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Who should take the first step on sustainability?

Who should take the first step on sustainability?

If the coronavirus crisis has shown us anything, it is that some things which seem to be very solid are in fact very fragile. Our global economy, with its “just in time” product delivery and intercontinental production flows, has turned out to be our Achilles heel. The outsourcing of production to low-cost countries was a seemingly unseen process which had nevertheless gone on for decades. Then a single event brought it into full light.

Similar to the outsourcing of production, we have been “outsourcing,” or at least postponing, our reckoning with the climate crisis. The pandemic has seemingly provided us with an opportunity to change this once and for all.

Even in this time of COVID-19, the importance of environmental sustainability should not be underestimated. Four out of five citizens (85 percent) say climate action is equally as important as before, or even more important, during this coronavirus crisis. Moreover, over 70 percent of Dutch citizens see environmental sustainability as something they are (extremely) worried about. In the meantime, over four out of ten citizens (42 percent) struggle to apply structural activities for a better climate in practice.

To change one’s behavior is very difficult. For example: we want to consume less meat, we aim to consume less meat, we think we consume less meat, but we actually eat more meat! To expect citizens to change their behavior to a more sustainable lifestyle is a utopian dream. Citizens feel their efforts are merely a drop in the ocean. Six out of ten citizens (60 percent) feel businesses need to make the change first, otherwise change is pointless. So, who needs to take the first step?

Other research shows that citizens look at governments and businesses for ambitious sustainability changes. Two-thirds (66 percent) expect more ambitious climate policies from the Dutch government due to the coronavirus crisis, followed by the European Union (59 percent) and businesses (46 percent). This is fundamentally different from the type of change that’s led by citizens’ consumption choices. Citizens expect change to come from the top; they want governments and businesses to provide help in making the right choices. Citizens are looking for institutions that lead – rather than institutions that need to be led.

Manuel Kaal

Client Consultant, Netherlands