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Jul 5, 2021
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Consumers hold businesses responsible for sustainability drive

Published
Jul 5, 2021

Companies around the world need to boost their sustainability efforts, not just for the planet, but also for their bottom line. That's because consumers globally believe companies are the most responsible for a whole host of sustainability issues.


Companies need to do more for the planet and to share information about their actions, consumers say - Photo: Pexels/Public domain



That's according to new research from the Mintel Sustainability Barometer. And while it seems to place a lot of responsibility on companies, it seems that consumers also recognising that they themselves have a big part to play as well.

As many as 48% of consumers globally think that businesses need to be responsible for increasing the amount of packaging that’s recycled, with only 25% thinking that it's the responsibility of consumers and 20% saying that governments need to take the matter in hand. 

Meanwhile, two in five (41%) global consumers hold companies responsible for reducing emissions from air transport, compared to 36% who believe it’s up to governments, and just 12% who think it’s the responsibility of consumers. 

Mintel spoke to consumers in Brazil, France, Germany, the UK, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain, Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and the US.

And 54% of them still think there’s time to save the planet (although that means almost half of consumers must think that there isn't), and 51% think their own behaviour can make a positive difference. But the belief that consumer behaviour can make a difference does vary from country to country. For instance, 65% of Canadians think so and 64% of Italians. But the figure is only 59% for German and Spanish consumers and a lower 56% for those in Britain. That said, at least it seems that more than half of consumers in those countries believe that they can do something to make an impact. 

CONSUMERS WANT INFORMATION

While there's been a lot of talk about ‘greenwashing’ and a degree of scepticism around some company claims to be helping the planet, consumers still want businesses to share information about what they're doing. Mintel said “consumers want companies to quantify the direct environmental impact of their purchases”. And positive action on the part of businesses can really make a difference when it comes to intention to purchase.

Consumers are most likely to want information on how their purchase has a direct impact, such as one tree planted per purchase (48%). They also seek labelling to show the environmental impact, such as CO2 emitted (47%). And 42% are looking for information measuring impact with quantities they can understand, such as litres of water used or distance travelled in kilometres. Meanwhile, 41% are looking for recognisable certification to prove their standards, such as B-corp.

The research covered shopping in general, but it should be particularly encouraging for many companies in the fashion and beauty sectors as initiatives such as tree-planting, and other actions to support the environment and communities within it, have become increasingly common. More and more fashion firms are talking about actions they’re taking to reduce the volume of resources they're using and any negative impact they might have, such as denim specialists cutting back on water use and reducing pollution.

It’s interesting that consumers seem to think that businesses have a bigger responsibility than the customers do to reduce negative environmental impact. Richard Cope, Senior Trends Consultant, Mintel Consulting, said: “Given that the International Energy Agency (IEA) believes that over half of the cumulative emissions reductions required to reach zero are linked to consumer choices, one might hope consumers accept more responsibility; however, our research shows consumers say companies are most responsible. There are several possible reasons why consumers put the onus on companies. More effective activism, for example, promotes the belief that companies are to blame — whilst the sheer scale of the problem demands a response that feels beyond the capabilities of mere consumers.” 

Clearly, many consumers want the difficult choices taken out of their hands and that's an opportunity for companies to shout loudly about the positive things they’re doing (and to potentially win more customers as a result). That's aside from the overall major benefits that we’ll all get anyway from more planet-friendly policies being put in place.

But it's important that businesses don't confuse consumers, with Richard Cope also saying that shoppers “want companies to use simple terms and data, and to explain the direct and measurable environmental impact of their purchases. To build belief in science and convert potential into actual purchases, companies need to offer up a new sustainability lexicon that consumers can easily understand”.

He added: “In addition to wanting third-party accreditation, it’s notable that consumers want to understand their personal impact through purchasing in order to support their belief that their purchases can have a positive impact on the environment.”

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