From the Canadian Responsible Investment conference: A great round of applause for Hoggan & Associates’ Vice-President Nancy McHarg sounded in the Fort Gary Hotel  in Winnipeg. Her presentation is a story that illustrates statistical data and surprising findings from their company’s survey of 4300 Canadians’ views on sustainability.

The driver question is: what would a sustainable Canadian society look like? The environment ranked high on our list of priorities.  However, 67% indicated that the economy and the environment need to be addressed simultaneously and we cannot forsake one for the other.  For instance, 79% of Canadians believe we need stricter laws to protect the environment.

These and more insights are important for the future of sustainable businesses.

Where do people stand on the current economic downturn?

77% of people believe that  emphasis on consumerism takes us in the wrong direction while 76% of those surveyed believe that the current economic crisis has to do with wasteful consumption.  68% believe that sacrificing social benefit for economic gain has contributed to the economic collapse.

Where would you put your money?
58% believe pension fund managers should be required to include environmental sustainability in their investments decisions. While 71% of those surveyed believe that socially responsible companies will be more sustainable over the long term.

Are we hopeful that change is possible?
While 50% of Canadians consider themselves to be environmentalists our barriers include mindset, lack of information and mistrust in business and government to say one thing and do another.

Nancy focused on the need to tackle the atmosphere of mistrust. She suggests that, based on this survey, business needs to prove public integrity. For instance, most surveyed agree that sustainability is a PR ploy rather than a genuine intent to improve practices. People do not believe that business will act solely for the right reasons. Instead, profit remains the driving motivator, sacrificing sustainable decision making. Her advice is: don’t talk about things unless you can confirm it and use accessible language that people can understand.

Canadians inherently have hope and want to believe in sustainability but also need to be convinced. Nancy suggests that businesses need to look for the intersection between public and business interests. 67% surveyed believe that a sustainable approach is the way to the future and they saw this response in a variety of findings. For instance, many Canadians believe that renewable energy is a possible path of action.

Beyond the great graphics in the VizThink-style presentation, I was excited to see Canadians recognize that a change in consumer values needs to translate into our consumer choices towards sustainable products.  Also, that we need to see dedicated results from both business and government that produce long-term change. We won’t be sold on short-term political change or business adopting marketing labels that are vacant of sustainable practices.

The Hoggan & Associates survey was conducted in April and May of 2009 and will be available publicly later this year.

Joanna Reynolds

Joanna was the Associate Director of the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing and worked with MaRS and Social Innovation Generation National on the advancement of social finance in Canada. See more…