As we near the end of The Regeneration Roadmap journey, it is worth reflecting on the theme of the ‘supply and demand of sustainability’ that has arisen in many of the interviews, surveys and dialogues we have conducted over the past 18 months.
The objective of The Regeneration Roadmap, a joint initiative by GlobeScan and SustainAbility, is to assess progress on the overall sustainable development agenda and consider what might be done, particularly by the private sector, to accelerate and scale future progress in the urgent manner required.
Within this context, we explored past successes, obstacles and future possibilities related to quickening the transition to sustainability. A recurring theme that stakeholders returned to time and again – whether discussing renewable energy policy in Washington DC or bending the non-communicable disease curve in Beijing – was one of building demand for sustainable solutions and policies. This includes demand among investors for stronger sustainability performance among business, demand from consumers for products and services that both meet traditional consumer desires and deliver improved sustainability performance, and demand from the public for better regulations and policies from government to protect the environment and society.
A great deal of attention over the past few decades has been spent on the ‘supply-side’ of corporate sustainability, resulting in not insignificant advances in how large businesses manage value chains, improve operational efficiency, reduce negative externalities, etc.. Despite this progress, these notable efforts are not leading us to a more sustainable footing globally. Could greater focus on the ‘demand-side’ of sustainability facilitate even greater sustainable solutions and policies, driving much more profound performance improvements?
In March 2013, GlobeScan and SustainAbility asked 1,170 sustainability experts across 73 countries to weigh in on this debate. When experts are asked if they think “society requires a greater ‘supply’ of regulations and options for consumers from business and government that further sustainability, or greater ‘demand’ from consumers for these’, one in five (22%) say that greater supply is required, twice as many (41%) believe that greater demand is required and 34% claim that both supply and demand are equally required.
These expert views suggest greater efforts going forward on building demand for sustainability compared to designing supply.
Fundamentally, the demand-side of the sustainable development equation is about building a more enabling context for sustainable solutions in the marketplace and in public policy. With greater demand, existing sustainable solutions and policies can be scaled much more dramatically, leading to a range of tipping points that the world so urgently requires.
We will be exploring this topic and the many other facets related to accelerating progress on sustainable development during the webcast launch event of Changing Tack on June 13, which will involve a lively panel discussion moderated by Guardian Sustainable Business’ Jo Confino. Register today.
Chris Coulter is the President of GlobeScan.