes for 2022 in the tech, media and telecom industries, with the top picks including AI, cybersecurity, the metaverse and augmented reality. For more on this report, including which companies are predicted to be winners and losers, visit GlobalData's report store

For more coverage of the trends and themes likely to make an impact in 2022 across our publishing network, read the read following: