For Most Consumers, Purchase Decisions Not Tied To Sustainability

Only a third of consumers regularly consider sustainability in their purchasing decisions, according to a global study by Accenture and Havas Media RE:PURPOSE, although there are sharp differences by geographic region.  

The report, "From Marketing to Mattering," is based on a survey of 30,000 consumers in 20 countries. The study follows a 2013 Accenture report that surveyed CEOs on sustainability and which found that two-thirds of CEOs admitted that business is not doing enough to address sustainability challenges.  In the latest study 73% of consumers said businesses are failing to take care of the planet and society.

So while business leaders and consumers both agree more needs to be done, the research shows that CEOs appear out of step with what motivates consumers to buy sustainable products and services, per the Accenture/Havas report. Over 80% percent of CEOs believe that their company's reputation for sustainability is important to consumers, but the new research shows that less than one-quarter (23%) of consumers regularly seek information on the sustainability performance of the brands whose products they purchase.

And only 32% of consumers say they 'often' or 'always' consider sustainability in their purchasing decisions. However, the study reveals sharp differences in sentiment and purchasing behavior between consumers in developing and developed markets.

Some 73% of respondents from India and 79% of Chinese say they actively buy brands focused on sustainability. By comparison, 49% of Western Europeans and 44% of Americans say they actively do so.

"Emerging market consumers see a direct link between the products they buy and the quality of their lives," said Sharon Johnson, CEO Havas RE:PURPOSE. "They also suffer the negative consequences of irresponsible production and corruption more immediately.  In mature economies, where these links are weaker, brands can no longer win consumers over by burnishing their sustainable credentials. People know more about products and companies than ever before. To be meaningful today, brands must create products and services that tangibly make a difference to people's lives while fulfilling sustainable criteria. For all consumers, meaningfulness matters. Being a meaningful corporation or brand is not based on how you give money away anymore; it's about how you do business."

The report concludes that companies must shift their communication with consumers from a focus on their sustainable credentials and corporate performance to a "clearer demonstration of their purpose and relevance to the society and the environment."

More on the report’s findings and recommendations can be found here.

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