There is a growing demand for greener products, but it is not easy to sell

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More people than ever are speaking for the planet – not just with their voices and votes, but also with their wallets. The individual consumption decisions each of us make, from the car we drive to the food we eat, can be drops in the bucket when it comes to solving the biggest ecological challenges, but together they are a wave of support for change. – an approach that leaders from all sectors of society would be wise to adopt.

A new global analysis, commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and conducted in 54 countries by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), offers the latest evidence of this growing wave of public concern for the environment.

According to the report, the popularity of internet searches for sustainable products around the world has increased by 71% in just five years. Even amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that number has continued to grow. Moreover, this good news is not limited to developed countries and advanced economies. The EIU report found a similar trend in many developing countries and emerging markets as well. Ecuador, for example, has seen a staggering 120% growth in consumer clicks for sustainable products.

Waking up to an emergency

The public shift towards green consumerism comes amid a recent surge in public discourse and environmental activism. Since the EIU began its analysis in 2016, the global volume of Twitter conversations about nature loss has increased by 65%, and more than 159 million people have signed up for biodiversity-related campaigns.

People are realizing the urgency of the moment. They see 1 million endangered species. They are seeing forests, grasslands and other critical ecosystems disappearing at an alarming rate. And the symptoms of our sick planet – rising waters, toxic pollution, uncontrollable forest fires, new infectious diseases – are more than mere images of a distant problem splashed on our television screens.

No matter where we live, we can feel the impacts of humanity’s broken relationship with nature in our own communities and in our own daily lives.

In this tragic saga, humanity is both guilty and victim. And just to add an extra layer of irony, we’re also the only actors capable of ensuring a happy ending – for people and for nature. This is why this “eco-awakening” through the general public is so promising. And yet, it’s also important to understand that public awareness and engagement, while essential, alone is not enough to solve the biggest environmental challenges of this century.

The obstacles consumers face in going green

Ordinary citizens still face multiple obstacles in their quest to go green. Many just don’t know what the Earth-friendly options are. Some people assume, often wrongly, that sustainable products are of lower quality than their conventional alternatives. Others remain skeptical about the extent of the true “greenness” of these products. And even those who make good faith efforts to research such products often face other hurdles, such as high costs and limited availability.

The reality is that people are ready and willing to embrace sustainability. But they need and expect businesses and governments to do their part. This is how an issue such as food security ultimately became something Americans on the whole can take for granted. Thanks to government regulation and private sector leadership, consumers walking the aisles of grocery stores today don’t worry if the items in their shopping cart meet certain standards – it’s just the obvious. When consumers can buy with the same confidence without looking for a “green label”, we will know that we have succeeded.

Savvy business leaders can already see which way the wind is blowing. In addition, they can see the benefits to be reaped by the companies that are the fastest to change course.

New markets are opening up

This surge in consumer demand for durable goods opens the door to new markets, particularly in the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, fashion and food industries. It also presents new opportunities for businesses to gain public trust and improve their brand reputation – and improve their bottom line in the process.

For example, HP’s sustainability activities helped increase company sales in 2019 over $ 1.6 billion. And HP is not alone: ​​According to a study conducted by NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business from 2013 to 2018, the number of products marketed as durable grew 5.6 times faster than products that were not. not.

Businesses and governments can choose to prevent the change people are asking for, or they can engage to help spur the innovation needed to ensure a clean, secure and prosperous future.

We are not asking companies to take this trip on their own. To address specific issues in their supply chains, there are stakeholder groups for just about all environmentally intensive products, including Plastic, beef and Palm oil. For businesses unsure of where to start, several environmental science organizations, including WWF, can serve as guides on this journey.

While some companies will always impose themselves to become leaders in this field, we will never achieve our goal of sustainability everywhere without leveling the playing field. And that will require a change in policy.

Governments take note

Governments rise and take note. According to the EIU report, growing public awareness and pressure around the world has helped produce a wave of new laws and policies – one example being the increase in legislation restricting single-use plastic items or difficult to recycle. In 2019, 127 countries enacted such laws.

Such successes have given new impetus to the cause. Today, more than 2 million people are calling for a one-of-a-kind global treaty on marine plastic pollution. Will world leaders pick up the glove? They will have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to this and other issues when they meet later this year for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which was due to take place last year but delayed by the pandemic. of COVID-19.

The digital age has given people exciting new tools to effect change themselves and demand change from their leaders. But one thing that has not changed is that, by and large, businesses and governments still harness the main levers of power. They can choose to thwart the change people are calling for, or they can engage to help spur the innovation needed to ensure a clean, secure, and prosperous future.

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