EXCLUSIVE: Sustainability movement held back by lack of market competition

One of the biggest issues for the sustainability movement is there is not enough market competition, says the director of the New Climate Economy Project and chair of Global Action Plan.

In an exclusive interview with edie, Jeremy Oppenheim said that markets must stay competitive as this is a “fundamental driver” of economic wealth, innovation and efficiency.

He was critical of big business’ efforts to stop competition and also blamed Government regulation as a significant barrier to bringing innovative technologies and ideas to market.

“We have two competing policy goals – and both are legitimate. We do want companies to compete with each other, we like markets but we’re a bit suspicious of big companies because on the whole they want to limit the operation of competitor markets. They want to create monopolies, or at least barriers to competition – that’s what big business does,” he said.

Oppenheim called for more competition and commended the SMEs driving innovation and developing ideas and technologies despite these barriers.

“Smaller companies find it hard to penetrate the market, not just because big businesses are in the way, but there are regulations that make it hard to get new construction materials into the construction site,” he said.

“Therefore, we need more competition, more disruption and more innovation. The things that are typically getting in the way are not a lack of collaborative industrial symbiosis but is in fact old fashioned rules and regulations and red tape,” added Oppenheim.

Elaborating further on the importance of business collaboration, Oppenheim said more work needs to be carried out to establish the areas where collaborative efforts and knowledge sharing between businesses can increase.

“You’ve got the question of whether business can cooperate through supply chains. If this collaboration improved we could co-invest with the suppliers in improving their factories or if we put the right standards in place we could all be recycling and using products in a much better way,” he added.

However, Oppenheim acknowledged that there was a thin line between collaboration and keeping the markets competitive, particularly around research and development.

“Even in this area of collaboration there are some places where it is easier to collaborate and you can just get on with it and this often comes around the development of voluntary standards.

“We need to become clear of how collaboration can work in a competitive market, we then need to identify the areas where it is easy to collaborate and get on with them, and some of the elements of the voluntary standards are part of this.

“And where it is trickier to collaborate, because of the ambiguity around anti-trust between business, let’s get smart and figure out a mechanism by so that we can trust the deals that get struck,” stressed Oppenheim.

He added that the best business leaders are those that “want to see competition because that’s what drives the honesty and trust worthiness of the business”.

Leigh Stringer

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