Four Stages of Market Transformation

Sustainable market transformations follow a series of four distinct stages that we set out in the sustainable transformation curve (S-curve). Recognizing the phases can help you identify patterns and guide you to initiate, accelerate and drive systemic change. Each of the four phases is characterized by the adoption of progressively effective sustainability practices. As the sector advances along the S-curve, sustainability increasingly matures and enters the mainstream market.

knowledge 1_s curve narrow

  1. In the inception phase, there is no comprehensive approach to sustainability within the market. Market demand for sustainable products remains niche. NGOs and other stakeholders set up their projects pushing for sustainability in isolation.
  2. Market demand leads to the emergence of more organized and visible sustainability initiatives in the first movers phase. Broader interventions involving multiple stakeholders are created. Competition between initiatives leads to innovation in business models, but also to inefficiencies and duplication of efforts.
  3. Inclusive and structural change takes place in the critical mass phase. Stakeholders work together to tackle obstacles that inhibit sustainability. Governments institutionalize the agenda and expand the drivers of change.
  4. In the final phase, the institutionalization phase, the sector has effectively put an end to practices that are environmentally damaging or socially undesirable. In this phase sustainability becomes mainstream and institutionalized.

For further reading, Changing the Food Game by Lucas Simons explains in detail the four phases of a sustainable market transformation. The necessity of a sustainable market transformation of our entire food system becomes clear, as well as the way forward.

Jason Clay (PhD- Senior Vice President of Market Transformation, WWF) about the book: “Sustainable food systems are pre-competitive. We must work together to produce more with less by focusing globally on productivity and efficiency while reducing waste. This book suggests how we can find the tipping points to get ahead of the curve”