Despite the snow that continues to fall on Davos, CEOs will make the journey to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting this week to talk seriously about how business can engage with citizens around the world to make consumption more sustainable. The discussion builds on four years of work by the Forum, culminating in our latest report: More with Less: Scaling Sustainable Consumption and Resource Efficiency.

Here in Davos, at our sustainable consumption-related sessions, the business community will be focusing on the most important link in the value chain: the consumer. In the context of global growth and the 3 billion citizens expected to become new middle class consumers over the next two decades, this has never been so important.

The difference between what consumers say they want and what they actually do is one of the key reasons for this. In a 2011 European Commission survey, 72% of European respondents said they were willing to buy green products. However, only 17% actually did so in the month preceding the survey – presenting an opportunity for innovation to turn citizen aspirations into consumer actions.

Three key questions that will drive the discussion to help businesses on their way to engaging with consumers are:

  • How do we make sustainable consumption more emotional and desirable? Kingfisher, a home improvement retailer, seeks to make sustainable products and services both the desirable and default choice. This can be done through sourcing of certified timber and new services such as installation of insulation.
  • How do we harness technology and transparency? Technology is transforming business transparency, where consumers are often aware of a corporation’s actions before the company itself. Companies are using technology platforms and apps such as RecycleBank to communicate and engage with consumers.
  • How can we build trust through partnerships? In Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer, NGOs once again came out as the most trusted institution in the world. Trust in NGOs has reached a record high of 79% in China among 35 to 64 year olds. Business partnerships help consumers link their aspirations to their buying behaviours.

In addition to supply side solutions, which are important and need addressing, business leaders participating in the Annual Meeting in Davos are highlighting the necessary change by business and consumers to put us on the track towards a more sustainable path to growth.

The Forum is committed to drive action on this forward to ensure that business and consumers can do more with less.