Companies and Sustainability

“Sustainability” has been a hot buzzword in corporate circles recently. CEOs use the word when describing both “green” products and services, as well as company-wide efforts at creating sustainable operations. But do companies see sustainability mainly as an image enhancer? And what do consumers think of their efforts?

According to a study by professional services firm Accenture, 81% of CEOs interviewed believe that their company’s reputation for sustainability is important to consumers.

Accenture said that its report — called “From Marketing to Mattering” — was conducted in response to a 2013 UN report that found two thirds of CEOs admitting that business was not doing enough to address sustainability challenges.

This research also found that 73% of consumers felt that businesses were failing to take care of the planet and society.

However, when Accenture polled consumers on their relationship to sustainable product and service choices, it found that only 23% of consumers regularly seek information on the sustainability performance of the brands whose products they purchase.

Also, just 32% of consumers surveyed by Accenture said they ‘often’ or ‘always’ consider sustainability in their purchasing decisions.

These results change somewhat when the data is segmented by age, and other factors. Accenture said that a subgroup of consumers called “Young Optimists” were far more likely to be engaged on sustainability.

Two thirds of these 18-24 year-old consumers said they actively buy sustainable brands, and almost a quarter said they always consider the social and environmental ethics of brands when making purchasing decisions.

So, what can we make of all this data? Sadly, it seems that companies believe that consumers care about sustainability a lot more than consumers actually care about sustainability.

While consumers are quick to say that companies aren’t doing enough to protect the planet, relatively few of them put their money where their mouths are by considering sustainability in their purchasing decisions.

However, this and other studies show that younger consumers are far more concerned with sustainability that their older counterparts are — and far more likely to reflect this concern in their consumer choices.

Given that younger consumers represent the future of company profits and brand value, it is perhaps fitting that companies are getting ahead of the curve on sustainability. What’s clear is that the future of sustainable corporate behavior will be led by consumer demand – both here and in developing economies.


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