Catalyst debates 2014: Can business succeed on sustainability if consumers aren't interested?

This debate in London on 9 June 2014 brought together a panel of business and social behaviour experts, and an audience of NGOs and businesses to discuss what lies behind corporate decision making and the implications of consumer attitudes for business ambition on sustainability.

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  1. Has business action on sustainability reached a plateau, with ambition undermined by tough economic conditions and weak policy frameworks? Or can consumers’ desire for more sustainable lifestyles create further opportunities for growth and innovation? This panel debate, the first of Green Alliance's programme of Catalyst Debates 2014, in partnership with Nestlé, set out to discuss these issues. The panel included Justin Keeble, managing director for sustainability of Accenture, José Lopez, Nestlé SA executive vice president of operations, Rob Myers, managing director of Ipsos Marketing, and Dr Jonathan Rowson, director, Social Brain Centre, RSA. The chair was Sophia Tickell, founder and director of Meteos.
  2. Watch our short video with the highlights:
  3. Catalyst debates 2014: Can business succeed on sustainability if consumers aren't interested?
  4. Green Alliance director Matthew Spencer introduced the debate, outlining the challenges of making sustainable business happen in a world where there is lower consumer trust, greater scepticism in government and a sense that there are no easy solutions.
  5. Panelists were invited to make opening remarks.

    Jonathan Rowson highlighted the tension betweenprofitability and sustainability, and the challenge of talking about these twoconcepts together in ways that are authentic.
  6. José Lopez spoke of how companies have done apoor job of convincing consumers that the commitment of companies to the longterm also has value for them.
  7. Rob Myers said companies typically takeincremental steps in improving sustainability, and posed the question as towhether companies are taking enough risks in innovating around sustainability?
  8. Overall, consumers claim to be interested and concerned, but they are sceptical an only feel they have limited responsibility.
  9. Justin Keeble highlighted how resourceconstraints and the emergence of the digital economy are transforming howpeople consume in ways that could lead to a more sustainable future.
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