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February 4, 2020

Mind the sustainability gap: what do Brits think of corporate eco efforts?

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Less than 1 in 5 (17%) people are confident that companies are taking the necessary steps to tackle climate change, according to a survey of the British public conducted by Instinctif Partners’ insight and research business, Truth.

The survey asked more than 2,000 members of the UK population how worried they were about the environment, who should be taking action on sustainability, what they personally had done to change behaviours, and what was hampering their efforts to do so.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of people think that climate change is an urgent issue and are concerned about a range of anticipated effects of climate change. Whilst an even greater number – 89% of respondents – think we will see the negative effects of climate change here in the UK and nearly half (42%) think we are seeing the effects already.

When asked whose responsibility it is to tackle climate change, governments were expected to lead the charge both globally and nationally, closely followed by companies and individuals. However, only 17% of respondents felt confident that companies are taking enough action, compared with 24% for governments.

Even more damning is the fact that only 17% of the UK public claim to trust what companies tell them about their actions to deal with climate change, and three-quarters of respondents could not name a single company that they think is good at dealing with climate change or providing sustainable options.

Louise McLaren, Partner at Truth, who led the research, said: “We’re suddenly seeing companies making bolder sustainability commitments, such as targeting net zero carbon emissions. But our research shows these promises ring hollow for an overwhelming majority of the British public. Whilst ambitious goals are welcomed, there is clearly cynicism and a perception of ‘greenwashing’.”

“When asked about changes people have made themselves in the last 12 months, tackling plastic waste comes out top. The reason for this is twofold – a shift in cultural sentiment regarding plastic and the fact that dealing with plastic waste is a relatively simple solution for both people and companies. We need to make it easier for people to make confident, sustainable choices in other aspects of their lifestyles.”

Complexity is making sustainable choices too difficult

Nearly two-thirds of people (60%) want to make more sustainable choices but sometimes find it hard to know what to do. As a result, more than half (54%) say it is hard to believe what companies say about their ethics, so end up buying what they want to buy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly half (44%) say they don’t have time to research how sustainable their purchases truly are.

Louise McLaren continued: There is a recognition that we all need to take action, and companies need to do their part to help consumers make smart choices. According to our survey, 60% of people are struggling to make confident choices. Both the levels of conflicting information available and the fact that people don’t trust company claims are contributing to the problem.

What does all this mean for companies?

It is clear there is a need for companies to communicate to customers, as well as employees, shareholders and suppliers more effectively in 2020. Louise outlines what this means for businesses:

  1. There is nowhere to hide – radical transparency and openness are ‘in’, greenwashing is ‘out’.
  2. Waste will become a dirtier and dirtier word. Supply chains must become circular as people increasingly expect end-to-end sustainability.
  3. There will be a decreasing tolerance for being told to want things that are luxury, unnecessary items.
  4. Minimalism will take on new meaning – shifting from style statement to sustainability ethos.
  5. Widening definitions of sustainability, and a changing, challenging landscape, means agile engagement will be crucial – companies will need to continuously evolve.
  6. People will increasingly look to brands to facilitate and magnify their impact on a broader scale.
  7. Make goals credible – demonstrate past action and show a pathway for achieving objectives.

The results of the survey are being presented and discussed today at Instinctif Partners’ event ‘How should brands talk about climate change?’.

Read more about Instinctif’s ESG offering here.

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