Governments, Businesses, and Consumers Look to Each Other to Drive Increased Sustainability

With frustration at the lack of progress on sustainability being expressed from many quarters, who should we be expecting to drive change? Experts in sustainability tend to believe the impetus has to come from consumers: when asked about sustainability supply and demand dynamics earlier this year, only around one in four (23%) thought that society required a greater supply of regulations and options for consumers from companies and governments, while 41 percent thought that more consumer demand is required. Experts from within the corporate world feel particularly strongly that consumer demand should be the driver.
Yet for consumers to drive demand, sustainably produced products need to be available. And when polled earlier this year, a shrinking minority of consumers in many countries said they felt that there were enough sustainable products on offer.
A prime example is Germany, where in less than ten years the proportion of people who strongly feel that enough sustainable products are available has fallen vertiginously, from 40 percent to 6 percent. Spain saw a steep rise in the perceived availability of sustainable goods until 2011, before a sharp fall in the last two years as economic depression has taken hold.

Yet in many emerging markets the story is different.  Over the past two years, as their economies have developed and consumer choices have increased, Russia, Turkey, and India have seen pronounced rises in the number of people who say socially responsible products are available.
But with no more than one in three respondents in any country strongly feeling that there are enough socially and environmentally goods available, it is difficult to see how the transition to sustainability can gather pace. There is ample evidence that consumers are looking for leadership in order to embrace sustainable lifestyles, and government and business who want to advance sustainable change may find they need to lead from the front with bold approaches to changing the regulatory environment and providing the consumer with more attractive choices.
This post was written by former GlobeScan Research Director, Sam Mountford.