New Study: Canadians believe tough problems can be solved without trading off economy and environment, but pessimistic that it can happen in Canada unless we change tack

While three-quarters of Canadians believe it is possible to solve complex and interconnected problems in ways that create economic, environmental and social benefits, only 23% believe progress is possible in the next 5 years. But there’s hope!

This research sends a powerful message about what it will take to reignite optimism in our collective future. That looks like courageous leaders working across divides to innovate solutions that meet Canadians’ inseparable social, economic, and environmental needs.

David Hughes

CEO, Generate Canada

July 3, 2024 (Toronto, Canada)New research conducted for Generate Canada by Abacus Data reveals that the vast majority of Canadians (78%), across all regions and political stripes, believe that the well-being of their community, local environment, and the economy are interconnected. Canadians also overwhelmingly agree that the complex challenges we face, and the solutions we need, are equally integrated (74%). What they doubt, according to the research, is the ability to make meaningful progress on those solutions in Canada, if our approach to do so goes unchanged.

Despite strong support for ambitions that simultaneously benefit the economy, people’s health, and the environment (e.g., increasing the sustainability of our agriculture sector (67%), eliminating plastic waste (61%), increasing investment in nature (56%), there is skepticism about whether these goals are achievable in Canada.

“What we see in the data is a real chasm between the interrelated economy-environment goals Canadians support and perceived efficacy in implementing solutions,” says Eddie Sheppard, vice president of insights at Abacus Data, who oversaw the study.

Only 52% think it’s realistic to make progress on sustainable agriculture, and the numbers are even lower for other areas: 41% for managing plastics, 45% for sustainable product design, and 36% for a competitive, low-carbon energy system in Alberta. Actual perceived progress is less encouraging, with only 18% believing there has been progress in sustainable agriculture and similar low percentages for other areas.

Less than a quarter of Canadians believe we can make progress on these types of issues in the next five years and less than half believe it’s possible in their lifetimes.

This research sends a powerful message about what it will take to reignite optimism in our collective future. That looks like courageous leaders working across divides to innovate solutions that meet Canadians’ inseparable social, economic, and environmental needs.

David Hughes

CEO, Generate Canada

David Hughes, CEO of Generate Canada, isn’t surprised by Canadians’ skepticism. “The public conversations around these complex, interrelated challenges bounce between silver bullets and false dichotomies. The short-term and siloed thinking that got us into this polycrisis won’t get us out of it,” he says. “We need more collaborative and integrated approaches to solving problems and more holistic, sophisticated solutions.”

A large majority of Canadians (80%) agree that new approaches would boost their confidence in Canada’s ability to deliver results. The top three factors Canadians cite are greater collaboration across government, business, and civil society, evidence that progress can be made affordably, with economic benefits, and proof that solutions will improve people’s health and well-being. Further, most Canadians (60%) want progress to be made inclusively, even if it means going slower (as opposed to acting urgently with the cost of greater divisions).

“This research sends a powerful message about what it will take to reignite optimism in our collective future,” says Hughes. “That looks like courageous leaders working across divides to innovate solutions that meet Canadians’ inseparable social, economic, and environmental needs. Based on the work we are doing with leaders from business, government and civil society, we are confident that they are up for the task,” Hughes adds.

Research Methodology

The web panel survey was conducted May 16 – May 21, 2024 for Generate Canada by Abacus Data. A total of 2,415 Canadian adults were surveyed and the data was weighted by age, gender, education, and region. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/ – 1.93%, 19 times out of 20.

About Generate Canada

Generate Canada (formerly The Natural Step Canada) connects problem-solvers to generate solutions to the most complex challenges at the nexus of environment, economy, and society. Generate Canada works in close partnership with the Smart Prosperity Institute to achieve a shared vision for a strong and inclusive economy that thrives within nature’s limits. Integrating the Institute’s world-leading policy and research expertise, Generate Canada’s Solution Spaces foster collaboration across sectors and value chains to create, test, and scale innovations for some of the most challenging sustainability issues of our time. These Solution Spaces currently include the Energy Futures Lab, the Canada Plastics Pact, Circular Economy Leaders Canada, CANZA (Canadian Alliance for Net-zero Agri-food), and the Nature Investment Hub.

Media Contact: Jessie Sitnick, jsitnick@generatecanada.ca

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