World leaders are in Egypt this week to discuss environmental sustainability issues at COP27. Hopefully, the discussions will lead to guidance that reduces UK consumers’ impact on the planet – but it won’t solve everything for us.
Part of the challenge is that environmental sustainability is no single body’s responsibility. National governments play a huge role, but so do corporations and individuals. It might be tempting to pin our hopes on political leaders, but as consumers and employees, we all have roles to play as stakeholders who can influence corporations’ actions.
It all begs the question – as consumers, how do we feel about our chances of affecting change? Do we think brands should promote the actions they take towards a more sustainable future? Or are we too cynical of these messages for them to be beneficial? Will we adjust our buying behaviours to align with our beliefs? Or are our views on social, political and environmental issues completely removed from how we purchase?
How British Consumers View Brands’ Social Stances
In Gartner’s 2022 Consumer Values and Lifestyles Survey, we asked over 10,000 individuals from around the world their views on a range of topics, including sentiment around social issues.
I’ve been particularly interested in how my fellow Brits’ views on social and environmental issues compare to counterparts across the world. Our findings include:
- To ascertain the values consumers hold, we ask whether people agree with a series of statements. For the value, “sustainability”, we asked whether respondents strongly agree that people and businesses should use our planet’s resources responsibly to sustain current and future generations. Our analysis showed that “sustainability” ranks as the 6th highest value (out of 93 values) for Brits. (For context, in the U.S., “sustainability” only ranks 22nd. “Courtesy” ranks as Brits’ #1 value, which does seem very British.)
- More than half of Brits think that companies have a responsibility to do good to stay competitive. Beyond that, 58% of Brits believe that companies should take the lead in solving social issues.
- Still, 70% of Brits think brands just use social issues to sell more. This is a greater share than the average in the U.S. or Germany.
- A lower share of respondents from the U.K. make purchase decisions based on what a brand stands for than in any other market surveyed. This figure still stands at 31% in the U.K. though, which is remarkably high given inflationary pressures consumers face.
Combined, we can see that British consumers don’t think that brands engage in social issues for the right reasons. They do, however, think it’s important for corporations to take action – even if it costs profits. Brits want to buy from brands that take positive stances on social issues. At the same time, they are sceptical of “greenwashing” messages.
What Does This Mean For Marketers?
The fact that “sustainability” ranks so highly as a value held by Brits should give encouragement to promotions on that topic, since it aligns with customers’ and prospects’ beliefs. Consumers’ values are fairly stable and the view that corporations have a big role to play is unlikely to change any time soon.
Marketers should be proactive in saying when they are investing to reduce their environmental impact, but not for the sake of it. Instead, Gartner’s research on Generating Audience Support Through Social Impact (paywall) has shown that brands’ communications deliver the greatest results when they create a sense of personal fulfilment by demonstrating how audiences contribute to and benefit from brands’ social impact efforts.
Should Marketing Be Involved in Sustainability?
ESG activities, including efforts to reduce environmental impact, should be seen as long-term investments. This ensures they aren’t worn away with shifting interests. Given MarComms teams are often tasked with aligning messaging to ever-changing audience signals, this could prove a worrying marriage for environmental sustainability. After all, the last thing anyone would want is for budget for reducing environmental impact to be removed because it’s not the flavour of the month.
Still, marketers can accelerate the benefits of any social activities where those promotions align with buyer interests and encourage purchases. The data shows that that’s at least as true in the U.K. as anywhere else in the world.
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