A third of consumers now choose to buy brands based on their social and environmental impact, according to new research by Unilever.
The FMCG giant questioned 20,000 adults across five countries about how sustainability impacts their purchasing choices. It then backed up their claims using information on real purchasing decisions.
It found that 33% buy a product because they believe it is doing social or environmental good. Plus one in five say they would choose a brand if its sustainability credentials were made clearer on packaging or in marketing. That equates to a €966bn (£817bn) untapped opportunity, according to Unilever, given that the size of the marketing for sustainable goods is €2.5tr (£2.1tr).
The research backs up previous claims from Unilever that sustainability is becoming an increasingly important part of consumers’ purchasing decision. Chief communications and marketing officer Keith Weed has previously admitted there is a “say-do gap” but the survey suggests this is closing.
And separate research from Harvard Business Review and Ernst and Young showed that companies with a strong sense of purpose are able to transform and innovate better, while it also helps to improve employee satisfaction.
Unilever is keen to push the benefits of sustainability as it has bet its growth on brands with a social or environmental purpose. Its commitment to make a positive difference is at the heart of its Sustainable Living Plan, which Unilever claims is helping it deliver faster growth, lower costs, reduced risks in the supply chain and increased trust from consumers.
Brand must act quickly to prove their social and environmental credentials and show consumers they can be trusted with the future of the planet and communities, as well as their own bottom lines.
Keith Weed, Unilever
Unilever has hundreds of brands, but claims that those such as Dove, Hellmann’s and Ben & Jerry’s that have integrated sustainability into their purpose and products delivered nearly half the company’s growth in 2015. Collectively, they are growing 30% faster than the rest of the business.
UK and US fall behind emerging markets
Despite the findings, the trend for purpose-led purchasing is greater among consumers in emerging markets rather than those in developed. Some 53% of shoppers in the UK and US said they feel better when they buy sustainable products, compared to 88% in India and 85% in both Brazil and Turkey.
There are a couple of reasons for this; firstly consumers in emerging markets are more likely to be exposed to the negative impacts of unsustainable business practices such as poor air quality or water shortages. And secondly there is more societal pressure to buy sustainable products in emerging markets than there is in the UK and US.
Weed says: “This research confirms that sustainability isn’t a nice-to-have for businesses. In fact, the very opposite is true. To succeed globally, and especially in emerging economies across Asia, Africa and Latin America, brands should go beyond traditional focus areas like product performance and affordability.
“They must act quickly to prove their social and environmental credentials and show consumers they can be trusted with the future of the planet and communities, as well as their own bottom lines.”