The demand for sustainable products and the requirement that businesses improve their environmental performance has become central to the sustainability of business itself.

Companies are beginning to understand that consumers will favor products that are ethically sourced and that carry credentials attesting to their environmental performance. 

Consumers are acting on the understanding that the creation of a sustainable society means the development, distribution and use of sustainable products that reduce or eliminate the harmful environmental impacts that are so visibly integrated into the very design of many commercial products today. From the consumers point of view, leadership on sustainability issues is expected first and foremost from businesses themselves.

The recognition of this sea change in the preferences of consumers is however only beginning to translate into action on the ground. To date, the most informative study on the attitudes of corporate managers on sustainability has been the The UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability published in 2013. What the study clearly shows is that business is not contributing enough to the changes required for securing a sustaianble future. Having surveyed the opinions of more than 1,000 chief executive officers (CEOs) across the world, it is a great concern to find that a clear majority believe that business is failing to address the necessity of sustainability challenges.

Why is this? When commercial markets, consumers, regulatory bodies and social forces are increasingly demading products that are sustainable in design, why do businesses continue to operate as if the factors of commercial success excluded this central concern. Perhaps because responding to this fundamental change requires businesses and organizations to undertake a fundamental shift in strategy, often requiring the development of new skills and understanding. The magnitude of the change, often termed a systemic change,  should not be underestimated for there are significant obstacles and barriers to be overcome.

With this in mind, innovation leaders are beginning think about the nature and requiremements of systemic change. Systemic change, involving the interdependency of public policy, business practices and consumer behaviour invokes the need for a fundamental transformation of the systems of society itself, systems upon which we all depend – healthcare, food, housing, education and energy. Changes of this type and magnitude cannot be introduced piecemeal and require the creation and cooperation of new knowledge networks. This transformation will inevitably be built through the cooperative efforts of businesses, public insititutes and consumers as invidiuals. While there are no simple means of addressing the many sustainable challenges we face collectively, there is widespread recognition that systemic, social and sustainable innovation is more important now than ever.

Managing the Business Case for Sustainability ed by Stefan Schaltegger and Marcus Wagner, Greenleaf Publishing 2006