Sustainable practices are “too passive” in the eyes of modern consumers

Eamonn O’Neill
20 February, 23

“Whereas a sustainable firm seeks merely to reduce its ecological footprint, a regenerative company boldly seeks to increase its socio-ecological handprint by restoring the health of individuals, communities and the planet.”

-Greg Norris, Harvard Professor

Sustainability has long been a core focus for businesses and individuals alike, but as the call to action intensifies, people are starting to unpick the true meaning behind what it is that they’re campaigning for, and whether it truly reflects their cause.

As Harvard Professor, Greg Norris, outlines in his quote above, there are two very clear pathways towards tackling the climate crisis – sustainability and regeneration. But are people as aware of the differentiation between the two as they should be?

A new opinion is currently circulating consumer groups: sustainability is too passive in its approach to save the planet.

In light of the growing call for regenerative initiatives, businesses will need to revisit their strategies and adjust accordingly if they are to maintain strong customer loyalty and gain a competitive advantage.

Why sustainability is no longer enough

The idea of uprooting entire sustainability initiatives that took years to formulate and deploy is unsettling for businesses but, in truth, it doesn’t have to be so revolutionary. It’s more about using existing strategies as a baseline to then improve upon and take the next step.  

Listen to your markets. If the general sentiments of consumers are changing, then pay close attention to what they’re calling for. Past sustainability strategies were driven in part by consumers who are naturally swayed by a company’s eco-credentials. In fact, research by Hearts & Science reveals that 52% of consumers take a brand’s sustainability efforts into consideration when choosing products, and a fifth have stopped buying from certain companies due to their lack of eco-credentials.

However, while sustainability so far has served a purpose, the concept of sustaining the world’s current state doesn’t necessarily align with the latest consumer, business and government intentions and objectives.

As the reality of the climate crisis continues to send shock waves across the globe, people are realising that we need to go that one step further.

Advancing to an age of regeneration

First, let’s be clear about what we mean by ‘regeneration’ in this context. Rather than sustaining, there’s more of a call to ‘develop and improve something to make it more active, successful, or important, especially after a period when it has been getting worse.’

Consumers are pressuring companies to go beyond sustainability. According to a study by ReGenFriends, nearly 80% of US consumers gravitate towards ‘regenerative’ brands over ‘sustainable’ brands. Regeneration evokes action – it is naturally more aggressive, aiming to restore the environment to its former state.

A regenerative business is one that can do more with less across all business stages, underpinned by the drive to go beyond general offsetting towards complete net zero. 

It isn’t a huge leap from sustainability to regeneration: but it starts with a change in mindset.

Using the right tools

Naturally, technology will play a significant part in helping organisations make this transition. A ‘regenerative’ business model is not yet widely featured across markets, but the majority have already bought into ‘green’ solutions that are currently available for Cloud platforms and other services.

Emerging technologies and continual innovation are a catalyst for these regenerative models; encouraging businesses to take one step further than the sustainability efforts we’ve become so familiar with. Not only is this contributing to the global efforts, but it also opens up huge competitive benefits for organisations prepared to take full advantage of the opportunity.

Regenerative agriculture is one such example where data and technology are used to help companies protect and improve the environment and optimise their business. This is done through enhanced soil carbon sequestration, optimised water use, and other practices that improve soil health, increase biodiversity, upcycle by-products, and reduce synthetic chemicals.

Regeneration in the Cloud

In terms of sustainability, the business case in the Cloud has been relatively simple to understand and action. Migrating to the Cloud can reduce the on-premises carbon footprint that is currently being fuelled by the energy needed to keep the hardware maintained and cooled. A business can therefore identify the primary culprits and cut energy use where possible. There are similar benefits to shifting data storage from on-premises to Cloud as well. 

But, as we’ve established, it’s time for the next step. We must now fight for an economy founded on the concept of regeneration, which works to reverse environmental harm rather than settle for our current global state.

Fortunately, relatively simple changes to existing tools and processes are all that’s needed for businesses to drive this shift from sustainable to regenerative. For example, we are already seeing agriculture tech companies using cloud-technology to reverse environment damage (i.e., enhancing the health of soil), demonstrating how innovative technologies and services provided by hyperscalers like Machine Learning, AI and advanced data analytics and predictive insights can help businesses make this transition.

It’s natural for initiatives that were once bold and active to turn passive when the circumstances change. Sustainability practices have served a purpose up until this point, but now it’s time for something new.  

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