The 5 Traits of a Sustainable Market

Published on —
June 5, 2020

All markets that produces sustainable goods and services share 5 traits.

To be published in April, the premise of Transformative Markets is that society must completely reimagine how we innovate, produce, and market the goods and services we use every day in our lives. The existing market structure of the global economy is failing us – we are consuming resources (human, natural, financial, and social) at an unsustainable rate.  Yet nearly 800 million people remain in extreme poverty and billions lack access to health care, education, infrastructure, credit, jobs, and safe food.

A sustainable market is a market that produces goods and services in a way that best uses all forms of capital to create a net positive for society. Sustainable markets are the only force powerful enough to accelerate a transformation across the global economy that balances the need for continued economic and social growth with the reality of living on a resource-constrained planet – while facing the pressure to solve pressing societal challenges such as climate change and poverty.

Markets for sustainable goods and services are forming – solar and wind power, electric vehicles, innovative fashion products to name a few – but they are not forming fast enough and at a scale large enough to have a systemic impact on society.

Sustainable markets represent the only path forward to strike the balance between economic development – and all the positives that come with it – and allowing us as a society to have the resources needed to thrive far into the future.

The 5 Traits of a Sustainable Market

Despite the game-changing (even planet-saving) potential of sustainable markets, little research has been conducted into understanding and defining the traits of a sustainable market. Transformative Markets provides a new and valuable contribution to the scholarship of this important topic by identifying the characteristics of a sustainable market.

The goal of this research is to serve as an actionable template that can be applied by practitioners to accelerate the development and reach of sustainable markets.

Although sustainable markets vary greatly in size, scope, and industry, sustainable markets share five traits:

1. Effective in generating inclusive, long-term value for all market actors. Value creation ranges from quality employment opportunities for those involved in making the goods and services to producing something that meets a human need (such as affordable prescription drugs or healthy, affordable food options) to providing tangible benefits to communities.

2.Responsible in how finite resources (human, natural, financial and social) are used in the development of products and services.

3. Transparent about all facets of the production process and end use by consumers. People need to know what goes into a product or service, how it is used, and if there are “externalities” from its use (such as pollution or waste).

4. Trustworthy and adhering to good governance practices and relevant laws and regulations.

5. Networked and connected to other actors in similar networks. As I will demonstrate in Transformative Markets, seemingly small, local sustainable markets can easily scale into something much more transformative for society when they are part of a broader ecosystem of market actors.

A sustainable market can range in size and scope from food grown and sold in a community cooperative all the way to those established by Fortune 500 corporations such as Unilever and Tesla that have supply chains and consumers all over the world. In a way, a sustainable market is a combination of the concepts of sustainability, sustainable business practices, and sustainable products.

Sustainable markets represent the only path forward to foster greater social and economic development – and all the positives that come with it – while allowing us as a society to have the resources needed to thrive far into the future.


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